There have been so few Irish horror movies to make it to the big screen that when one as glossy and polished as
Q: Your previous movies have been very successful but very different to ‘Shrooms’. What first attracted you to the horror genre?
A: Well I’ve already done drama, then I did three comedies, so already I had switched genres from dark serious films to comedy. Directors that I admire have done this a lot, people like Danny Boyle. It’s easier for us to do this in Ireland, in other countries they try pigeon hole you. Also, I liked the atmosphere, and the particular kind of aesthetic that you can get in something that’s a little darker. Horror films let you do that, they let you make stuff that on the one hand is very accessible and immediate in terms of scaring. While it’s very basic on one hand and very accessible it lets you make stuff that’s quite beautiful and interesting. It’s quite challenging and sophisticated in its style.
Q: Were you a big fan of the horror genre beforehand or did you start researching older horror movies when you began the ‘Shrooms’ project?
A: I was interested always, but I wouldn’t have been a buff or an anorak on the subject. I was particularly interested in Asian horrors because I think they were doing quite interesting things, like having a female protagonist in a lot of their films and also creating very interesting horror in a modern context. I would have always been interested in horrors that were uncanny, rather than slasher type films. Where there is an uncanny weirdness in the world that you can’t quite put your finger on because it’s unsettling and has an air of uncertainty. ‘Shrooms’ is like a half-way house, its half that uncanny weird Asian thing and something a little more visual driven and chasey, like some of the American teen horrors.
Q: Before you started making ‘Shrooms’ were there any particular movies that you liked the style of that you wanted to implement into your horror vision?
A: In a funny way it was the reverse because at an early stage we felt it was derivative of some of the films that had come out like ‘Wrong Turn’ or ‘Jeepers Creepers’. We took out the influences and brought it more into that area of weirdness and uncanniness found in films like ‘The Ring’. There were a lot of films I watched from a stylistic point of view but there wasn’t one from a narrative point of view that I really looked at. In a weird way this brought more mystery into the film.
Q: There are moments of comic relief peppered throughout the film, were these difficult to weave into the film without diluting the tension.
A: I think we were measuring the tension constantly and never letting that tension go. There are some laughs early on but as it goes on we have to pull them because we don’t want to break the tension and the gags break that. I think particular relationships between the character, the landscape and the camera have to maintain a lot of that tension. Huge amounts of sound and music are very important as well, you’re always trying to maintain that tension and never letting it dissipate.
Q: What tricks did you use to keep tension high throughout the whole film?
A: Post and editing are hugely important. One of the things I decided not to do was to try show very trippy physcodelics or show sequences of what it was like to be on a trip.
It’s more about us watching them having their trip, that’s where the tension comes from. Occasionally we used certain techniques, like blurring and double-vision stuff just to constantly remind people that they are in a trip zone. We want to make it feel that there is something about the reality that you can’t depend on.
Q : What were you looking for when casting the main characters?
A: Lindsey is the main character; we see the story through her eyes, so it was very important that she was a credible character, that you really felt you could believe in her. I think we do believe in her decency and her credibility when she is experiencing the shrooms and because she is a bit of a novice in that world she leads a lot of people into that world, a lot of the audience come in through her. She auditioned quite early on and I just thought she was fantastic. I had to go a long way with her to convince her to do the film because she was nervous of being in a horror film. A lot of horrors are throw-away and they’re exploitative. She was nervous about that, she has a clear set of principles that she lives by, she takes herself very seriously, in a good way. So I had to convince her about that, particularly in terms of her character, how the script was developing.
Q: Were you tempted to cast any big names?
A: I think in this genre its good not to have big names, but also there was some people we saw that would have been more well known, particularly in relation to Lindsey’s role there were one or two people that I chose her above them because I knew she had the quality for the part. There’s always a question that you cast somebody well known and it definitely helps to market the film, but on the other hand there’s something about casting an unknown in a horror that plays to the genre. A lot of people you see become familiar very quickly. You feel ‘oh, I’ve seen that person on a TV show; I’ve seen that person in ‘Orange County’; I’ve seen that person here or there’ and they don’t have that ambiguity or that space that draws you into them.
Q: The film was recently given an 18 cert by the Irish film censors office, what do you think of that rating?
A: I think it’s a bit unfair in the sense that I don’t think its going to lead people astray or anything. To be honest it probably comes down to just one moment in the film. I think it was listed as too instructional, which is just one scene in the movie but its important for the credibility of the story, so we needed to have it in. At the same time it contravenes their rules but I kind of feel it was a marginal enough call for them, even though there was a clear line, I think they could have given it a younger cert. The crazy thing is that if anyone wanted to know more about a subject all they have to do is enter a word into Google. It’s an archaic tool now, the whole thing of censorship when people can get so much online.
Q: What plans do you have for your next project?
A: There are a few things I’m working on, two quite eclectic projects and some other more mainstream projects. I’m working with Irish writer Terry McMahon on a western set in Ireland in 1690 shot in the Irish language. Then I’m working with Mark O’Halloran (Adam & Paul) on a film set in Cuba about performing transvestites, that’s going to be in Spanish. I don’t speak the language very well at the moment, that’s a project for the next few years. That’ll be a low budget indie film. Then there’s a John Connolly short story that we purchased the rights for, it’s sort of like a vampire film, it’s called ‘The Counter Cowboy Rides Again’. It’s like a Cronenberg/David Lynch film set in a western landscape. It’s very horror but very weird.