Mild spoilers regarding Down a Dark Hall below.
It’s hard to believe that there was once a point in time where young adult fiction could be limited in terms of its incorporation of other genres. But, when Lois Duncan wrote I Know What You Did Last Summer in 1973 and then Down a Dark Hall in 1974, she solidified her place in becoming an important figure in developing young adult fiction that carried the elements of horror, suspense, and thriller.
A coming of age story with a twist, Down a Dark Hall follows 5 “troubled” girls (4 in the book) who are sent away to Blackwood with the expectation of changing their ways. Instead, their experience at the boarding school becomes a game of survival and figuring out who actually has their best interests and wellbeing at heart.
“I think that there’s a lot within the horror, gothic, and all of those different themes, within the coming of age of the girls,” Victoria Moroles explains over the phone. “There’s something about connecting with where the girls are at. We’ve all been at a place where we’re troubled where we don’t really know what we’re here for or why we’re doing what we’re doing in life, in general. And so, in that time of your life where you’re all figuring it out, mashing that with the themes of the crazy journey that they go on is exciting and super captivating.”
Victoria shouts out the viewers who are close to the girls’ age in the movie mentioning that especially for them, their journey will prove exciting. “I mean obviously, it’s farfetched from what a coming of age story could be,” she laughs slightly, “so I think it makes the journey that much more captivating and thrilling. [There's] things that you don’t expect would be in this general idea of going to a boarding school or going to something like that.” She admits that even getting to see the final product herself was surprising to her.
In that time of your life where you’re all figuring it out, mashing that with the themes of the crazy journey that they go on is exciting and super captivating.
This can also include the set of Blackwood which was, for the most part, built on a soundstage. There were CGI add-ons for sure, but the set designers paid so much attention to detail with Victoria specifically giving a shoutout to the rotunda of the school. Since the sets weren’t completely built before they started productions, the group got to see the school essentially be made in front of their eyes. “We got to really take in a lot of the set before we burnt it all down. Which I’m happy about,” Victoria laughs. (For the sake of spoilers, I’ll provide zero context for what she means by this.) “That was pretty hard to see the work they had all done and then we ended up burning the whole thing down in the end. So, they did a fantastic job. It was one of the most amazing sets I’ve been on.”
Playing the added-in role of Veronica, Victoria shares that it was Veronica’s strength and perseverance that drew her to it. “She was a little more troubled than the other girls; she had a really hard upset with her dad and had been through the ringer of whether it be juvie to any kind of detention hall. I feel like her strength to get through that was what really drew me to her and then the rest fall along with just how she mastered her ability was really enticing.”
“I have a hard time with my own vulnerability and usually with the more tougher roles–or the ones that I’ve played before–[they] have a harsh mask, all different, masking that vulnerability that’s within all of us,” Victoria starts when asked if she finds herself drawn specifically towards characters like Veronica who would rather put a guard up than let anyone see them cry. “I think something about that that’s fascinating to me is everybody thinks they’re tough and everybody thinks they’re sassy and throwing back remarks…But within all that harsh, they have a vulnerability that they don’t want anybody to see.”
When I follow up with a fan question about if it’s harder to get into that kind of character, she takes a pause before responding, “I think that it’s definitely harder for me.” Expanding further, Victoria says, “I have to get in the place within myself that is super vulnerable and sometimes that can be difficult working around how they got to be that way–getting specific on that, I think is a little more challenging for me. I think now that I’ve done a few characters within the realm of that, it’s come a little bit easier.” She stops and then adds, “But it’s never easy, I guess.”
I have a hard time with my own vulnerability and usually with the more tougher roles–or the ones that I’ve played before–[they] have a harsh mask, all different, masking that vulnerability that’s within us.
With Veronica, easy isn’t exactly a part of the character’s every day. Life hasn’t been easy on her, and as a result, she’s not one to easily warm up to other people and new experiences. “I think what fuels that hesitation is the position that Madame Duret has,” Victoria shouts out the headmistress of Blackwood played by Uma Thurman. “In the initial meeting Madame Duret has, she knows the power that she holds. And I feel at the end of the day, Veronica is threatened by that and she doesn’t want to let anybody know it. To be honest with you, she’d rather be in juvie than go to this school,” Victoria says bluntly.
“She doesn’t want to figure out any kind of other options at this point. She wants to be in the juvie place she’s always been in or the other places that she goes to for those reasons. I think she was forced to go here to see if she had other options,” Entering this new space with all of that to carry, Veronica also struggles with seeing Madame Duret have power over her from the start which results in a back and forth seen throughout the whole movie.
“I think she wants to change,” Victoria follows up before correcting herself, “She doesn’t know she wants to change. She’s hesitant and very resistant towards all the activities Madame Duret has them do and all the participating in anything at all. Even socially with all of the girls.” Still, distance and hesitation isn’t only a part of Veronica within this ensemble piece, “Towards the end of it and through the journey that they go on, you see her realize why it’s good to have friends and why it’s good to try something new I guess.”
Since Veronica isn’t originally in the source material, Victoria gets to play a character that gets to represent an additional element within the book that the other girls carry but not as evident as she does. “I hope that she adds the resilience and the resistance and the fight back from which most of the girls don’t have,” Victoria clarifies that while she thinks the girls have this spirit too, Veronica’s influence definitely plays a part in their development. “She’s actually one of the ones who doesn’t have a gift. She doesn’t know what her gift is. She doesn’t know what she’s supposed to be there for and she can’t ever really find it,” Victoria refers to the thing that separates her from the other girls. While the other girls believe they find themselves through the use of their “gifts” in music, painting, math, and literature, Veronica is left having to figure herself out on her own while keeping up her tough persona. As a result, it causes her to act out.
“I think what’s interesting about Veronica is that we don’t know what her gift is. We don’t know what’s behind that. And I think there’s something to be said about somebody being there for–reasons that I can’t really say–but for backup and for friendship and for fighting back against Madame Duret,” says Victoria.
In terms of what advice she would give Veronica, Victoria thinks for a moment before responding, “I would give Veronica advice to be smart about the way that she trudges through her difficulties. To be smarter about it and to watch what she says. And to the other girls, I would say to stand up for themselves.”
“Definitely, I took away so much, specifically from the girls. I have never worked that closely with so many young women. And I think individually, they taught me a lot; leadership and an artistic way to speak up for myself while I was doing this character, it was a little challenging for me,” Victoria reflects on her debut movie role as a lead. Looking at the peer collaboration within this group of girls as a core part of the development of the movie, she continues, “We were a group of girls, right? But as these characters, I feel like it’s played out through the film while we were filming. You know the scenes where we were all together was 100% commitment to the collaboration was something I had never quite experienced before. And just being around young, inspiring women like that was in itself a learning experience for me.”
It’s at this point that I mention how much I enjoyed their group Spice Girls costume that they did together during filming to which Victoria bursts into laughter. “Literally, that was one of the first things we all said to each other,” she says with excitement of the memory. Recounting the story of how they became the Spice Girls, Victoria says the idea essentially came out of the 5 girls immediately realizing that they were going to be filming the project past Halloween. “It was like immediately, we were the Spice Girls,” she laughs.
[Veronica]‘s actually one of the ones who doesn’t have a gift. She doesn’t know what her gift is. She doesn’t know what she’s supposed to be there for and she can’t ever really find it.
As mentioned above, the story is much more than just the self-discovery and coming of age story for 5 girls expecting to turn their lives around when they’re forced to attend a boarding school. The questions of ethics in order to preserve and continue the classics come into play as well as a commentary on how these mediums can live through someone.
“I think the education that kind of came through all of the greats that are being told through the book and with these girls in this story are fascinating and that was something that when I first initially read the script, I was super drawn to because I feel like the greats of art live within the continuous cycle of art and their influence does as well,” Victoria explains. Having grown up around art, especially visual art such as sculpture her whole life, Victoria has always had an interest and appreciation in the form.
“I feel like people don’t forget about [artists] but their spirits always lie within the art influence of today and the past and the present and the future,” says Victoria. “And so, I think that was something really cool; was that it was being brought back and it was being told about the past and these great artists, musicians, mathematicians who are passed away and are not dead.”
I note my own interpretation/take away and has to with the fact that the girls are used as vessels, not by their own consent or free will–which is a commentary within itself–and how historically, when it comes to deciding what are classics and fundamentals of mediums, women have not been given credit for their talents and instead were either pushed to the back or misused. “That’s definitely something that I hadn’t thought about in terms of women not getting credit for that and what I think is really interesting about them being the vessels is that you know how everybody has something that lives through them? Like yeah, I have something that’s drawing and tell me to go like this is my path and this is this. They end up being pure canvasses for the spirit that lives on. And they end up being a vessel for that to come through, then on, passively through Madame Duret’s eyes. She would continue to use them to have information that we would have never had in our lifetime after they passed.”
“But that is really interesting about women not being credited,” Victoria goes back to my initial point. “And I also think that,” she takes a couple pauses to pick her words. “Maybe it’s not safe to say but them choosing women and females to do this I think is a really interesting choice because we are so multifaceted that to me it’s like really believable when you see women go through something like that, you know what I mean?”
For her final pitch Down a Dark Hall, I give Victoria the freedom to bring up any reasons why people will relate to, be blown away by, shook, or enjoy the movie. “Like I said before, through the coming of age time that we’ve all been in and relating to the girls in that way. And also, I think people should go see it because there’s something to be said about past life and what would have come from the greats before us and toying with the idea of that throughout this film I think is something that isn’t…” She drifts off adding that on top of the movie hopefully opening up an interesting discussion and dialogue on the points that she mentioned, the movie’s visuals also stand out. “We had an amazing [director of photography] on the film and it was just really beautiful to look at and then also being surprised and wanting to just kind of live within the world that they kind of created from the grown-up being adapted from the book, I think especially for book readers who have read the book before, it’ll really put a true vision in their minds hopefully the one that they envisioned to some extent of Blackwood and just that world that they live in.”
“But definitely yeah,” she continues giving a tease for why someone will be interested in watching, “just kind of toy and think about what it would have been like for Madame Duret had succeeded in what her goal was and how that information would have impacted the world.”
As for Victoria’s own impact and what we can look forward to from her coming up, she shares that she’s not currently working on any acting projects but she is hard at work on some passion projects. “I am doing foundation work for my uncle’s foundation my sister and I started up a couple years ago when he passed away. He was an artist himself, a granite sculptor. So, I am a co-founder of that foundation [and] currently doing work on that. And I’m actually trying to work with kids more and do a little bit of teaching to try and get a different perspective on the whole acting experience. So yeah, just trudging through that.”
Down a Dark Hall is available on all streaming platforms and select theaters starting today. You can stay up to date on all things Down a Dark Hall by following their Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts.
(photo cred: Lionsgate Publicity)