– by Nancy Tapia

What is truly terrifying? Are the ghosts, poltergeists, or demons that go bump in the night really what we need to be afraid of, or are there other, more realistic fears? The man standing outside your house with a knife? Maybe, but even that isn’t necessarily the most realistic and unassuming. What about the owner of that Airbnb you thought about renting over in the city?

That’s exactly the kind of thing director George Ratfliff explores in Welcome Home, the synopsis of which you can find below:

“Desperate to reignite the spark in their crumbling relationship, Bryan (Aaron Paul) and Cassie (Emily Ratajkowski) rent a beautiful, romantic villa in the Italian countryside using a home-sharing website called “Welcome Home.”

Soon after settling in, Cassie befriends Federico (Riccardo Scamarcio), the kind, handsome stranger who lives just down the road. Bryan is instantly threatened by Federico’s good looks and charm, and Cassie becomes upset by Bryan’s jealousy.

Federico uses this jealousy to manipulate the couple into turning against each other. Bryan and Cassie find themselves caught in a sexy, voyeuristic, and increasingly dangerous game of cat and mouse where they discover the person you love the most may be the person you can trust the least.”

LRM had a chance to sit down with Ratliff and discuss his latest film, and in it we, get an idea of the types of things that truly keep the filmmaker up at night.

LRM: Thank you. Let’s start out talking about Welcome Home. What attracted you to Welcome Home, and how did you come across it?

George Ratliff: Well, it was sent to me by my manager, but I’m always on the lookout for scripts that are what I call naturalistic thrillers. I’m a big fan of horror, and I love classic horror, and the trilogy of great monsters, like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde, but I find myself, at this point in my life, most frightened by stories that I feel could actually happen to me. This is sort of the horror of the everyday. The things that wake me up in the middle of the night are the idea of The Strangers or film series with Michae Haneke (Funny Games), these very frightening, realistic sort of thriller stories.

Welcome Home is one of them. I really just found it’s mining the horror of something we use, at least I use, all the time, which is the shared economy, which is the shared apartments or shared homes, the Airbnb kind of style of renting a home or the Uber-style of sharing a car. You have no idea who these people are, who’s lived there, what has happened there. It’s an economy based on trust. This is exploring the worst case scenario of when you shouldn’t be trusting someone else. I found that wonderfully in the moment, I thought the script was very cinematic, and it was just the kind of style of movie that I love to watch and that I love to make.

LRM: I have to say, yes, most of us can definitely relate. I mean, it was shocking. I am, myself, now paranoid, I have to confess, ’cause part of my vacation is a rental home next month. Now, it made me kind of worried, like, “Wow, stuff like this can definitely happen without you knowing.

Ratliff: Yeah.

LRM: As you mentioned, this is something that really can possibly happen out there.

Ratliff: Yeah, but also I like being scared. That’s why I watch horror movies, but I find something like this scarier because it’s more kind of in the moment. At the same time, I rent Airbnbs all the time. Every time I go to LA, I’m in an Airbnb of some sort. It’s still a movie, and it’s fun.

LRM: How did you feel before and after this film about vacation homes? Did your perspective change a little? I mean, I know it’s a film, but, still, anything is out there nowadays.

Ratliff: Oh, well, I’m much more paranoid about vacation homes now, especially since I read the script and made the film. I’ve seen so many articles that are these horrible, crazy things that have happened in Ubers or vacation homes, these homes fully wired with cameras everywhere, that are actually happening and being uncovered, or voyeuristic stalkers within these homes. Yeah, I’m much more sort of interested and paranoid since making the film than I was beforehand.

LRM: George, is there a procedure, maybe, you can suggest when it comes to checking the home, maybe upon arrival, checking in, that you can share you do now and that you practice? I mean, I can take pointers for next month.

Ratliff: I have to say I always check out the place before, when I get there, but, more importantly, I really filter the owner or the manager of the place. You can find out a lot by just doing a little research on them. Because they, often, I found, are doing research on me, when I’m renting a place … I’ve had people sort of ask me to write sort of a paragraph about myself or my family before they will agree to let me stay there. I think we have to research the renters much more before going there. I do.

LRM: Okay. Well, thank you. Yeah, I’m definitely gonna be on top of that now. Shifting back into the film, how did you guys find the location or home setup, and where was it filmed?

Ratliff: We shot in Italy. We were planning to shoot in Tuscany, but we had a scout that chose places in Rome because it was closer to our production center and much easier. We were very annoyed. It was me and the producer, Josh Bachove, were scouting everywhere in Italy, and finally we got sick of waiting, so we took out our phone and went on shared housing websites. Actually, it was a VRBO site, and I found that location on my phone, on the VRBO site, in Italy. That place was for rent, in the same way. We met the owner, who was a winemaker. I don’t know if you know this, it’s a vineyard. He was this super cool lover of cinema, and was so excited for us to shoot there, and was there every day. It was a fantastic, beautiful place, but really sort of old, creepy, scary place. It was a 13th century monastery that had been converted to a house that no one lived in, but they rented it out. It was a fantastic place.

LRM: It did look beautiful. I mean, I’m surprised it was rented home for this.

Ratliff: We found it the same way Bryan and Cassie would’ve found it, on our phone.

LRM: Yeah, that’s pretty awesome. How did you guys go about choosing the cast? I mean, I have to say, of the full cast, they were all great. However, Riccardo Scamarcio was phenomenal, was great at portraying that questionable-

Ratliff: Riccardo is amazing and could be described as stealing the movie. He’s incredible. He’s so good for the role. I really wanted him for the role, but Riccardo is the biggest actor in Italy. We were pushed away from him, saying there’s no way he would play a third banana on this movie. I couldn’t even get a meeting with him. I had an Italian casting director, and I was meeting with Italian actors who were completely wrong for it, but at some point Riccardo heard about it and wanted to do it. He was calling, willing to talk to me on the phone. I insisted on meeting him in person, because I didn’t wanna have a broken English cell-phone call with this actor. We met in Rome. We even read from the script together. He was amazing. His take on the script was fantastic.

All I wanted was to cast this guy immediately in the movie, but he was so busy, and had other projects that were conflicting, so he didn’t know. He was leaving the meeting, and I was just forlorn, because I really wanted this guy for the movie. He turned around and he said, “Emily Ratajkowski and I actually know each other.” I was like, “Oh, my gosh. Really? That’s incredible.” He said, “Yeah,” and he showed me this picture on his phone of this selfie with him and Emily. I was like, “That’s incredible. I can’t believe it. Where did you meet Emily?” He said, “Oh, this is at Chateau Marmont.” I go, “That’s so cool. That’s actually where I first met Emily,” and then I looked at him, and I was like, “Holy s**t, I think I was there when you took this picture,” because when we were with Emily, and it was me and the producers meeting with Emily, there was this guy that came. He was like, “Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me,” and he sort of came and took a selfie with Emily (Laughs).

LRM: That’s awesome.

Ratliff: His face sort of went white, and he went back on the phone, back on the pictures, and he had been taking pictures of Emily from a different table before, and I was in the pictures, on his phone. The hair on my neck went up, and the hair on his neck went up, and we kind of screamed. I was like, “That’s a sign. You’re doing the movie. There’s no getting out of it. You’re in the movie.” He’s like, “Okay, I’m in.” That was it, and he was in the movie, because it was too perfect. It was too much, the voyeurism and everything. It was great. Yeah, that’s how we got Riccardo.

Aaron Paul and Emily Ratajkowski Star in First Trailer for Sexy Romance Thriller Welcome Home
Credit: Courtesy Vertical Entertainment

LRM: Yes, as you said, he kind of stole the role. For the villain, I was kind of rooting for him. There’s a soft side at the end. There’s got to be.

Ratliff: I know. I mean, when you first meet Riccardo, I’m kind of rooting for that couple almost. He’s amazing. He’s such a great presence as an actor too. Yeah, he really carries a lot of weight. He’s amazing.

I mean, Aaron [Paul] and Emily are both spot-on fantastic. I think it’s the best thing Emily’s ever done. I was so amazed at how good Emily is in this movie, and was, and how production friendly and nice, but her acting chops are quite a lot, even better than I was expecting. She was fantastic.

LRM: Yes, they were great. They were all great. Is there anything you can really quick briefly share that you might be working on right now?

Ratliff: Yes, I have a wonderful thriller that I’m doing with the same producers that I made Welcome Home with, and it’s about a girl that had gone missing at age 13, and it sort of tore this family apart. The movie begins 10 years later, when she reemerges and everything, including her, are very, very different. It goes to really spectacular, exciting places. I’m very excited by it.

Welcome Home is out on VOD!

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