'The Domestics' Director Michael P. Nelson on Creating the Film's Bleak, Sometimes Funny, Future

This Friday, The Domestics comes to theaters, pairing Tyler Hoechlin (who played Superman on Supergirl) and Kate Bosworth (who played Lois Lane in Superman Returns) as a married couple making their way across the country in a brutal road trip.

The film, which also stars Lance Reddick (John Wick) as a simple family man with a dark twist and David Dastmalchian as a character the film's director Mike P. Nelson calls "the cannibalistic Pee-wee Herman," takes place in a near-future dystopia, after the federal government has depopulated the country by way of a chemical agent that killed most of the country. In its wake, the survivors (with no government to speak of) split up into violent, nomadic gangs while a percentage of the population, called "Domestics," simply want to be left alone in peace to live their lives.

“It was important to me that you could immerse yourself in this world that feels hopeless, but have a whole lot of fun watching it,” Nelson told ComicBook.com. “I wanted a tone that was closer to George Miller's original Mad Max, and injected it with my own dark humor. For me, what’s interesting about that first Mad Max that I feel like the other Mad Max films don’t quite have is that there’s an intimacy that this movie has. It’s a strange world where everything kind of looks normal but it’s not, and what you realize is that it’s not the world but the people who have soured. I wanted to make something like that, where the world looks a little grimy and a little off, but ultimately it’s these people that have turned out to be bad apples and have embraced this time. And some of these people who want to be Domestics and act civilized again.”

The Domestics spotlights Hoechlin, who also appeared in Teen Wolf before starring in Richard Linklater's Everybody Wants Some!! in 2016. Between that movie (in which he played a baseball prospect) and Supergirl (where he was literally Superman), Hoechlin has an all-American image on par with a young Tom Cruise and a bright smile to match. And while Nelson was aware of the Superman/Lois Lane coincidence, he assured us that was not part of the appeal of Hoechlin and Bosworth in the roles.

"It literally just came down to talking to a handful of actors, and ultimately landing on these two who got it, who could appreciate the tone and the wackiness," Nelson said. "Also, you wouldn’t think it, but Kate knows guns. It’s something she is very knowledgeable about. We’re sitting there having a conversation about her character, and her emotional arc, and creating this character who turns out to be this kind of awesome heroine, and she tells me she knows what gun she wants to use."

Nelson said that Bosworth asked for a Henry rifle (a lever-action, breech-loading long gun), becuase it is “the type of gun that she likes to fire.”

The film, which takes place largely on the road, has a big set piece that took over a suburban neighborhood, something that presented logistical and special effects challenges for the production, according to Nelson -- not least of which was the sheer amount of shooting they had to do within a fairly small window of time that they had the location, and within a budget that did not include a lot of CG to cover anything they might not get.

“It as extremely challenging, but we had an incredible crew to make that happen,” Nelson said. “It was about coming to a place that’s supposed to be safe, and how in this time, it can quickly turn into something that’s still not safe. We had maybe a week to shoot the action sequence, which was incredibly challenging, and we were just moving. What’s cool is that we had an incredible, legendary stunt guy in Nick Gillard, who worked on the Death Wish movies and Star Wars. He brought a level of knowledge when he and I sat down and plotted out that sequence, so we knew who was dying where, and how, and what is the best way to shoot this, refined down to an inch of how we had to shoot so we could finish it. And we just barely finished it. As a filmmaker it’s always been sort of a dream to have a suburban shoot-out, and to orchestrate an action sequence in a suburb that’s close to where I grew up.”

The film is, at its heart, a road movie, and as such there are colorful characters (Reddick's, Dastmalchian's, and many more) who appear briefly and cycle out of the film once the lead characters move on from their locations. There is also a good deal of world-building that has to be done, between the clans/tribes/gangs, the history of the post-apocalypse world, and on and on. Nelson plays it minimalistic, and keeps the film lean, but it could have been a bit broader.

"There was a version of it that was longer," Nelson admitted. "We gave her a little more flavor in an earlier draft. There was some stuff that was originally in there that was other, bigger set pieces, but we had to take it down and decide what’s important to the story and to the budget, and go with it. One of the most important things from Day One was making sure I wasn’t just making a movie about people in masks who come and loot and kill people and that’s it. If I was going to put a character onscreen with a mask, or doing something like killing somebody or sneaking around or whatever, they were going to have something to them that made them who they were in that short period of time. They were at least well-rounded."

One of the best is a young woman named Betsy (Sonoya Mizuno), who stalks wordlessly through the film, a force of nature for the most part, rarely interacting with anyone and seemingly not a part of any gang.

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"I love silent characters," Nelson explained. "I love characters who can tell you almost everything they’re feeling without saying a word, and to me, her being very elusive and mysterious but very emotive and very clear about what she’s doing without saying anything about it, I think that’s what makes her interesting to me. She’s somebody who doesn’t say a lot because I don’t know that there is a lot to say. Ultimately she sees Mark and Nina and is like, 'that’s something I haven’t seen, at least for a while, and to me it means that there’s hope in this world, even with two people who are completely broken.'"

The Domestics will be in select U.S. theaters on June 28 and on VOD on June 29 from Orion Classics.