By Tori Hunt
We see dead people… okay—so maybe we don’t see dead people, but teenage medium Darby Harper certainly does. In the all-new 20th Century Studios’ original film Darby and the Dead, a near-fatal childhood accident gives Darby (Riele Downs) the ability to help spirits cross over to the afterlife. While she’s usually helping lonely spirits with their unfinished business, Darby is in uncharted territory when the school’s ‘it’ girl Capri (Auli’i Cravalho) dies in a horrific hair straightening incident. Once enemies from different sides of the social totem pole, the girls must figure out a way to work together so Darby can help Capri cross over into the afterlife. In return, Capri teaches Darby how to survive in the living world as an outcast.
In a virtual press conference, producers Adam Saunders (When We First Met) and Eddie Rubin (Blue Bayou) along with director Silas Howard (Dickenson), spoke about the decision to bring Wenonah Wilms’ story, adapted by Good Vibes’ screenwriter Becca Greene, to the big screen. The resulting film, debuting exclusively on Hulu on December 2, offers an all-new perspective on the classic teen movie genre. Far more than locker gossip and puppy love, the film ties in elements from horror films as well as beloved ’90s rom-coms. Genneya Walton, who plays high school student Bree in the film said, “I feel like the movie perfectly shows all of the things that we love from those ’90s and 2000s classics [with] the outfits, the cliques, the teenage drama, [and] the problems. Our cast is so incredibly diverse and perfectly displays the actual world that we live in and what it’s like to be around this age [and] living in this time. So, we get all the lovely things from the ’90s, 2000s but in our modern world.”
Apart from its unique genre-bending storyline, Darby and the Dead differentiates itself from its predecessors with intentional on-screen representation. Casting trans actress Nicole Maines as Capri’s cheer mate Piper meant deciding whether her character was outwardly transgender or not—a choice that Howard wanted to be thoughtful and powerful. “For me, as a trans human to do a classic high school story, where I never had visibility—there wasn’t even really language for it,” Howard said. “We got to make these roles our own and custom fit them. And when we want to have these new fresh takes, it takes a lot of thinking about it, and it doesn’t just happen. It doesn’t just fall into place. [It] takes a lot of trust from the cast, with myself, and really strong writing.”
Maines found that the entire film challenges the stereotypes that are often seen in many teen movies. “I think that what this film does spectacularly, and what is groundbreaking about it, is that it showcases diverse and marginalized communities, particularly women, thriving and existing at the top of the food chain, which we never get to do,” Maines said.
Mac Hendrickson and Michele Weisler serve as executive producers. Producers Sarah Shepard, Adam Friedlander, and line producer Darren Cameron also contributed to the making of the film.
Darby and the Dead is set to be released on December 2 exclusively on Hulu.