While Hollywood’s ups and downs have garnered the most press, the COVID-19 pandemic arguably hit the world of independent flm the hardest. Countless lower-budget productions halted in their tracks between 2020 and 2021, and the opportunities to resume work on these projects were few and far between. Aaron Greer, associate professor of flm, is intimately aware of this. Early in lockdown, Greer was forced to cancel a feature he planned to direct, titled Separate And Equal, after months of developing it with his frequent creative collaborator Seth Panitch. Thankfully, Greer made up for lost time this past summer, completing principal photography on a new flm, a psychological thriller called The Coming that was written and produced by Panitch. Like so many independent flmmakers, Greer was eager to return to set and make art with a talented cast and crew, which included a few fellow Badgers.
The horror genre roots of The Coming mark a departure for Greer, whose previous work has focused on drama and documentary. Billed as a “darkly comic thriller,” The Coming tells the story of a disgraced psychiatrist, Dr. Samuel Allyn (played by Panitch), hired by a backwater hospital that specializes in treatment of “the Jerusalem Syndrome.” This controversial condition, much debated by medical professionals, arises in those who suddenly develop messianic complexes upon visiting Jerusalem. Allyn meets Patient X, whose delusions are so powerful that the doctor suspects some malevolent force at work.
To establish the proper tone and style, Greer drew influence from films such as The Shining (1980) and Shutter Island (2010), the paintings of El Greco and Leonardo Da Vinci, and defnitive literature on schizophrenia, like Milton Rokeach’s The Three Christs of Ypsilanti (1964). However, The Coming “plays with genre expectations,” Greer said. “Thematically, I think the story has interesting things to say about how we often can’t fully understand, or maybe even recognize, ‘goodness’ without the presence of evil.”
Filmed in Chicago late last spring, The Coming is Greer’s frst feature since joining the Communication Arts faculty in 2020, though he is no stranger to balancing academic and creative commitments. Greer flmed his previous feature, Service to Man (2016), near Tuscaloosa while a professor at the University of Alabama. He’s a familiar face to Upper Midwest creatives since completing his frst feature, Gettin’ Grown (2004), in Milwaukee and teaching at Loyola University Chicago.
Three Communication Arts majors—Risha Cherukuri ’23, Devin Mozee ’22, and Kaitlyn Cardona ’23—assisted in the production of The Coming. In addition to chipping in on day-to-day tasks, Cardona and Mozee each had moments to shine. When an extra could not make it, Mozee was drafted to act as a security guard, while Cardona stepped in as script supervisor and assistant camera multiple times. The on-set experience provided a model for inclusion, as well. “Our flm’s crew was not only a set of extremely talented people but also a very diverse crew,” Cardona said. “As a Latina woman who is very passionate about representation, this was so inspiring to see.”
Greer is eyeing a final cut of the film for spring 2023 and plans to submit it to festivals. His previous features screened at the Tribeca, Sidewalk, and American Black Film Festivals.