Last week, CWR was given a chance to review Devil Town, a short film in the spirit of classic 60s horror.While Devil Town’s protagonist may have been unwittingly cornered, the fiendish flick’s creator was more than happy to speak with us about his inspiration. Here’s our interview with director Nick Barrett.
Could you tell us a bit about what inspired the story behind Devil Town?
As with most film ideas it’s usually a collision of different thoughts and influences. In Devil Town’s case I was given an old fashioned whistle as a present and just had it lying around my room, I kept picking it up and thinking why someone would pull it out of their pocket. I’m also a huge fan of the old fifties Twilight Zone as well and always loved their ‘containment’ episodes, ones that were set entirely in say a train station waiting room, a roadside café or, infamously enough, a plane journey at 20,000 feet. These kinds of shows were known as ‘bottle’ episodes (episodes designed to save money by using limited props, actors and locations) but they’re some of my favourites as well – and the concept lends itself perfectly to low budget shorts. When done well the viewer won’t even be aware of the contained environment, or it just becomes so integral to the narrative that it isn’t an issue – you can see it working brilliantly in recent films like The Invitation or Green Room or a TV show like Inside No 9.
Harold Pinter was a big inspiration too – the concept of a stranger invading another’s space, the power struggle between two characters, conflicting class systems, you see all that in things like The Homecoming, The Servant, The Birthday Party and The Caretaker – and I’m sure the concept of a rather sinister tramp was subliminally lifted from the great man’s work.
You reference Invasion of the Body Snatchers pretty directly in your film. What other movies would you count as having inspired you?
I’d have to say some of the early Roman Polanski films, I love films like Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby or The Tenant, in all three Polanski creates a wonderful atmosphere of slow-burn dread where the main character feels there’s a growing conspiracy against them – and as the narrative tightens things get more and more claustrophobic and tense for them – hopefully we’ve done the same thing with Devil Town.
Polanski was a master at building these dread-fueled micro-worlds so I’d definitely say he was a prime influence, particularly the way he plays with sound and the use of foreground and background focusing; you can see a similar technique in our film where we place an important character or action in the background while the foreground is meant to hold the viewer’s attention.
From my understanding, Devil Town is your second horror film, following 2014’s Pearl. Is there a specific subgenre you gravitate towards?
Yes, Pearl was our ‘pastoral’ horror, very much indebted to films like Picnic at Hanging Rock, Don’t Look Now or Valerie and her Week of Wonders, wherever we’ve shown that one there’s been one particular moment that has repulsed and shocked every audience that’s seen it, we didn’t quite realise how terrifying the actor playing our ‘monster’ would be!
Regarding sub-genres I guess I’m moving towards the supernatural as I love a good ghost story! They’re the hardest horror sub-genre to get right though I think as they’re such delicate things, Roald Dahl writes an excellent introduction on the subject in Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories, it’s a great collection and the short story “Harry” was a direct influence on Pearl.
What were some of the challenges and rewards you encountered working on Devil Town?
Devil Town was the hardest short film I’ve had to put together as it involved quite a large number of logistics, even for such a contained film. I had to source about 25 extras, the location, hire out some camera equipment and have extensive talks with my DoP – the incredibly talented Marcos Avlonitis – who shot the whole thing beautifully, it has a real cinematic quality, it’s in 4K and we used some gorgeous Zeiss lenses to give it a real musty almost seventies-feel.
One of the hardest challenges was finding the right two actors to play our principles – the piece stands or falls on two guys who basically have to pull out all the stops as the script required each character to be so nuanced in each line they have to give – it’s meant to be like a conversational duel or tennis match! Luckily, after a long long search period, I managed to find Johnny Vivash and Matthew Hebden who both just astounded me in rehearsals – I actually couldn’t believe my luck finding two guys that just seemed absolutely perfect for their roles, if you watch the film I’m sure you’ll agree – although neither is anything like their characters in real life!
The rewards on this project have been endless, I was pretty humbled to work with such talented people that gave their absolute all and we’ve all become firm friends and hung out on and off ever since – you can’t ask for a greater reward when making a film. Hopefully, for all concerned, the film itself is reward enough as well – I think the proof is definitely on screen that all our hard work has paid off, and we’ve been so gratified recently to see Devil Town do incredibly well, we were snapped up almost straight away by ShortsTV and then bought by an American production company for their next anthology film (Ruthless Pictures via Dread Central) and this is before we even hit the festival circuit! Last year we had our London and Los Angeles premieres and, as of the start of this year, we’re officially on the festival circuit and have had four official selections already – it’s looking good!
What projects can we be looking forward to in the future?
I’ve just finished the first draft of a feature film that I’ll be setting up later this year, though we’ve got to find the right producer first. It’s a contained supernatural thriller that we’re hoping will scare the pants off our audiences (‘or your money back’ we should put on the posters). It’s not an extension of Devil Town I might add, but we’re using the short to show producers what we can achieve and the possible ‘tone’ of the film; we’re pretty positive that with the success of Devil Town we should be able to get some funding through. I guess all we can say right now is – watch this space (and like our Corporeal Films page for more updates!)
Devil Town has been added as an official selection of Dread Central, has also been accepted to play on ShortsTV, and will be available to buy through iTunes in 2017. Devil Town has also been accepted by Germany’s ARC Festival and will be shown this April.