Everyone has their own primal fears which they carry with them from a tender young age. This is something director Jeremy Lovering decided to explore for his feature debut, In Fear. Whilst taking quite the leap of faith by employing a unique approach, refusing to give actors a script per se and dropping the cast in situations to see how they reacted, Lovering has created an astonishingly authentic sense of fear with the film described as the best British chiller since The Descent. The film met outstanding reviews when released in UK cinemas and has just entered the US iTunes top ten horror films chart this very week. Hot off the set of the ‘Sherlock’ episode, The Empty Hearse, which he helmed, it sounds like Lovering is preparing a fair few scares for us in the not too distant future. As In Fear gets ready to invade homes next week on DVD we took a few moments to speak to the director all about it.
So, rather than gaining inspiration from other films of the genre, I understand the whole In Fear story sprang from an ordeal you suffered in Ireland whilst filming a documentary.
That’s right. It wasn’t so much an ordeal but more of a very benign experience. I was going out to visit an Irish family to document a story and when I arrived I first headed off to the pub. Afterwards, as I ventured off the place was huge and the locals had turned all the road signs around so I just went round and round in circles. Basically, at that time night was falling, I was lost and I still have these primal fears that you have when you were a kid. The area was also steeped in hundreds of years of violence and that is what I was looking at for this documentary so I was well aware of it. Plus a ghost story was attached to the whole thing. Eventually I circled back to the pub and spoke to the locals and they explained that it was just a joke: 300 years of violence distilled into a practical joke. In Fear came from that really.
And apart from the setting itself, what about the lead characters? Why did you decide to focus on a two week old relationship between a couple for the film?
Well the whole film is basically asking the question “Does fear lead to violence?” Then, if you are put in a situation of betrayal or potential violence and you are being pushed to violence, how do you avert that? If it is with someone you are in a relationship with, at what point do you decide to sacrifice yourself?
It was easy really because if you’ve been with someone for a long time or you’ve got kids, which is often a horror story theme, then I think you are always going to put yourself second so I basically wanted to avoid that. Also, if it’s just a bunch of mates, unless you are soldiers, then that’s a no-brainer too. So, what was left was that I wanted a very fragile relationship which I wanted to watch grow and then fall in upon itself.
The actors only knew each other for two weeks, as did the actual characters so, for this ninety minute film, it was like watching a very ordinary relationship unfold in extraordinary circumstances. It reveals all the normal things like trust and flirting, trying to impress and then betrayal and dishonesty and all those kinds of things. I basically wanted to compress all of that into a relationship being destroyed.
And the most intriguing part about the whole film is the fact that, although based on a script of sorts, it was all very much improvised and the actors didn’t really have a clue what was really going to happen. Were you not worried that the whole think could just completely derail on you?
Well yes I was. The truth is, I had a script for myself and it evolved with the actors so that in the rehearsals, albeit very short, what I did was propose a given scenario which in some way reflected the scenario I was then going to do in the film. For example, I’d have the boy and girl and would tell them we are going shopping. I’d tell the boy that he is skinny boy, that he’s got a hang up about not being an alpha-male and that he is trying to impress the girl. Then to the girl I’d say that the boyfriend is confused about his male identity and for her to have fun with this, tease him. Then, whatever happened as a result helped me see what I could work into the script because I could work out more or less how they would behave together when under threat. So when I went into it I had a rough script and then the actors brought the characters to life.
At its worst, if all went wrong I did have something I could give them and say “Look, let’s do this and just stick with it.” What happened in the end was that we improvised on the day, we had first reactions to events, I let them go off down the path they wanted to and then I could give the cast different pages or different lines of dialogue. Then we’d just try and construct it from there.
I never had a safety net and I actually found that really exciting rather than worrying.
And what about the casting process. From what I have read about it it sounds like a cross between some sort of Big Brother casting call and a psychoanalysis experiment.
I guess it was to a certain extent. Basically, I interviewed them in character several times and I got them to talk to each other in character without talking about the story or anything. It was just to test what they and their instincts were about as actors and how the issued resonated with them.
So you mention telling Iain de Caestecker to play “skinny boy.” I know you treated him that way off camera also. Are you still on talking terms? What was all that about?
Yeah, that was funny. We shot the film chronologically so everything kind of evolved naturally and halfway through Allen Leech comes on and he’s much more physical, or much more physically present. All the crew were in on it too so like all the make up team would gather around Allen asking him anecdotes and things like that whilst Iain was completely left out of the picture.
We just kept that going whenever we could. I often talked with my back to Iain but he got it completely. It was that weird thing where he kind of hated me but understood what kind of game I was playing. Basically they had to learn to trust not to trust me.
As the film was so heavily improvised I was quite surprised you didn’t opt for a found footage or hidden camera type production. Did the use of more traditional movie cameras not cause a bit of a hindrance in terms of creating that feeling of realism and dread?
Oh yes, totally. I mean that’s a very good question. I just didn’t wan’t to do a found footage film though for a million different reasons. I would say films like Cannibal Holocaust or Deliverance or Punishment Park all manage to create the feeling of veracity, making you feel you are actually there. Obviously, a great actor can also act it out authentically but to go that extra bit I think all credit goes to David Katznelson (Downton Abbey/Game of Thrones), the Director of Photography of the film, as he is just so so good at making himself small and invisible. We did also send a few people off using Canon 5Ds on their own just to keep cameras rolling but most of that footage didn’t make it into the final film.
In the end we managed to create this sense that the cast were on their own. We were only very low key. It would only ever be me and David or just David jumping in the car. I think the actors convinced themseves they were on their own. It’s all credit to the cast and David that I was able to make it feel like found footage.
Talking of footage, I believe you racked up a total of 50 hours of film. How on earth did ou manage to cut it down and how often did you find yourself backtracking to go a different way with the film? Would you say you have enough to ever release a second version of the film?
Yes, it was a bit like doing a jigsaw without the picture on the box. Sure I went back sometimes but I don’t think I’d release an alternate version because I don’t think it was so different. I don’t think there’s anything we’ve lost that I’ve missed during the editing, There is stuff that would have made a different film and that is true but that got closed and is long forgotten. It was more sort of trippy and didn’t really hit the genre moments at all. In the end, the film that is there is probably the right one for how we filmed it at that moment, in that time frame.
So looking back at the whole process, would you commit yourself to something in the same style again?
Well, what I’m really interested in is trying to deliver those sacrifices which we’ve just talked about. For me it’s where you have a great script where the writer isn’t pressured for things to change but most importantly, you don’t give the whole script to the actors. I think all that mattered to me ultimately was that they didn’t know the story so yeah, I’d love to repeat the process. I would also love to try a period drama as well.
So where are all the roadsigns pointing for you now? I believe you have a few thrillers on the table including one along the lines of Jacob’s Ladder.
Yeah, there are a couple of scripts I’m talking about right now. One is a comic novel which is kind of a Hindu mythology slash Jacob’s Ladderish kind of weird one which I’m just beginning conversations about. Then there’s another one which is a much more straight sort of ventriloquist slash Hider in the House horror. There’s also one which is more of a physchological thirller/love story which also shares a lot in common with Jacob’s Ladder. I mean loads of people think a lot of similar things at the same time so I think probably based on what I’ve just done these have all arrived on my desk at the same time…
We’d like to thank Jeremy for taking time out to speak to us. In Fear is available on Monday, 10 March on DVD and Bluray and we can’t recommend it enough. In the meantime we’ll leave you with a trailer for the film.