Natalia Dyer is used to exploring the strange and the weird as Nancy Wheeler on the hit Netflix series Stranger Things, but the 21-year-old star got the chance to unravel a different kind of mystery in her latest project Mountain Rest.
In the film, Dyer plays Clara, a teenage girl who goes on a trip with her mother Frankie (Kate Lyn Sheil) to visit Clara's eccentric grandmother Ethel (Frances Conroy) for the first. After learning she only has months to live, Ethel wants to reconnect with her family and meet her granddaughter, so she invites them to her secluded cabin in the mountains for an elaborate party with her collection of oddball friends.
Over the course of the weekend, Clara discovers that her fun-loving, "Disneyland" grandmother is harboring dark secrets that are seemingly behind Ethel's estrangement from her daughter Frankie.
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Natalia Dyer talks Mountain Rest
"She’s a bit of voyeur here," Dyer says of her character. "There’s a lot that she doesn’t know, so there’s a lot to be explored and learned on her part."
Despite Ethel's sometimes unsettling behavior—such as talking to her deceased husband or having a live-in boyfriend half her age—Clara takes a liking to her grandmother and wants to get closer to her. At times, this puts Clara at odds with Frankie, although their rift is also fueled by your typical mother-daughter tensions.
Dyer could relate to Clara's relationship with Frankie, as she recalls not agreeing with her own mother on a lot of issues at that age.
"Clara’s at that stage that I think most women go through when they’re transitioning between being a girl to becoming a young woman. There’s often some discord with the mom," says Dyer. "I love my mom dearly and I always have, but there was definitely that period where we couldn’t really see eye to eye and yet we were so intertwined by this very special, familial mother-daughter relationship. It’s just so push and pull."
"There’s a bit of secrecy around Frankie’s past and therefore Clara’s past," she adds. "In some ways, getting closer to Ethel helps her get closer to Frankie in a deeper way."
According to first-time filmmaker Alex O Eaton, the story of Mountain Rest was inspired by her fascination "with people’s right to choose to die," a "heavy subject" that plays a role in explaining Ethel's behavior during her family's visit.
"When I was writing it, there had been a lot of news about people being able to decide when they want to die," says Eaton. "God, this kind of sounds horrible, but it’s not because what was so inspiring to me about it was hearing about this one man in particular in the New York Times wrote about how once he made his decision, he regained all of his power because he controlled his own destiny again. He didn’t let the cancer guide his life."
For Eaton, who previously worked as an assistant to Jonah Hill, Mountain Rest is a very personal film. Not only was it shot at her cabin in North Carolina, but the character of Ethel was inspired by her father's acting mentor as well.
"She was a very eccentric, kind of hippy actress lady," says Eaton. "Growing up, she amazed me and terrified me at the same time. That’s exactly what Ethel does."
At it's core, Mountain Rest is a female-driven project—both on and off screen—about three generations of women, which is what attracted Dyer to sign onto the film.
"It’s an opportunity to be seized," Dyer says of working with so many other women on Mountain Rest. "It was fantastic and a different environment than I had ever worked in before."
Mountain Rest is now in select theaters and is also available to watch on digital video services.