Paul Wesley says the upcoming thriller is "genuinely terrifying" and "quite relevant to today"
The pair star in the first trailer for History of Evil shared exclsuively with PEOPLE, depicting a "near future" in which "war and corruption have plagued America and turned it into a theocratic police state."
Orange Is the New Black alum Cruz plays Alegre Dyer, who is part of a group of citizens called The Resistance that fights back against oppression.
Alegre breaks out of political prison and reunites with her husband Ron, played by Vampire Diaries alum Wesley, and their daughter Daria, played by Murphee Bloom.
"On the run from the militia, the family takes shelter in a remote safe house. But their journey is far from over, as the house’s dark past begins to eat away at Ron, and his earnest desire to keep his family safe is overtaken by something much more sinister," according to a synopsis.
Wesley, 41, tells PEOPLE that History of Evil, written and directed by Bo Mirhosseni, is "not only a genuinely terrifying thriller, but it is also a story that is deep in metaphor and very much a cautionary tale — and quite relevant to today."
"Personally," he adds, "I feel that the best genre films are those that provoke thought and have deeper meaning, and our film History of Evil very much accomplishes that."
For Cruz, 37, her off-screen activism made the story even more relatable.
"It resonated deeply with me because, through my involvement with the Justice League and participating in marches like the Women's March, I've consistently stood against injustice," she says. "Carmen Perez, my mentor, served as a source of inspiration, and the character in the script reminded me of her: a fierce advocate for those without a voice, especially those incarcerated."
"Carmen, deeply committed to justice and also a mother, holds a special place in my heart," the star adds. "Witnessing her dedication with the Justice League, where she fearlessly combines motherhood and activism, greatly inspired my character."
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Cruz — who says she was "compelled to take on this role to amplify the voices of the voiceless" — adds that Perez "exemplifies that being a mother doesn't hinder the fight against injustice."
"She's unyielding, taking her baby to marches and showing that the commitment to justice can coexist with motherhood," she says. "In portraying Alegre, I aimed to capture this spirit, where the character learns the paramount importance of her child while navigating the challenging landscape of her work."
Cruz says the movie is "haunting" but "carries a powerful message that love can triumph over darkness."
"While not a traditional happy story, it carries a sense of hope," she says of the film. "I aspire for viewers to leave with the conviction that using their voice, fighting for beliefs and cherishing family are invaluable aspects of life."
History of Evil is streaming on Shudder Feb. 23.
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