Ever hear of this phenomenon called "soul loss"? Among many tribal cultures that practice Shamanism around the world, soul loss happens when a person's spirit splits in two, and a portion of the soul flees the body.
Psychologists refer to this experience as "dissociation," a disorder caused by a detachment from reality following a traumatic event.
When Foxboro-based novelist and screenwriter Jennifer B. White stumbled across the idea one day, she decided right away to make it the subject of an indie film that she would eventually title "Mary Loss of Soul."
"As a writer, I'm always looking for story ideas, so when I came across soul retrieval in my research, I thought it was an interesting premise," White said in a recent interview before hopping on a plane to the Palm Beach International Film Festival in Florida.
The 47-year-old mother of three wrote the script for what she termed the "slow burn, supernatural thriller" over the course of three very productive weeks in 2012. The film follows 15-year-old Mary Solis, who wanders off for a few hours while on vacation at her family's lake house and has a traumatic experience. When she returns to her family, Mary, played by Disney Channel star Kaylee Bryant, has no memory of what happened, and the normally cheery teenager suddenly seems lethargic, depressed and out of it.
After a ghostly figure resembling Mary begins to haunt the Solis family, her parents discover a portion of Mary's soul has been ripped from her body, and they're left scrambling to help their daughter.
White also directed and co-produced "Mary Loss of Soul," and said she tried to push the boundaries of the horror genre.
"In horror movies, you see the same formula over and over," she said. "There's always a dysfunctional family and everything bad always happens at night. With this film, I wanted to break those rules."
So, the University of Massachusetts Boston graduate centered the story around a stable, happy family, and set some of the movie's scariest scenes during the day time.
"I didn't want the audience to get too comfortable. I didn't want them thinking, 'OK, it's light out, nothing scary is going to happen until it's dark again,'" she said. "Psychologically, it's much scarier when horrifying things happen in the middle of the day because everything is out in the open. There's no darkness to hide behind."
She took risks with the filming, too.
"They say directors should never work with children or animals, and never shoot in your own house. Well I did all those things," she laughed.
White, who lives and writes in Foxboro but often flies to Los Angeles, shot the film in six locations in California, Boston, Foxboro and Mansfield.
Area residents will recognize the opening scene in the movie's trailer as Beaumont Pond in Foxboro. Because the main character, Mary, is a dancer, White shot a scene at Le Studio Danse in Mansfield. The owner, Valerie Brunetti-Spear, choreographed the movie's dance routines.
For the action scenes, White turned to Stacey Caron and Saeed Mansour of Personal Best Karate in Foxboro.
White said she chose locations in southeastern Massachusetts because of the area's natural beauty. To that end, the writer-director spoke about how a horror movie does not have to be all blood and guts.
Sure, there's a little bit of that in "Mary Loss of Soul," but it's kept to a minimum because, White said, she "wanted the story to be as organic as possible." Instead, she kept the terror in her wheelhouse: the supernatural. "I love the supernatural - anything spooky or scary - because there's always an element of truth to it," she said.
In fact, White has authored novels featuring ghosts, witchcraft, time travel, reincarnation and the lines between life and death with titles such as "Dead Asleep," "Otherwise" and "The Witch and The Devil's Son."
Her interest in the beyond stems from experiences she's had in real life, and the film's production was no exception, White said.
"Birds are one motif throughout the story because they're always an omen of mystery," she said.
White said Mary keeps finches as pets in the movie. She didn't know that Bryant, the actress playing Mary, also has pet finches.
Also, a bird gets trapped inside the Solis family's house during one scene, and after reading the script, photography director Matthew Boyd found a hummingbird trapped inside his home in Los Angeles. Coincidentally, around the same time, White said she found a robin in her own home despite all the windows being closed.
"I just thought that was so weird. I called Matt and said, 'You're never going to believe this!'" White said.
Other cast members such as Jose Zuniga of "Twilight" fame, who plays the father, Victor Solis, and Catherine Black, who plays the mother, Gina Solis, also reported strange incidents throughout the shoot.
Despite what White described as "uncanny" occurrences throughout pre- and post-production, the movie took only 16 days to shoot and was released in November. Since then, it's been gaining exposure at film festivals around the country, so much so that it snagged a spot at the Boston International Film Festival this Saturday, April 12.
White said she's excited for people to see it.
"I'm really proud of the film and I hope it resonates with people."
"Mary Loss of Soul" will screen at the Boston International Film Festival at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, April 12, at AMC Loews Theatre, 175 Tremont St., Boston. Tickets, more info: marylossofsoul.com/film-festivals, bifilmfestival.com.
EMILY O'DONNELL can be reached at 508-236-0340, at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SCMansfield.