Talking of Torment : In Conversation With Andrew Cull
13th Sep 10
Thanks and kudos to Mr Cull for taking the time to talk to us about the movieís evolution and influences and his own take on our beloved genre.
The movie has had a long journey to the screen. Tell us about the origins of The Torment and how it has evolved from your original conception.
Andy Cull: I wrote The Torment (it was originally called Inside) back in 2003 because Iím a long-time horror fan and was feeling really disillusioned with the movies I was seeing coming out of the US at the time. They were all set in places that I had no connection with and were generally populated by 2-D characters who were at best unbelievable, at worst hateful. It was impossible to sympathise for anyone in the films and to get involved or care about what was happening on the screen. It made the scares feel empty and forced. I wanted to try and change that. Iím a big fan of movies from the 70ís - I loved their slow pacing, their building tension, and the engagement youíd feel with their characters. I wanted to bring that feeling to a modern audience.
The Torment was originally going to be about a husband and wife documentary team who set about documenting a haunting. Imagine how that could have turned out! I felt at the time thought that the story still wasnít close enough to home to really get to the audience. It didnít take me long to realise that it had to be about the audience, they had to see themselves in the characters on the screen. It had to take place in their homes, in the place where theyíd be watching it, the place where theyíd be left to turn out the lights after the film had finished.
At the time I was living in the ground floor of a large Victorian house in South London, which became the location for the script. From 2003 to 2006 the script passed through three different production companies, none of whom were able to raise the funding to shoot it. Some wanted to make dramatic changes to the film, to Americanise it and make it more traditional. I wouldnít do that: I knew that to work, it had to made the way Iíd written it, the way Iíd planned it. I knew it was saleable as it was, I felt that it was what a horror audience wanted to see.
How did In The Dark fit into the evolution of The Torment ?
A.C.: In late 2006 I felt I was getting nowhere with the film so I decided to go it along and make [episodic pseudo-reality horror available online via www.youtube.com/louisepaxton] In The Dark. It was a story I really liked, and I thought I could do something exciting and frightening with - and I wanted to show off the style in which I wanted to make The Torment. I teamed up with my good friend, the writer Steve Smith and the initial shoot lasted a week. The whole thing was meant to run for two weeks but I hadnít counted on how much people would get involved with the story. The project ran for over three months in the end and I still get lots of email about it now. It was In The Dark that cracked The Torment for me, that got people interested. Even then some people in the industry looked at it and thought it was too homemade and the style would never sell. Paranormal Activity anyone? In late 2007 [sound editor of In The Dark and producer of The Torment] Steve Isles asked me if I had any projects he could take a look at. He loved the script [of The Torment] and we formed Authentic Films to make the movie.
Tell us about the production of The Torment and your feelings on how it turned out
A.C.: It was a three week shoot [in 2009] on a very tight budget. I think my shooting style created a bit of a stir with some. I like to shoot long sequences all in one go. It adds to the atmosphere. The actors can explore the scene fully without constant stops and starts. Iíd rather shoot a conversation looking from one actor to the other the way you would if you were standing in the room with them rather than the potential immersion-breaking classic way of cutting from one over-the-shoulder shot to another. Iím a huge Hitchcock fan, with my all time favourite movie being Rope. If I could have shot it all in one take I would have done.
Iím really proud of the performances in The Torment. I think they stand out against other low budget features. Luckily we had a cast and crew who were dedicated and could think on their feet. I wanted to create a high level of suspense, a building unease that would explode mid-way and they worked extremely hard to help me achieve this. Some elements were lost in the mix. I would have liked to do a lot more POV work but thatís something Iíll take with me to my next projects.
You touched upon the faux-reality trend in 21st century horror films and the publicity for The Torment eagerly rides the coattails of Paranormal Activity. Where do you think this sub-genre can go from here?
A.C.: That old ĎBased On A True Storyí ô thing! I think the last really good use of that was in Fargo ! The Torment isnít based on True Events ô any more than Paranormal Activity's. Donít get me wrong I love reality in my horror. When I wrote The Torment I felt (and still feel) that itís really important to bring reality into horror. It draws the audience in and can make a film much more impacting and terrifying. When I wrote The Torment I wanted to use reality to bring horror back to an audience I felt were being failed by modern horror films. But I didnít want to just put someone behind the camera ala The Blair Witch. That can work fantastically as in that movie or be really clunky as in Cloverfield. I wanted to try and progress the whole reality thing. I did this by mixing elements of documentary with more classical filmmaking styles. The performances are very natural, very real yet often the look of the film is what you might expect of a higher budget production. I wanted you have a nagging sense of it feeling real without the need for the mechanism of Ďsomeone behind the cameraí.
I think there is and always will be a place for faux reality in horror. As long as youíre innovating itís absolutely fine to shoot in any style you feel carries the fear across to the audience. As for ĎBased On A True StoryĒô letís leave that to the Coen Brothers!
Would you like to do a film completely from a first person perspective?
A.C.: Itís funny you should say that as recently I wrote a treatment for a piece that could be shot entirely in first person. I would love to do a movie that was entirely through the POV of the central character. In The Torment I couldnít do enough of the really physical first person that I wanted to do. We shot with one of the 4K RED cameras. It was a fantastic camera. It allowed us to go really dark on set and still pick up everything we wanted to see. Something that wouldnít have been possible with other digital cameras. The downside to the RED was that it was huge. Kudos to my DOP who fell down the stairs for me with this great thing on his shoulders! Twice! The size of the camera meant that we had trouble with it in tight spaces and its weight meant that the DOP simply couldnít produce the fast, really physical POV work I wanted to do. It was a trade off. We got great results in other areas. But would I like to create a really frightening piece entirely in POV? You bet I would!
I admire your avoidance of cheap scare tactics in the movie and the emphasis on slow burn menace as opposed to bog standard jump scares. What movies scare you and why?
A.C.: I love slow burn horror, I love it to take itís time, get under your skin, make you increasingly nervous, drawing the suspense out before a terrifying pay off. I think thatís so much more effective than the ĎBoo!í type scares that we often see in horror movies. I love Rope. I sit with my fists clenched in white knuckles every time I watch it as it draws towards its ending. Itís fantastic suspenseful film making.
As for what scares me? Well, A Tale Of Two Sisters was fantastic. Shutter (the 2004 Thai original) has some fantastic scares in it. I loved and still love The Blair Witch Project . Brad Andersonís Session 9 was also a fantastically creepy watch. Itís the kind of movie you tell all your friends about because you know theyíre going to love it. John Carpenterís The Thing is also one of my favourites. Itís filled with great suspense and pre-CG monsters (the best kind). Finally, I donít think I could make a top list of horror movies without mentioning Robert Wiseís The Haunting (1963). Itís an absolute classic. If I manage to make a film as good as that one day Iíll retire a happy man!
You have mentioned the strong influence of some of the most intelligent and enduring horror movies of the 70's - why do you think this period was so conducive to such strong horror filmmaking and how did this influence extend to your cast and crew members?
A.C.: The 70s is probably my favourite period for horror. It encompasses most of my favourite horror movies. The Omen, Donít Look Now , The Exorcist, The Shining ; the list goes on. Why was it such a great time for horror? Each of the movies Iíve listed tells a great story. Something thatís absolutely key to any great film. It might sound obvious but itís something thatís often missing. People were innovating in horror. Great filmmakers like Kubrick, Nicholas Roeg and William Friedkin were making horror movies. They took the movies seriously, treated the genre with respect. I get so infuriated with people who treat horror as a sub genre. It isnít. Some of the greatest movies of all time are horror movies. Also, back in the 70ís horror movies were made for adults. Too often horror movies nowadays seem to be made for the PG13 market. Itís very rare that a 12 certificate horror film is actually a horror film. When I set out to write The Torment I wanted to write a horror movie for adults again. Something that was scary in an intelligent and adult way. I purposefully aimed the film at an older market. The market I thought were being failed by movies at the time.
How typical do you think your experience making The Torment was and what advice would you give fledgling filmmakers?
A.C.: My advice is persevere, persevere and persevere some more. I donít know how typical my experience was compared to others but I wrote The Torment in 2003 and here we are 7 years later talking about the recently released film. 7 years is a long time and there are definitely times when you wonder if youíre ever going to see the end of the process. Iíve said this before but it was In The Dark that got people interested in me and that helped to raise the funds to make The Torment. I couldnít have done that without YouTube. There are so many more outlets for potential filmmakers that didnít exist when I started writing. Take advantage of them. Get out there with your camera, do some guerrilla filmmaking and get it out there on the internet. Create a buzz and get people watching your stuff. Itís a long road but if youíve got good material itíll get seen eventually. Iíd say you have to be prepared to be in it for the long haul if you want to get a film made in the UK . You know if youíve got a great script and the ability to make that into a great film. If youíve got those key elements you can get your film made.
Can you give some more information on potential future projects or the kind of genre productions you yourself would love to bring to the screen?
A.C.: Iím really lucky in that ideas arenít something I have a problem with. Iíve always got too many ideas for the time Iíve got. Iím currently writing my next feature. Again itís a slow burn character driven piece. Itís a film thatís really not afraid to use silence. I think itíll be both terrifying and at turns heartbreaking. Iím really pleased with it.
As for movies Iíd love to make. If Frank Darabont hadnít made it Iíd have said Iíd loved to have adapted Stephen Kingís The Mist. I read that when I was on holiday as a kid and I thought it was fantastic. Itís a great end of the world story. I was on holiday in Wales and I can remember that it rained all week. Travelling through sheet rain in our car reading that short story was so evocative. You could easily imagine it was real. Itís a brilliant piece of writing.
Given that oneís gone what else can I think of? I love HP Lovecraftís work and itíd be brilliant to adapt one of his stories. His work was definitely an influence on The Torment. Also, Iíd love to shoot a movie in Korea . I love Korean cinema and I love their take on horror. Theyíve no question of it being a serious genre. A Tale Of Two Sisters is one of my favourite movies. Itís a wonderful piece of cinema as well as being a terrifying film. Itíd be an honour to work with some of the great Korean actors like Kang-ho Song.
The Torment is available now on DVD from Momentum. For more information about its creator, go to www.AndrewCull.com
1st Nov 04 Above all though, it is the relationship between John and Laura Baxter which is the filmís central focus throughout, and the gradual disintegration of their relationship amidst a haze of grief.