Stephen and Alexa Kinigopoulos wanted to make a movie where they came from. The siblings, who co-directed the new psychological thriller “Fishbowl,” grew up near Baltimore, and so when they were seeking a setting for their film, they simply cast their gaze out the window.
“When you’re surrounded by those locations every day, you maybe see them differently. And it’s always great to shoot in places that helped make you who you are,” Stephen Kinigopoulos said. “People from Maryland take pride in being from Maryland [and] we live and want to help each other, [which] really showed once we started filming.”
“Fishbowl” is an intense ride that relies far less on fancy special effects than on creating, and maintaining, a mood of impending dread over its 88 minutes, proving again that the horror of a disturbed mind is far more frightening than anything external that goes bump in the night. Rick Kain stars as the father of three teenage daughters who suddenly breaks with reality, believing that Armageddon is weeks away. Rick imposes stentorian limits on his daughters, forbidding them from sugar, boys and anything else that might theoretically make them “impure” for the rapture he is certain is at hand.
“We love horror. I like a slow burn, where you take [something] realistic and maybe exaggerate it a little bit,” said Stephen, adding that distributor Gravitas Ventures has been redefining the genre, and thus was a perfect venue for “Fishbowl.”
Alexa Kinigopoulos said the siblings were also inspired by the modern horror films of James Wan (“Saw,” “The Conjuring”) as well as David Lynch’s rather unusual aesthetic in films such as “Mulholland Drive.”
“The type of thriller that is really driven by something visual stands out for me,” Alexa said, adding that “Fishbowl” is “a mix of thriller and horror.”
The Kinigopouloses’ mother is Jewish and their father Greek Orthodox, so religion was always in their orbit growing up, even if they were not quite immersed in either faith.
“We were never forced in [any direction], but there was that pressure from our peers, and upon ourselves, to ‘identify’ with one” religious tradition or another, Alexa said.
“We were never bar- or bat-mitzvahed, so are we not Jewish enough?” added Stephen. “When you are young in the Greek Orthodox church, you are an altar boy. I didn’t do that, so am I [also] not Greek enough?”
This duality of their childhood naturally led the siblings to ask hard questions not only about their identity, but of the theological. For instance, could they, coming from a mixed-faith home, still get into heaven?
“We’re in our thirties and still figuring all that out,” Alexa said with a chuckle. “It was an interesting childhood, and we made it a little more dramatic through the” three teenage girls at the center of “Fishbowl.”
Kain and several of the main actors come from Baltimore’s rather extensive professional acting circuit. The Kinigopouloses also had a hometown resource in TV veteran George Pelecanos of “The Wire” fame. Pelecanos and their father were old friends in Baltimore’s Greek community, and their mother also worked on “The Wire” and “Homicide” with Pelecanos.
The siblings even filmed in the same Catholic school in Baltimore that their father attended growing up.
Indeed, many of the supporting cast came from among the Kinigopouloses’s circle, including non-actors the siblings knew whom they felt were right for small roles, including the grandmother of one of their friends who has a very small, but memorable, role.
“You meet some people in real life, and [think] that person is a ‘character,’ and so we’re going to put that character in our movie,” Stephen said.
Alexa and Stephen maintain that not only are they siblings and creative partners, but also best friends. They say they rarely had any rows on set and, if one happened, they were quick to mend fences.
“I honestly can’t imagine making [a movie] with anyone else,” Alexa said. “[Stephen is] such an incredible artist, and we have so much fun together.”
“Two heads are better than one, especially if it’s my sister,” Stephen concurred. “There’s no better feeling than being about to roll the camera and my sister is standing right there. It’s my favorite thing.”
“Fishbowl” maintains its aura of dread throughout, and its several plot turns keep the viewer guessing all the way to the end credits. It’s an achievement to be sure when audiences, especially thriller fans, have seen almost everything.
Perhaps that uniqueness was born of its creators’ family ties.
“We play to each other’s strengths,” Stephen said of collaborating with Alexa. “It’s the most fun and fulfilling to me, and I just love it.”
“Fishbowl” became available for streaming on Tuesday.