Recently, I had the opportunity to see J.R. Howell’s film Hurricane Aaron at FEARnyc, New York’s largest horror movie festival. Classified as a “psycho-sexual thriller” about two brothers with a shameful secret, I was intrigued to see what it was all about.
Aaron (J.R. Howell) and Cory (Michael Bonini) are two brothers with a bond. A close bond. A really close bond. When convicted murderer and army vet Aaron is released from prison, he immediately goes to find his brother, Cory. Cory is now engaged to a devoutly religious woman named Cass (Carolyn Laws), who is happy to take in her fiance’s brother, much to Cory’s reluctance.
What Cass doesn’t know is that these two brothers share a secret: Years ago, they were involved in a sexual relationship with one another, which violently spun out of control, and resulted in Aaron being convicted of murder and Cory becoming physically disabled.
When Cass uncovers the depth of their bond, she attempts to pull them apart, unraveling them all emotionally and causing Aaron to spiral violently. There’s a Hurricane coming, literally and figuratively. And none of them are prepared for it.
Hurricane Aaron bravely touches on themes of incest, molestation, shame and rage by exploring this forbidden relationship. On the surface, it’s a film about passion and sexual attraction between two brothers. But once we delve deeper, we begin to see what director, writer and actor J.R. Howell has to say about shame and repression of inner desires, specifically within the LGBTQ community.
He is exploring the pain felt at the reality of not being able to live authentically, and harm it causes inwardly and outwardly. We sometimes inflict pain on ourselves and others as a way to express the inexpressible, and we use rage as a substitute for love when we are denied it. These themes are very prevalent in the queer community, where many have been forced to fight others and themselves – physically, emotionally and mentally – in order to live their truth.
Looking deeper, we begin to see what a complex and layered relationship these brothers have – one that is expertly crafted by Howell, and superbly acted by he and his cast. The haunting original score, which was also composed by Howell, sets the tone perfectly for Aaron’s brewing rage.
Before becoming a filmmaker, Howell worked as an attorney in the field of human rights for over a decade. Through his work as a lawyer, Howell has experienced, in many ways, the heights and depths of the human condition. These experiences greatly inspire his work as a filmmaker.
I recently had a chance to speak with Howell following the FEARnyc screening of Hurricane Aaron.
KJ: Hi, J.R.! Can you tell us what inspired you to write the film?
JR: Hi, Kyle! Well, I was living in Los Angeles when I made the decision to relocate to my farm in a rural area just south of the Georgia border. I was going with the intention of adapting into a screenplay an unrelated short story I had written two years prior.
Not long after I had relocated, a hurricane hit my house. During the storm, I began thinking about a story involving characters who were stuck in a town where everyone had evacuated because of a hurricane.
That’s essentially how it started. Over time, the story began to form around themes and questions that I’d been thinking about for a long time, like the sources of violence in individuals and its effect on society or the generational aspects of abuse, how they start and how they end, and the nature of cycles of abuse on a national scale.
KJ: What inspired the relationship between the brothers?
JR: If you’re referring to the twisted love interest between the brothers, that idea didn’t come to me right away. I knew early on that I wanted one brother to go to prison for a crime committed by the other and that it needed to happen under circumstances where the innocent brother would be confused or disoriented as to the truth. As the plot played out, I thought it was boring and derivative without something deeper.
A long time ago, I was in an acting class where I was asked to play a sinister nazi for several weeks. When I had difficulty connecting to the character, my acting coach, Katt Shea, who directed the Carrie sequel among other films and is absolutely fantastic and I can’t recommend her enough, helped me deepen a connection to the character through a guided visualization exercise.
Essentially, she had me envision a hidden cellar inside myself that was a doorway to a collective subconscious of all the worst things imaginable. I opened that door and it helped me play the character I needed to play in class. But the door never closed. The brothers are from there.
KJ: How have audiences reacted to the brothers’ relationship in the film?
JR: During the first public screening, a group of people collectively walked out during the scene where one of the brothers masturbates while peeping on the other taking a shower. A few hours later, I ended up on some “god hates fags” social media campaign and I’ve been trolled by what appear to be anti-gay bots ever since. And to whoever put these legions after me, I say, thank you for watching.
Aside from that, the film has been received well. I won Best Director at FEARnyc, Best Florida Film at the Central Florida Film Festival, and Semi-Finalist at the Shanghai Pride Film Festival. It was the opening night film at the Hot Springs International Horror Film Festival, and plays next at the South Carolina Underground Film Festival on November 9th. Our run on the festival circuit will go throughout 2020 before a limited release in theaters and On Demand.
KJ: Do you have any ideas for other projects in the future?
JR: I’m currently filming a feature length documentary entitled See Us Hear Us (www.seeushearus.com, www.facebook.com/SeeUsHearUsDoc) about a suspected serial killer targeting trans women of color in Florida. I’m also writing a biopic series on the life of Roy Cohn who was widely considered a closet homosexual, a rotten human being, and is the chief antagonist in Tony Kushner’s Angels in America.
When I’m not working on that, I’m writing a fictionalized series based on the real life experiments conducted on gay men at the Atascadero State Hospital in the 1950s when homosexuals were actively incarcerated for living their lives. When the time is right, I would love to bring a biopic feature film pertaining to the struggle of gay men in Chechnya.
Watch the trailer for Hurricane Aaron below!