Visiting a creepy old mansion in the middle of nowhere for a night shoot is not the most enticing prospect for someone with a nervous disposition: especially considering the film in question is (partly) a horror, meaning everything will be extra petrifying!
Double Date is a bombastic cult in the making debut feature from director Benjamin Barfoot and lead actor/ writer Danny Morgan, with an excellent, psychedelic score by Swedish alt/experimental outfit Goat. The film tells the story of twenty nine year old Jim (Danny Morgan), a shy lad looking to lose his virginity on the eve of his thirtieth birthday. With cocksure compadre Alex (Michael Socha) in tow, Jim sets out to conquer his female fear but tragically the pair happen upon Kitty (Kelly Wenham) and Lulu (Georgia Groome): two mysterious sisters with ulterior motives and a body count behind them.
After getting a train to Bricket Wood, I was collected by a friendly publicist and driven through a series of entwining rural backroads: the type of which lead to gothic castles, dilapidated cabins or death by having your brains scythed out (in films). The heritage grounds eventually emerged from the darkness like a compact, lollygagging ogre while the fear that I could be getting cajoled into some kind of snuff production steadily evaporated.
The house was hardly Downton Abbey despite the majestic exterior. More like a slightly slighter, ramshackle Overlook. Interior corners were caked in sodden concrete scraps, crust and cob-webs while beneath us a mould fermented carpet lay strewn with dismembered mannequin limbs. But Double Date’s bustling production and crew bonhomie brought on peace of mind.
Production members perched on the arms of ripped sofas, watching a scene being filmed (in the next room) on a monitor. The scene in question (later learned to be a dream sequence) involved creepy misgivings between Kitty, Lulu and a disobedient butterfly. Hardly high octane stuff but shooting it became a bit of a pickle when the butterfly refused to play ball. Or move at all for that matter.
“Maybe it’s dead,” someone suggested while another crew member asked: “who the fuck hired it?” before referring to the butterfly as “being a dick” then clomping off for a coffee. “Butterflies are bastards” someone added. In time, the stubborn bug did what it was getting paid to but probably won’t win an Oscar for its efforts.
Warm on-set humour made everything a lot less frightening than the surroundings, until Kelly Wenham (Kitty) walked in completely covered in blood.
“Kelly spends half the film like that,” Danny Morgan added reassuringly. “I think she quite enjoys it”.
With a dinner break declared, I sat down for a brief chat with Georgina Groome, who plays Kitty’s slightly less maniacal/ blood-drenched sister Lulu.
“Kitty and Lulu have grown up in a very weird environment and Lulu is very much at her disposal,” she explained. “She does as she’s told, is always scared and very much the underdog who is trying to swim to the surface; but that surface isn’t getting any clearer or nearer. She’s nowhere near as evil as Kitty but there’s that power play and balance of siblings which was something that was easily relatable because it was something I’d gone through. My relationship with my own sister is the main element I draw on. I’ve got a clearer idea of normality than Kitty but as a result of that she’s always worried. Also, working in the dark has definitely helped.”
I then asked about the night shoots… “They’re alright,” she said. “I’m quite good at staying up. I mean, it’s tough. I got back at 6.30 am yesterday morning. It was light by the time I got home but I think it’s harder on the crew because they’re actually doing proper work while we’re just pretending. But it’s fun, I like it, I think it adds to the character and vibe.”
At this point, several crew members entered the room. Georgia target locked a stare at one of them and asked: “Has it been cleared?” The crew member nodded then Georgia looked back at me with a gleaming smile and said: “Yes! We’re going to McDonald’s.”
After some breezy chin-wagging and mild rejoicing following the butterfly’s re-birth and the McDonald’s revelation, I was invited outside, into the dead of night, to interview producer Matt Wilkinson and writer/ lead actor Danny Morgan, and the transcript is below.
Well, so far what I’ve seen being filmed looks completely terrifying.
MATT WILKINSON: It’s just been all horror today yes. Typical day (pauses for inward thought). Actually, it’s been bloody hell from the word go (half serious).
Is Double Date a reality based horror or are there supernatural elements in there?
DANNY MORGAN: There are slightly surreal, heightened moments and a couple of dream sequences, one of which you’re watching now, but there is also black magic.
So, is it like a From Dusk Till Dawn story switch?
MATT WILKINSON: I don’t think it shifts gears in that sense. You meet the boys, you meet the girls, their worlds collide but the more time you spend with the girls, you know they are up to something. Maybe what that is, is a surprise but it’s not like Red State where it’s a comedy, a thriller and then a siege movie. We don’t really play with those conventions.
DANNY MORGAN: The comedy is there throughout though. Even in the finale, which is quite horror based, we want to keep the humour going. Every now and then we’ll throw in a joke but it’s always grounded in reality. Never winking at the camera or anything like that.
MATT WILKINSON: I’d call Double Date more Swingers meets Switchblade Romance or Baise-Moi but when I first read it, the film that popped into my mind was After Hours.
Great film! Which is also set over one night.
MATT WILKINSON: Yes. Just a wild night where weird and wonderful things happen. You love your protagonist but you feel like he’s in genuine jeopardy and you don’t quite know where the film’s going to take you. That’s the sort of journey I went on when I first read the script. It’s not really a road movie per se, but because most of it takes place over one night, and that night is going from location to location, every time you go to a new place you meet a character that exists within that precinct. That’s been a really useful way to bring in a recognisable name or face and have fun with for a bit.
I’m also picking up a bit of an Overlook Hotel vibe here.
MATT WILKINSON: As far as I’m concerned there is nothing scary about this environment. I’m in love with this place. There’s a sort of serenity. It’s a mansion in a state of disrepair but I don’t think its creepiness contributes to the story. Also it never seems to get totally dark here. We’ve been here at three in the morning and this is as dark as it gets. You just seem to get this thick polluted sky which adds a weird vibe. To work at night means we have more peacefulness, control and a strange focus. It becomes its own little bubble.
How did you come up with the idea and go about writing it?
DANNY MORGAN: I started about five years ago then Matt came aboard about four years ago and we’ve been writing it since then. The idea stemmed from a general nervousness from talking to women in my twenties, and still today. I’m not any better at it. It’s about a guy who is super nervous and then on the one night where he decides to confront his fear, it turns out that the women are actually, genuinely trying to kill him. I thought that was funny. I liked the idea of two guys, two girls on, mostly, one night. I hashed out a really rough first draft and then met Matt who saw potential. He gave me a crash course in screenwriting because I had never written anything before. So that was a real lucky meeting.
How would you like to evolve as a writer?
DANNY MORGAN: I’ve written a few scripts since this one and a couple are in a similar vein. Comedy and horror are probably my two favourite genres. So even if I try to write a nice, happy drama, I think I will just get bored and throw some blood in there. So it may end up always going down that route.
What other horror films inspire you?
MATT WILKINSON: You mentioned The Descent upstairs.
DANNY MORGAN: Yeah, that was one I really loved. There have been some really good British horrors recently. Kill List was a massive one for me and we looked at Sightseers while developing this because that had a nice balance of humour and bleak, darkness without ever being too comical or heightened.
MATT WILKINSON: I guess the easiest reference point when discussing Double Date is Sean of the Dead but we struggle making that comparison for lots of reasons. Sean of the Dead has a very comic book vibe: the edits, whip pans, transitions. Although you believe in those characters, the world doesn’t feel real. It feels heightened and I don’t think that’s what we’re trying to do here. We were trying to enter a real scene so shot in real pubs and locations. It starts in contemporary East London. If you’re from that area, it will be very familiar. We’re trying to ground the characters within that world. Although we’re doing a comedy horror with the heart of a buddy movie and moments of gore, tonally we want it to exist in the real world.
When you say East London, is it the old East London or the new, gentrified East London?
MATT WILKINSON: Definitely the new East London. We specifically targeted Hackney Wick, which is the director’s part of the world. Not that this is a commentary on hipsters or anything but it’s capturing what was once derelict and is now the home of craft beers, beards, that sort of thing. That is part of the world Double Date occupies.
DANNY MORGAN: Aesthetics-wise we always wanted to keep it more believable. That was a big factor because it is quite a surreal and silly script. We knew we had to keep it grounded.
You have a few cameos in there too, is that right?
MATT WILKINSON: We do yeah. It’s a real mix of people.
DANNY MORGAN: That was an idea from the start. We always liked the idea of putting those high profile names in little cameos and playing with their personas. Dexter Fletcher came in for a day and played a disgusting, horrible but hilarious character and my mate Tom Sturridge played an arrogant wanker rock star. I think we’ve been lucky because they’re fun parts. The actors have really enjoyed visiting the set and pissing about. We like to be very collaborative and let them bring their own stuff into it. So far everyone seems to have been having a really good time. They’ve been walking away saying it’s been fun anyway.
Double Date is released in cinemas on 13th October. You can read our review of the film here.