In the horror film Boarding School, Jacob Felsen (Luke Prael) is struggling. He doesn’t get along with the other kids at school and he’s bringing home the bruises to prove it. He’s also watching trash television and reading comics late at night which give him nightmares that wake up his exasperated mother (Samantha Mathis) and step-dad (David Aaron Baker). The culminating events lead Luke’s parents to send him away to a non-traditional boarding school in hopes that a little structure will help him.

However, the boarding school isn’t exactly what it’s advertised as. Overnight, Jacob finds himself stuck in a creepy mansion with six teenage misfits and two teachers who seem to be more interested in discipline than actual teaching.

ScreenPicks spoke with Samantha Mathis on what it was like to make Boarding School and to play Luke’s unhinged mother.

ScreenPicks: Have you seen the finished film yet?

Mathis: I’ve seen the almost-finished film. Boaz screened it for me at some point last year I think.

ScreenPicks: And did you have a favorite scene?

Mathis: There are a couple of scenes with Luke where he’s dancing that I think are just so twisted and haunting. Also [it’s] incredibly brave for this young actor in his first movie. He’s 12 and that’s an incredibly awkward age … and I was just mesmerized by his courage. It was very bizarre and out there and provocative.

ScreenPicks: How was it working with such young talent?

Mathis: I’ve done this for a long time, and every time working with young actors is different. [Luke] was very much in the zone, in a place in the universe that he created with Boaz [Yakin, the director] and … I really didn’t go out of my way to bond with him because the relationship was so dysfunctional in the movie between the two of us. I liked keeping a little bit of a distance from him.

I also wanted to just respect him and not overwhelm him [by saying,] “This is what I’m thinking about the relationship between our characters.” He didn’t need to know all that. Those were things that Boaz and I talked about. He needed to be in his character – which I think he did beautifully. I was very impressed with him.

ScreenPicks: All of the young actors in the film are great. Did you get a chance to meet any of them?

Mathis: Yes, Sterling Jerins. She’s spectacular … She’s been acting since she was six or four or something, so she’s a seasoned pro. She has this power on camera … so confident and comfortable and not at all any cliché of a child actor. She’s very grounded and comes from a very grounded family. She has a fire in her eyes. I got to watch her doing her thing, and she’s got a really interesting quality – utterly watchable.

[Jerins] actually went to school with or lives next door to Luke. So that was really wonderful for him to have her as a companion who has so much experience. Boaz didn’t know that when he was casting. They didn’t tell him until afterward. So it just sort of happened organically.

ScreenPicks: How was it making the film in general?

Mathis: It was an independent movie in the truest sense of the word. We made it on a shoestring, so it was a quick shoot, fast and dirty, no creature comforts. We knew what we were signing on for. So, everyone was there for the right reasons. People worked really hard and wanted to do the work. But it was a perfectly lovely set. It was a good experience.

ScreenPicks: What drew you to the project?

Mathis: I knew Boaz’s work and I’d always been intrigued by him as a filmmaker. The script … I read it and thought it was a unique take on the thriller genre. I was very disturbed by the storyline.

ScreenPicks: Your character has an estranged relationship with her mother and there are a lot of emotions tied up in that. Did your character’s extreme emotions make you want to play her?

Mathis: There was something in this character that I’d never played before. I was really intrigued by playing this woman who is … so fragile and on edge and probably a rage-aholic. [She] came from a very unhappy home and I was interested in exploring that … her having been raised by this woman … who had demons and was haunted by some of those demons. I was interested in those people who had been raised by Holocaust survivors, parents who had seen atrocities. How did that affect their upbringing? When your parents have seen such horrific things there are ghosts you are raised with.

Boarding School opens in select theaters and is available on Digital HD and OnDemand Friday, August 31st.