Q&A: “IN FEAR” Director Jeremy Lovering on Scaring Audiences—and Actors
How do you keep horror-film viewers IN FEAR, wondering what will happen next? You put your cast in the same position. That’s how British director Jeremy Lovering filmed his chilling debut feature, which opens today; he explores that process in the following interview.
Released by Anchor Bay Films in exclusive theatrical engagements (go here for details) and coming to DVD, Blu-ray and VOD next Tuesday, IN FEAR follows Tom (Iain De Castecker) and his friend/potential girlfriend Lucy (Alice Englert) as they set out for a music festival in a rural part of England. Tom has arranged for them to stay overnight at a nearby hotel, but their attempts to find it only lead to them getting lost on a series of narrow, twisty back roads. Worse yet, someone or something seems to be stalking them, and they eventually have confront the source of their terror head on. Working with only an outline, Lovering put his two leads through their paces without an idea of where they or the story were going, to heighten the realism of their frightened reactions. And as he recalls, there were points when that reality took over their performances…
FANGORIA: Was there any point where either of your stars became so frightened by their situation that perhaps they couldn’t go on?
JEREMY LOVERING: Well, they definitely got increasingly scared throughout. I think they realized they couldn’t necessarily trust each other, they were in the dark and they were on that level of expectancy and anticipation all the time. There were no down moments, because they didn’t have those points in the script where they knew a bad thing was going to happen three scenes from now, and in this scene it’s just about having a cup of tea or whatever. So they never relaxed; they were always on edge.
The scene that did it for Iain was when Alice was leaning over talking to him, and that was deliberately the moment where you normally have a reconciliation in a horror film; it’s that kind of “We’ve got to hang together, set aside our differences and climb the mountain” scene. And instead, I had her pulled out of the car at that moment, and Iain found that really, really hard. He actually went into shock and started shaking; you know, he needed to be given a hot blanket! That was the moment when me and Nira [Park], the producer, were like, “Oh my goodness, he’s completely forgotten that this is acting!” I said, “OK, let’s do another one immediately,” and he was like, “Can I just have five minutes?”
For Alice, I think it was when her character betrays Iain’s, and the reason why was that while Alice totally understood that the character needed to betray him at that moment, she as a human being, as Alice, didn’t want her character to do it. She found that very upsetting, and we had to sit down and talk it through.
FANG: How difficult was it to find a pair of actors who were both game to try out this cinematic experiment and had the right chemistry to make that work?
LOVERING: It was very easy, to be honest, to find actors who wanted to do it, because it was a bit of a gift. I was basically telling them, “You can be part creator or collaborator in your character.” I did have archetypes in mind and wanted to find actors who in some way reflected them, and that’s how I got attracted to Iain and Alice. Iain is not an alpha male, but he’s had friends who are, and he has always avoided violence where his mates have kind of been drawn to it, so that instantly connected to the archetype I was interested in. And Alice was only 17 years old; she was very intuitive and wise beyond her years, but not in terms of life experience, so there was a kind of vulnerability that just came through her age.
Then I put them together and saw very quickly that they could become great friends, rather than just flirting or “Oh, are we going to get together?” That was much more interesting to me—that it wasn’t a simple boy-meets-girl thing or about them being madly in love, but rather, there was an interesting loyalty situation going on, because of the friendship and common humanity they had. That’s what I wanted to put pressure on, to make the betrayals and sacrifices more dramatic.
FANG: What led you to decide to make the film in this very unique way in the first place?
LOVERING: I’ve always been interested in finding an authenticity in whatever I’m doing. I did a RASHOMON-style TV movie many years ago about date rape, and it wasn’t greatly successful because I tried to be too prescriptive about certain things, and didn’t have the confidence to let it grow organically. I wanted to revisit that technique and learn from that experience, because I like those films from the ’70s and ’80s where the story evolves much more freely. I wanted to do something that harked back to that kind of filmmaking, but hit the genre beats at the same time, and see how it paid off. And I’ve always loved psychological horror; when I was a kid, they ran REPULSION on TV, and I remember sneaking down and watching it after my parents had gone to bed, and it was probably the first time I didn’t understand what was going on in a film, and I was so freaked out by it.
All that had me thinking, “Here’s a story I want to tell about violence and about fear as a state of mind—what’s the best technique to do that? Is it to go and write a script, or just do up a treatment and play with the idea of putting the actors into a state of fear,” and that’s what excited me. It’s like a social experiment, in the grand tradition from CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST to BLAIR WITCH to PUNISHMENT PARK. When it works, it’s very exciting.
LOVERING: That was a very deliberate choice, because while I wanted it to have the immediacy of a found-footage film, I didn’t want to shoot it that way. There are a couple of moments that are quite stylized, and that is part of my aesthetic, and I hope it brings you into the characters’ points of view rather than take you outside of it. But yes, I definitely wanted not to make it too shaky. Again, it’s almost a throwback in its style; Dutching the camera a lot gave it a certain retro feel. I was trying to make something that’s very contemporary, because of the technology I could use, but at the same time very authentic. You know, CLOVERFIELD feels very much as though you’re with these characters with the monster crashing around, and I could easily have done something like that, but in MONSTERS, for example, the camera is more stable; [Gareth Edwards] made a similar choice.
FANG: How long did you end up shooting, and where did you find those great back-road locations?
LOVERING: It was four weeks: The first week was day, the second week was dusk and the last two weeks were nights. It was all in Cornwall, around Bodmin Moor and Dartmoor. They took a while to find, because trying to locate a network of roads we could go down without repeating them, unless we deliberately made a point of it, with no houses along the way, was really hard. It was kind of a budget constraint, but it was also the last bit of England where you could find those kinds of roads. I know in America there are millions, but we didn’t have that. It’s an extraordinary place—a very primal part of the world.
FANG: What were the shooting conditions like? The environment looks cold and rainy and unpleasant; how much of that was manufactured, and how much was actually there during filming?
LOVERING: It was all there; it was absolutely perfect. This was an incredibly low-budget film, so there was nothing manufactured. We shot it chronologically, and we got very lucky; the weather started to get worse, it got very cold and we had horizontal hailstones at one point, so that really helped the mood. We decided to shoot during the night in November going into December, so we maximized our chances of it being bad. That area gets the jet stream and on occasion, it gets very hot. And I thought, “Oh God, no; we’re going to end up with balmy evenings, and everyone’s just gonna sit down and chat.” But the weather really played into what we were trying to do, and it was fantastic.
FANG: You eventually reveal a very concrete threat, and explain everything that has been happening to Tom and Lucy. Was there ever a point where you thought you might make it more ambiguous, and not reveal exactly what’s happening to them?
LOVERING: Yes, there were many points when I thought that, and I wondered if I had gone into development, and had taken a lot longer making it, whether I would have come to that conclusion. You know, it was four months from me saying, “Oh, here’s an idea” to us finishing the shoot. The problem is that making it the way we did, it’s very hard to sustain the ambiguity in an interesting manner. Some people love the second half and some people don’t, and it’s interesting, because it could have gone the other way. I didn’t want to make it supernatural, and I considered leaving it open, but the problem is that if you’re doing a fable, which was what I was trying to do, ultimately you do need an explanation.
FANG: Are you planning on making more horror films, or movies with the same approach to the production?
LOVERING: Yeah, there’s a horror film I’m looking at at the moment, and I’m considering a couple of others; one’s a psychological drama rather than horror. But I definitely like stories where situations exert extreme pressure on the characters. That’s what I like most about horror, and I enjoy thrillers as well. The ones I’m really loving at the moment are more like JACOB’S LADDER—messed-up, reality-based horror. In terms of technique, I’d definitely do it again, but not for the next film. What I’d really love to do is get a fantastically written script and then only give the actors the first act and shoot that, then give them half the second act and so on, so they don’t know the story, they don’t know what’s coming, but they still act with the tension I found within IN FEAR, just with a beautifully crafted script as well.