Ahead of the screening of THE HALLOW at Grimmfest 2015, I had the pleasure to speak with the film’s director and co-writer Corin Hardy and one of the film’s stars Joseph Mawle about the film which is set to hit UK cinemas on 13th November 2015.
As the writer of THE HALLOW as well as the director, what inspired you for the story?
Corin: Since being a kid and reading fairytales – my parents always gave me those lovely European fairytales books from the 60’s. – the illustrations, in particular, burnt into my brain, along with seeing movies like King Kong and Ray Harryhausen movies and then becoming obsessed with horror when I was about 12. Then there were the films from the 70’s and 80’s, John Carpenter’s The Thing, Ridley Scott’s Alien and Cronenberg’s The Fly. Putting together the movies that I loved watching, when I got the chance to write my own, I came up with five different movies I wanted to make. They were all effectively genre movies, exploring new monsters in some way and trying to come up with something fresh rather than regurgitating what has come before. So I suppose I kind of thought that fairytales were a good place to start and I wanted to do a fairytale grounded in reality.
From reading fairytales as a kid, what would you say is your favourite fairytale?
Corin: That’s a good question.
Is it the darker the fairytale the better?
Corin: They definitely appeal to me. They kind of piqued my imagination and scared me a little bit.
Joe: They’ve got a real truth to them as well, haven’t they? There’s a moral centre to them. As well as being something fantastical, it’s also grounded in reality. That’s what Corin is really brilliant at bringing out, is both that fantastical and that kitchen-sink reality and combining the two to create a film that works on a level that is easy access to begin with for an audience rather than expecting people to jump into a world that you don’t know, which I think is really brilliant about the script.
What attracted you to the film, Joe?
Joe: Corin. *smiles*
Corin: Well, I wanted to attract Joe to the film. I’d been an admirer and fan of Joe’s work and everytime I see him, he always blew me away with the powerful performance and he also just ingrains himself into the movie. Looking at Sigourney Weaver in Alien, Dustin Hoffman in Straw Dogs or Jeff Goldblum in The Fly, these are like really incredible performances that are by actors who weren’t really like A-list stars at the time, they were someone who was a credible actor who gave an authentic performance and so I was looking for that person. I really hoped that I could get Joe and thankfully he said yes.
Joe: We’d had a great time working on a music video some years ago for The Horrible Crowes for a song called Behold The Hurricane and it was just after that. Not only did we want to work together, we had a little while before that we could do something. It kind of helped it that we really do kinda stem off each other really.
Corin: It was like a good test for us because Joe had just done Birdsong and he was literally… I think he flew pretty much from the set of Birdsong back overnight and had to be in London for this music video which was a crazy one-and-a-half day shoot to tell a whole story and I really wanted to tell an emotional narrative. In music video land, you know you’ve not got very long to do that so it was a good test for us to see whether we’d be able to do something else.
How long did it take to shoot THE HALLOW?
Corin: The film took pretty much 30 days. There were 28 days and then we did a little bit extra to shoot an opening scene on the ferry. I had a lot of fun. It was tough, you know. It was 90% locations. We had a small amount of studio built but it was very much down and dirty filmmaking in a house with the whole crew having to move around different rooms. It’s quite claustrophobic. Then we shot in five different forests in Ireland, predominantly at night in bad weather with prosthetics and all the stunts.
Joe: It was such good weather that the mosquitos came out and ate the people’s faces and it all looks pretty horrific the next morning. Poor Steve came out with a face that he’d look like he’d been through some sort of horror of his own!
With you shooting on location outdoors, did the fickle nature of the weather cause you any issues?
Corin: Certainly for continuity it was difficult but not out of the question because there’s tricks to kind of shoot around it. There’s a Plan B. One of the worst weathers we had was when we shot Michael McElhatton’s scenes. We had absolutely horizontal rain in an outdoor location. My general attitude is that no matter what, we’ve got to shoot, and we’ll figure out things later with continuity. There were a few scenes where we might have shot Joe’s character Adam on one day, heading down to inspect the workshed, and then the next time we shot it was raining. Luckily, with a little additional visual effects and sound, you can kind of convey what you need. Other than that, there’s no reason not to just brave the weather.
Joe: What I think it’s really important about the film that Corin’s trying to make is that he tries to do as much in-camera, in the frame, and minimal visual effects outside in post-production as possible. Most of them were created within the film in-camera so it’s very exciting to work in a very different kind of way.
As far as the creatures are concerned, have you used practical effects or CGI or a blend of both?
Corin: I come from a love of practical effects background. I wanted to be a monster maker and effects artist. I was inspired, from being obsessed with Fangoria and trying out my own make-ups as a kid with my friends, when we were between the ages of 12 and 17. I studied it at Wimbledon School of Art and Theatre Design and did a special effects course. I love the artistry that is required to create visions on the screen. Now CG is another credible tool so to me it’s a case of mixing up the techniques and the tools to create some kind of a visualisation that you can’t pin down.
Joe: Practical effects have a real depth. It has a kind of depth which you can’t get from CGI in my opinion. Or at least CGI alone, is what I mean.
Corin: There’s very little pure CGI. There’s a small amount but there’s a lot of mixture of visual effects with practical effects, prosthetics, animatronics, puppetry, costumes and, obviously, lighting. Filmmaking is a magic trick, as I see it, and effects within that is a slight of hand illusion. So you’re maybe showing something over here but what you’re really doing is something over there. So Joe had to perform with full prosthetics, contact lenses, appliances and sometimes little green sections where we’d add or subtract. It is predominantly in-camera, practical, but there’s a lot of subtle compositing work and things like that. Hopefully when you’re watching you’re not thinking, “Oh, is is this effect? Is it that effect?”. But then I also think that to scare people or to create something scary as an image, if it feels computerised you instantly slip out of it whereas you can get away with something in-camera if you light it a certain way. It just has a rawness to it. The lighting is obviously a big part of it in disguising what is there. It’s trying to create emotionally connective creatures, characters, sets, locations, you know, so that you care or you get scared.
Joe: It’s a massive collaboration between some really amazing individual artists like David Lupton who’s a very good friend of Corin and mine. He did all the illustrations. I mean, look at them in detail. They’re so intricate, so nuanced. It’s that kind of detail that I think makes Corin really remarkable. As a director, he puts that into everything he does and then attracts those kind of people to his work which is why it’s so exciting to be part of a project like this.
I know you mentioned Ray Harryhausen before. With his creations, you knew they weren’t real but they felt real. You believe the creatures are alive on screen…
Corin: That’s the other thing, with someone like Ray Harryhausen, you could feel the skill and the love of what he’s doing come through. I love horror, I love creatures and I love good stories and hopefully it’ll come through. It’s same with Alien. The detail and the biology, the design of that creature is still the best there ever has been and it’s terrifying as a result. Then I love Rob Bottin’s effects in The Thing being so crazy in that anything can go. We were going to make it practical so I was on the lookout for someone who exists in England to be ambitious enough to take onboard quite a big – for an independent low budget movie – task in effects and I found a guy called John Nolan who worked on Where The Wild Things Are and Hellboy. He has a small but very talented group of animatronics designers, prosthetics artists and fabricators in Stoke Newington in London and he took on all the effects in The Hallow. He did an incredible job.
I noticed the story is focused on a husband, wife and baby child. What made you decide on a baby over an older child?
Corin: Part of it was that I’ve seen that scenario repeated quite a lot recently. Choosing who your characters are is a key part of the story. As you’re forming a narrative as you write the script you adjust things accordingly but I always had this idea of a young, new parent and the part of the crux of the story is about parenting and decisions you make as a couple.
Joe: What changes you make as a person when you become a parent, from an individual who’s expecting a child to being an individual with a child, it makes a massive difference. I think the point of having a baby is that it is something completely innocent. It’s unaffected by the world yet it’s going to be affected by what it sees. In a way it’s quite a pure symbol. It’s the most pure symbol you can have.
Corin: There’s a lot of elements of fairy folklore that I wanted to incorporate if I could and one of the most interesting ones was the idea of changelings and this sort of scary ambiguity of ‘has your child been taken and been replaced by something else’ and this sort of parallels with fairy mythology.
Joe: That’s a spoiler actually.
Corin: I dunno. I haven’t said what happens with it, but yeah. In terms of fairytales, there’s certain fairy folklore rules and I wanted to investigate what it might be like to spend the night with fairies and to see what kind of damage they could do to a family.
Is tension a bit part of your movie and is that something which is challenging to tackle as both a writer and director?
Corin: Absolutely. Tension is so important. Just good tension in any story telling to keep people on edge, to keep you excited about the tension between the characters and the tension intensity of the gradual horror that is building up. Trying to retain tension is one of the key aims with a film, particularly a horror movie, and I would hope that there is enough keeping you watching to keep you invested and invested in the characters particularly because you care enough for them in order to feel scared when they get scared and go through what they have to endure. There are scares and shocks. People talk about jump scares in horror movies. They’re fun but they don’t sustain. It’s easy to go “WAH!” like that, you suddenly get scared but that’s it. It’s funny and a bit of a laugh but…
Joe: I think it’s really interesting to me that different audience members are going to have a different reaction. If you are a parent with a child or if you’re a thirty year old, a fifteen year old or if you’re a seventeen year old, you’re going to have a different reaction and different things are going to be scary, depending on your experiences, so that’s what’s really clever about the script. It’s not the same thing for everybody as any piece of art is. So that’s what’s really exciting about it.
Thank you Corin and Joe for your time.
THE HALLOW is screening in UK cinemas now.