From horror in the America’s to FrightFest’s foray into spatial horror with Luke Hyams’ moorish horror X Moor and Adam Spinks’ Amazonian adventure Extinction/The Expedition. From hunting a fabled beast on the moors to being the hunted in the jungle, these two British films took the FrightFest audience from open to dense terrain for two different kinds of hunts.
In a three part interview feature we spoke with X Moor’s lead actors Mark Bonnar, Melia Kreiling and Nick Blood as well as director Luke Hyams, along with the writer and star of Extinction/The Expedition Ben Loyd-Holmes on being the hunter versus the hunted in beastial horror.
Mark Bonnar, Melia Kreiling and Nick Blood commence the feature as they reflect on the cold and unwelcoming English moor that was the stage of their tale…
Mark Bonnar: I was lucky enough to have two very persuasive colleagues in the Planning Department of Edinburgh District Council where I used to work. They recommended instead of arsing about in the office incurring the wrath of various bosses, I should accompany them to the amateur drama group they were members of, and arse about on stage. I’ve never looked back, and so yes, not inspirational moments but people – Mike Paton and Duncan Robertson.
Melia Kreiling: I fell into acting quite late and steered by circumstance initially. My prior goal was to be a contemporary dancer, specifically in dance theatre, which is quite a specific genre in Europe (see choreographers Pina Bausch, Wim Vandekeybus, etc). Then when I was injured and decided to stop, I was pushed by family and friends to study acting – advice I’d been resisting since I was a child. I enrolled in acting school, and then the unexpected happened – I fell madly in love with acting when I understood what it was, and how it worked. It was through conversations with other film lovers and teachers who showed me new directions that I discovered and admitted the magneticism it held for me.
Nick Blood: The moment I first tried it. There was a local drama workshop that my older brother went to, so by virtue of that fact it was cool, plus you got to stay out till 9pm. I was seven years old, and I desperately wanted to go for those reasons. This other kid Luke and I persuaded our parents that we were old enough to go, so we set about preparing for it. My brother had been given a couple of pages of script to work on, which was rare, as it was pretty much all improv and devising, and so we nicked that and got on with it. We had a very basic understanding of what was required. As such we thought the best way to distinguish the characters from one another was to make them very clearly defined. So despite the fact the scene was on a space ship, one was a tennis player – with full kit – and the other one was a footy player and so on. I knew immediately it was all I wanted to do, and I would never be happy doing anything else
Can you remember the moment when you first discovered horror and/or genre cinema?
Mark Bonnar: My gran took me to see Disney’s Snow White when I was four or five years old, and I had Wicked Witch nightmares for weeks! It’s probably one of my earliest memories, and looking back it probably had a lot to do with my lifelong love of horror.
Melia Kreiling: I became aware of the horror genre when I realized that people made movies designed to make me relive the anxiety and fear that I would experience in my own nightmares. I was very confused as to why at first! Gradually I started to appreciate the need for it, and tried to understand the history of such narrative through the centuries – from the times where storytelling was used as cautionary tales within a community, all the way to today where it’s presented as mass entertainment.
Nick Blood: It was probably my mate Fatty’s video collection. There was always a local kid who would somehow get hold of ’18’ rated movies and stuff. It was probably A Nightmare on Elm Street, though I have never watched it in full – too scared.
What was the appeal of the character and the story when you first read the script?
Mark Bonnar: The story kept me turning the pages – it’s as simple as that really. The tension and atmosphere were palpable, and if that’s just from reading it, then it’s usually a good sign! I was drawn to Fox because he has an interesting past – he’s hiding something and he is prone to righteous rage!
Melia Kreiling: The volume and intensity of the plot were appealing to me. Also, I have certain instinctive tendencies as a performer, and this script required a completely different approach which was exciting. Georgia does things I would never do, and that is incredibly fun to play.
Nick Blood: It just seemed like it would be good fun to be running around a woodland in Ireland for a month. Plus it was different to anything I’ve done before, which is always appealing, and he had a fit girlfriend.
Horror and comedy are thought to be the two most challenging genres because their success often hinges on a visceral and visible reaction from the audience. As actors do you find the different genres present an alternative set of challenges that therein allows you to explore different sides of yourself – the person and the actor?
Mark Bonnar: Yes…! In a word, that’s what you look for in all work- something that allows you to go places you wouldn’t normally be allowed to or want to go, which is one of the liberating things about being an actor.
Melia Kreiling: Yes there are always new challenges that arise through the genres as well as within each individual project, and I absolutely discover new pieces of myself; how I think when this happens, how I react when that happens, both as a person and as an actor.
Nick Blood: I don’t know really. You just get a script and say the words. It’s all in the words no matter the genre. I would say that doing comedy or anything that invites a visceral reaction is far more satisfying than when you’re doing it in a theatre, because you can hear the audiences response. When filming you’ve no idea how the audience will react, largely because all the crew are far more concerned with doing their jobs the best they can, rather than indulging the actors.
The moor is just a wide open space, and it is intriguing how it has developed this disquieting, terrifying and even haunting identity. The philosophical expression comes to mind, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” It’s all about human perception and it makes one consider how literature and film has created these terrifying places that without us wouldn’t be terrifying. In a sense frightening spaces are only so because of human imagination and projection.
Melia Kreiling: I agree. Environments and situations are terrifying because we are a weak animal in terms of natural physical abilities. We can’t see in the dark; we can’t hear noises beyond a certain distance; we cannot outrun many of the planet’s species, and therefore we have always relied on our mental strengths and technological advancements. But when those two fail then we are left with a dark night, little sound, and physical inferiority. So we are therefore compromised, and it is quite easy to put that on screen, and incorporate it into literature etc. You remind someone of their inherent weakness and make them imagine that it could be them in that situation.
Mark Bonnar: We are both human and animal-cerebral and primal. Fear prepares us. Horror feeds our brain, our gut and our adrenal gland. It reminds us what it’s like to be alive, which is surely the best reason to write a book or make a film.
Nick Blood: Spot on – it’s all in the head. I imagine you’re more likely to be murdered in your own home, but that’s the place everyone feels the most safe. It’s all about the unknown isn’t it?
Luke spoke about being aware of the audience he was making the film for, and in particular the FrightFest crowd. Were you yourselves ever conscious of how a scene or moment would eventually play to an audience or are such considerations far removed when in front of the camera?
Mark Bonnar: I think we are conscious of that when you first read a script, because at that moment, you are the audience for the first time. After that it’s our job to concentrate on other things.
Melia Kreiling: I guess it’s a bit of both, depending on the project. With this, Luke was very excited about making something authentic and true to an audience’s expectations, and so I relied on him to direct that. I’m no expert in horror movies, and so I played what was written, what I understood and what I would like to see if I was sat in the audience.
Nick Blood: I just don’t think about it really. You take each scene as it comes, and try to play it out with some truth, and in the way you think it was intended when it was written. Otherwise you end up just pouting and posing.
Genre cinema inherently blurs the genre boundaries. What are your thoughts on the way genre has evolved to date, and will continue to evolve over the coming decades?
Mark Bonnar: Once the marketing man got hold of genre cinema, it has constantly had to reinvent itself to stop ‘the man’ sinking his fangs in and removing any trace of vitality or credibility. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, because it forces ingenuity and invention. The future is anyone’s guess, but there’s bound to be some bloody good films along the way.
Melia Kreiling: Genres move in circles and in weird loopy lines, determined by a vast number of things. Lines get blurred and crossovers happen because that’s what they do in order to move forwards or backwards or sideways. There is no defining equation for how it works in my opinion. I suppose that as long as they do blur, cross over and evolve, then that means that people will continue to be interested, and will want to experience more of it and in new ways, which is good news for those who are creating it!
Nick Blood: I don’t know how to answer that one. I only discovered the term ‘genre cinema’ when doing this film. There are only two genres for me – good films and bad films.
Silent cinema was a universal language, and if we break down modern film could it be said that certain genres such as horror translate with ease, and therein contribute to a modern cinematic universal language?
Mark Bonnar: Yes and no. I’ve certainly watched more foreign horror films than any other kind of foreign film. But I think film by it’s very nature (being made by humans) is and always has been universal.
Melia Kreiling: Horror cinema speaks to a visceral reaction as you said earlier, and unless our instinctive human fears and comfort zones eventually change, then horror will continue to translate easily. Everyone can understand what fear looks and feels like when they see it, and so it is indeed universal. We are the only species that we know of that has a conscious understanding and knowledge of our inevitable death -at least in our human form, and that instills a constant fear in most of us.
Nick Blood: It’s amazing how stories can translate into different languages – not just horror. You can be watching a foreign language film, and if it’s good then within five minutes you’ll forget you’re reading subtitles. But the visual story telling in something like a horror film really does transcend lingual and cultural boundaries.
Shooting in the middle of the moors and forests of Northern Ireland in difficult and cold conditions at the end of the year, did the arduous nature of the shoot seep into the performances and texture of the film?
Mark Bonnar: I think sharing a small caravan in the freezing cold brought me, Nick and Melia closer than we might have been under normal circumstances! But yes, it does seep into your bones after a while, and most definitely you feel the cold mist on your face when you are watching the film!
Melia Kreiling: Finally a question I can answer with certainty! Yes, the conditions did half the work for me. It’s a lot easier to express utter terror when my jaw is locked shut from the cold, and my voice comes out strangled in the wind, than if I had a sunny beach, hammocks and pina coladas on our breaks between takes. Easier, not unachievable. Again, I presume it has to do with our inherent understanding of physical weakness.
Nick Blood: To a certain extent, but you have to be able to muster the energy to do multiple takes, which is hard when you’re cold, wet and tired. But for all those spooked out scenes it was great to be out in the wilderness for real. Anything that offers some reality when you’re acting is helpful, because it distracts from the scores of crew and equipment in your face. We had a real blitz mentality where we would make each other laugh a lot to combat the cold and damp, which generally involved Mark and I talking absolute nonsense, and winding up Melia, which was very easy.
Looking ahead to the future what’s next for you, and has X Moor deepened your affection and understanding of performance, film and storytelling?
Mark Bonnar: I think every job does that to a greater or lesser degree – you never stop learning! But yes, X Moor definitely did all three, and as far as what is next, I’m about to start shooting a new six part drama for ITV.
Melia Kreiling: My affection for storytelling is deepened each time I do a project, because with each new job comes a new experience and learning process, and I love that part of the job. X Moor certainly taught me a great deal about how to transfer raw gutteral feeling to somone sitting in a dark room eating popcorn. That’s the challenge and fun part, and we’ll soon see if it works – I’m looking forward to see how X Moor is received.
I’m also expecting a psychological thriller to be released, The White Room, and a sci-fi mind bender we just filmed this summer titled DxM, an ambitious and exciting production by Red Bull’s new label CineMater. In the meantime Guardians of the Galaxy is in cinemas, and Committed is doing the rounds in film festivals around the world.
Nick Blood: You learn from every job you do. I’m sure I’ll watch the film and cringe at moments of my performance, but I’ll learn from it nonetheless. As for what’s next, after X Moor I went on to Babylon, a new Channel 4 show about the Met police which will be out in the autumn. I’ve written a film which my writing partner and I are touting around, and I’ve written a play which I hope to find a theatre for soon. I have also directed my first short film called Hero, which I’m about to start editing, and have just moved out to L.A having joined the cast of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. Other than that I’m just trying to stay out of trouble and find the perfect pair of trainers. It’s hard and expensive, but I’ve learned that you have to try many many pairs before you find the perfect ones. I also need to get an ironing board. Without one the iron I bought is redundant.