DOWNERS GROVE – Sonny Mallhi viewed his hometown of Downers Grove through a different lens this fall, and in the process, found inspiration in the everyday street corners and buildings people often take for granted in their youth.
The Hollywood film producer and writer shot his debut feature as a director, “Anguish,” in his old stomping grounds this November, filming the village’s neighborhoods, the diner he and his friends would haunt in high school, and the playground at his old grade school, Belle Aire Elementary School.
“I’ve made a few movies in [Los Angeles] that are supposed to be middle America or the suburbs of Chicago or whatever, but they just don’t look it,” he said.
For the month-long shoot, Mallhi recruited a film crew of all Chicago locals and turned his childhood home into a production office.
“Maybe it’s nostalgia,” he said. “Maybe it’s just me looking at it, but that’s part of the filmmaking process. You’re guessing other people are going to find this interesting.”
After graduating from Downers Grove North in 1990 and the University of Chicago in ‘94, Mallhi headed to the nation’s capital for a short stint working in congressional offices. He quickly realized that career path wasn’t for him, he said, and headed to LA to begin his Hollywood career with no formal film training.
His first gigs in LA were unpaid internships. That eventually led to reading submitted scripts for movie studios.
“Eventually, you find a script that gets made into a movie, and they make you a producer, and you kind of sink or swim,” he said.
Mallhi swam, and now 40, he has been a co-producer on hits like the 2006 time-travel romance “The Lake House,” staring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, and an executive producer of the 2008 horror film “The Strangers.”
Mallhi also wrote two horror flicks – “Crush” in 2013 and “The Roommate” in 2011.
Mallhi said he never had any specific aspirations to become a director, but when he wrote “Anguish” he knew it was a story that he himself wanted to tell.
Downers Grove, Lemont and Willow Springs provided an authentic suburban setting, but he doesn’t want the imagery to convey cliches or stereotypes.
“I just wanted to show it in a different way,” he said. “So it’s not like generic suburbia. There’s really interesting aspects of it. Like my grade school – we shot it in a weird way that’s beautiful. You find the picturesque moments. You look at something and you take it for granted, you don’t really think about it at the time. But then you take another look at some of the stuff and it’s really pretty.”
Mallhi said the film, which weaves the spooky story of a teenage girl with psychological problems who may, or may not, be possessed by the spirit of another dead teen, is set in the present day, but filmed in a way to recall ‘70s cinema.
“The big question for the movie is, ‘What do you believe?’” he said.
It will take months to edit the film, and Mallhi hopes to release the movie in late 2014 or early 2015.