Luke Momo, the multi-faceted filmmaker behind indie horror film opus Capsules, is back to share more about the intricate world of the film as well as some amusing trivia. Yes, there are major spoilers, but knowing this stuff will also give you a richer experience when you see the movie (see the movie!).
For my interview with Luke, look here.
The film centers around four intelligent yet naive college students studying for their chemistry final. Worn out from a week of finals and gearing up to take their toughest one, they stumble upon a mysterious bottle of pills. They decide to take them to have a fun night off before returning to their studies.
They quickly discover that there’s a catch: if they don’t take another pill every six hours, they will die. They agree to keep taking the pills while trying to figure out how to escape this loop and survive without the pills. They use their knowledge of science and their cunning young minds to try to solve the pressing issue.
They find themselves in increasingly compromising situations that challenge their moral and ethical beliefs and ultimately force them to grow up and confront their own mortality. Capsules is a coming-of-age story told through the scariest drug trip you could imagine.
Revealing Questions and Answers
- Do the different colored pills have varying effects? For example, is Ryan truly unable to sleep while taking his yellow and black pill?
- Each pill has unique effects. This exposition is never overtly given to the audience; however, it is implied and observable upon rewatching the film. Dev’s green and black pill increases alertness and focus. Jasper’s black pill is a depressant. Maya’s yellow pill lowers one’s inhibitions. Ryan’s pill makes one completely unable to sleep, like a hypothetical “super anti-Melatonin.”
- Why does the Old Man come out of a shed in the opening of the film? What is happening there?
- The Old Man keeps his pill supply in a shed, far from his main house. This shed is glimpsed in the beginning of the film when he emerges from it holding a capsule-looking silver cannister. That cannister is seen later in the main house, filled to the rim with pills. When the students later break into the main house, they tragically cannot find any more pills because they do not know they are truly hidden in the shed.
- Where do the pills come from originally? What substance are they made of?
- The Old Man discovered the substance that he would later synthesize into the pills in 1968 when he came across a large green-shimmering rock originally from outer space that crash landed in a far-off, unnamed desert. This event is shown chronologically last in the film, as a post-credits scene. Maya also learns about this when she decrypts his journal, and she tells Dev about it in the final scene right before the credits. Jasper attempts to understand the chemical composition of the pills, but he discovers that they are not present on the periodic table of elements. This points to dark matter resonance, explained in the next question.
- How are the pills’ chemical components not on the periodic table? Could there be more, undiscovered (maybe extraterrestrial) chemical elements that would disrupt our current understanding?
- For something new to disrupt the table, we would need to discover a novel, unexpected form of matter, which our fundamental theories don’t anticipate. Could it happen? I mean, sure. Our theories are incomplete. Nature could always prove us wrong. In ten thousand years, maybe we find some dark matter resonance that ends up behaving like hadronic matter. But do we expect that to happen? Not particularly.
- What did the Old Man do with the rock from outer space? How did he fashion the pills?
- The audience is left to imagine that between 1968 and 2018, the Old Man conducted experiments on the substance that led to the pills. What exactly happened is left entirely to the audience’s imagination. The director and writers of the film believed that the Old Man discovered the substance and was a perfectionist who was unwilling to share his discovery with the world. As a result, he hid his research and conducted it off the grid. Ultimately, he moved into the town and unknowingly doomed himself. The town’s polluted air led to an unexpected adverse reaction that proved lethal. More on that in the next bullet.
- How did the Old Man doom himself? What is going on with the adverse reaction of the pills? Why does one “comedown” and then die while taking them?
- The Old Man moved to a town containing a high parts per million concentration of air pollutants. These pollutants reacted with the substance in the pills to create an adverse “come down reaction” that the characters Dev, Jasper, Maya and Ryan experience in the film. Previously, the Old Man was studying the pills’ effects on himself, but they did not have a lethal dimension. By moving to the town, the Old Man essentially trapped himself. He would have then been stuck in a loop, continually taking the pills to survive. Perhaps he could have left the town like the students eventually do, but he may be imposing a Promethean fate upon himself and “suffering in silence” as we see in the film…
- Why does the Old Man never speak?
- The Old Man is deaf and mute. Many audience members seem to miss this detail. It is briefly shown when Dev interrogates the Old Man, and we see her from his perspective for a moment. She is yelling at him, but no words are coming out of her mouth. He cannot hear her. This deaf and mute aspect plays into the debacle that happens during the break-in. The Old Man does not actually know that the students have taken the pills in the first place. He is trying to do an altruistic act and prevent them from experiencing the pills’ deadly effects when he flushes them down the toilet. This adds an element of tragedy to the events in the film, for if he had known they needed the pills, he would have given them over to them.
- How do some of the students survive at the end?
- The pills become fatal when they are ingested and the person who ingested them is in the presence of high levels of pollution. This causes a chemical reaction that leads to their lung failure. Upon hearing from Ryan that he missed his comedown period when chasing for Jasper in the foothills, Dev (having learned that there were lung effects from the pills after dissecting the Old Man) rightfully hypothesizes that the pills’ comedown reaction may be reduced or nullified when the person taking them is in the presence of fresh air. The students test Dev’s hypothesis by driving far away from the town into remote nature. It turns out to be true, and they live.
- The main house in the film was owned by Joyce Carol Oates for many years. One can read her writing about the home’s mystique here: https://celestialtimepiece.com/2010/02/23/9-honeybrook-drive/
- All cast and crew, except for David Dotterer who played the Old Man, were under 25 years old during the production of the film.
- The first complete scene filmed was the dissection scene.
- The final complete scene filmed was the film’s finale on the waterfall.
- Caroline Potter Shriver smoked herbal prop cigarettes for the film, while Kate Pittard smoked real cigarettes.
- Ryan’s laptop has a sticky note on it that displays the chemical formulation for hallucinogenic “magic” mushrooms.
- The title cards displaying the passage of time are a tribute to Kubrick’s usage of similar title cards in The Shining.
- Jasper can be seen wearing mala beads, common in the Buddhist tradition.
- Dev can be seen wearing a miraculous medal and Catholic rosary beads on her wrist throughout the film.
- The artwork on display in Dev’s Bedroom, including the bodhisattva (Buddhist Saint) and the Mountain Range were made by Luke Momo.
- The vomit in the film was made of oatmeal and green food coloring.
- The cinematographer Harrison Kraft shot a movie after this called Cannibal Mukbang that deployed the exact same chest cavity prop featured in the film, made by Ashley K. Thomas of Yellow Moth Makeup.
About the Artist
Born in Princeton, NJ, Luke earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy with a minor in visual arts from Fordham College Lincoln Center in the Class of 2019. As a student, he founded the Fordham Filmmaking Club. As a filmmaker, he directed Capsules, a feature film, alongside a series of short films including “The Stamp Collector.” He also interned for Marie-Louise Khondji at Le Cinema Club, a dynamic online cinema space.