Archive for June 2012
From the current issue of Clash. Photo by Cameron Alexander.
“My wife used to go to a famous storage facility with yellow doors for work,” says Noel Clarke as an introduction to his new film Storage 24. “She’d be doing her thing and I just wandered around. I’d turn a corridor, think, ‘Where is she?’ and then realise I was in the wrong corridor. I started thinking that the place was freaky and that’s how I got the original idea.”
The story sees Charlie (Clarke) and Shelley (Antonia Campbell-Hughes) dividing up their possessions at a storage unit after a break-up, unaware of the chaos that has engulfed the rest of London. When the power goes, they’re lost in a maze of dark corridors and soon realise that they’re being pursued. How do you escape from a place designed to keep things in?
“At first I was going to have a serial killer in there,” continues Clarke, who also wrote and produced the film. “Then I thought, ‘Idiot! Have a fuckin’ alien. That would be much cooler.’”
Storage 24 melds primal and otherworldly fears, both of which are emphasised by the lack of connectivity to communications caused by the depth of the storage unit: “You know when you go away somewhere and you’ve got no service? You complain for a bit then forget all about it. Because I wanted to try to have the events outside the storage facility be big, they had to be disconnected from it, so your imagination runs wild.”
Acknowledging a slight influence from the Aliens series, Clarke half-jokingly cites a less obvious influence: “It’s like Jaws. Everybody loved the beach before that. Maybe we can do for storage facilities what Jaws did for the beach.”
Another Noel Clarke script will hit the screen on June 15th when Fast Girls is released. The story of the rivalries in a female sprint relay team, Clarke finally committed to the idea when he heard that the Olympics were coming to the UK. Noel plays the team’s coach rather than the physio who becomes the object of the girls’ affections. “I’m now the older guy, so there’s always a younger guy that the girls fall in love with,” he sighs.
Next year will also see the release of a new Star Trek film in which Clarke has a currently secretive role. “A director like J.J. Abrams you can only ever learn from,” he affirms. “So that’s what I did – I went in, did my work and watched and learned.”
From the current issue of Clash.
Will Ferrell had a brainwave: wouldn’t it be funny for him to star in a Spanish-language comedy? He developed the idea with Saturday Night Live writer Andrew Steele and presented the results to another SNL creative, director Matt Piedmont.
“When I read the script, it had everything,” says Piedmont, acknowledging how crazy the concept is. “Peckinpah-style shoot-outs, drama, a trip-out scene. It was right up my alley.”
Ferrell plays Armando, a Mexican rancher and the loser among his siblings. The return of his wealthy younger brother Raul (Diego Luna) and his fiancée Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez) suggests that the ranch’s financial troubles are over. But the feeling that Raul’s empire has been earned in less than legitimate circumstances is confirmed when they find themselves embroiled in a deadly drugs war with the feared Onza (Gael García Bernal).
Written in deliberately hackneyed English and adapted into Spanish by a very confused translator (“People don’t say this in Spanish?”, “They don’t say it in English either!”), one of the film’s main key challenges was that Ferrell didn’t speak any Spanish at all, so his improvisational skills had to take a backseat.
“When he finished for the day he’d breathe a sigh of relief, and then start panicking because he had to do it again the next day,” laughs Piedmont. “It was like taking Muhammad Ali and tying one hand behind his back. We took away Will’s major skill and pushed him out into the spotlight.”
The performances in the film are played relatively straight. As Luna explains, rather than playing Raul, he’s playing a bad actor that has made a bad decision by playing Raul. By contrast, the presentation is played entirely for laughs with painted backdrops, continuity errors, stuffed animals and a bizarre scene with what could be considered a coyote. “I love classic cinema and cult films like Alejandro Jodorowsky, so it was really fun to be able to use the old Cinemascope lenses and create a visual presentation that was as important as the actual performances.”
The end result references Mexican telenovelas, Luna and Bernal boldly embrace their Scarface fantasies, while Ferrell’s lead role is recognisable but bizarre. “It’s a faux-spaghetti-western-comedy masterpiece through the lens of Mexican narco-cinema,” summarises Piedmont. I hope that’s not how you pitched it to investors? “We took everything on the checklist that’s been known to be marketable and to make money, and we did the exact opposite.”
From the current issue of Clash.
Rodrigo Cortés’s previous film Buried made quite an impression, despite his resources amounting to little more than Ryan Reynolds and a box. This time around, he’s spoilt for riches with a sizeable budget, star names (Robert de Niro, Cillian Murphy, Sigourney Weaver) and some rising talent (Elizabeth Olsen, Submarine’s Craig Roberts).
Murphy and Weaver lead as two physicists who investigate the so-called paranormal workings of fraudulent mediums. They can easily discredit most cases until they’re faced with the long-awaited return of the enigmatic psychic Simon Silver (de Niro).
So far, so X-Files? It sure sounds so. Yet Cortés skillfully weaves metaphysical intelligence, swathes of atmosphere and lashings of comedy (from a nerdy pun about Occam’s Razor to the frankly hilarious sight of a young Silver, which is effectively a visual parody of de Niro’s famous expressions) to intensely cerebral effect.
As with Buried, the conclusion will prove to be particularly divisive: is it an ingenius narrative leap, or does it simply sell-out the film’s prior integrity? It’s immensely difficult to judge, but it takes little away from the brilliance of what preceded. If Cortés can tighten up his finales, this growing master of highbrow mainstream movies could well become the next Christopher Nolan.
As Chernobyl Diaries is coming soon, here’s my interview with director Oren Peli from 2009/2010.
Not many directors see their debut film take over $100 million at the stateside box office. Fewer still do so with a film constructed with no script, set in the director’s own home and on a budget of approximately $15,000.
Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity proved to be the exception. This low-budget psychological horror took the relatively common pseudo-documentary approach and streamlined it to create a scenario terrifying in its convincing portrayal of an everyday couple haunted in their own home by a supernatural presence.
Almost as impressive as the chilling atmosphere was how much could be achieved on a tiny budget and within just a week of filming. Two unknown actors, Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat, were cast in the two lead roles that dominate the running time. Peli’s own home provided the film’s entire location. “On a rational and logical level I don’t actually believe in supernatural stuff,” he explains. “So I don’t feel like I was tempting fate.”
Did Peli have the idea that an intimate, realistic horror could be the ideal way of creating a successful movie on a limited budget? Or did the concept occur first, with the realisation that it could be done relatively affordably a welcome bonus?
“It was a combination of both!” he exclaims. “I thought it would be cool to do a self-contained film with only two main leads, and one location. That would create a feeling of claustrophobia and intimacy. The fact that I had a limited budget and resources made a lot of sense for this approach. But the idea from the very beginning was to keep it simple.”
Unlike many mainstream horrors, Paranormal Activity conveys its sense of fear through psychological terror and a tense, nervy atmosphere. Its style reflects the old school of films like The Omen or The Exorcist rather than more contemporary competitors. “I don’t think Paranormal Activity really falls into the category of a horror film,” he concurs. “It’s probably more of a supernatural thriller, using psychological scares rather than gory jump scares. I’d compare its sense of pacing and the nature of its scares to films such as Rosemary’s Baby, The Others, The Sixth Sense and The Blair Witch Project.”
Since Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler’s influential shocker The Last Broadcast emerged as supposedly the world’s first desktop feature film (meaning that every stage from filming to projection was conducted digitally), their blueprint of tightly financed reality horror has been adapted numerous times. Yet from the genre, only Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project have rattled the mainstream from their indie movie roots. “I think the main difference is casting. Without the right cast, these kinds of movies cannot work,” is Peli’s succinct reply of what differentiates those two films from the pack. “When we put Katie and Micah together, they were absolutely convincing as a couple that had been together for years. They came up with elaborate back stories for their characters on the spot.”
While the casting is vital to the film’s success, the patronage of Steven Spielberg could only help matters. According to Peli, Spielberg’s suggested alternate ending that was used in the final cut of the film “delivers a big punch at the end that usually causes much of the audience to jump and scream.” Spielberg himself encountered some spooky shenanigans after watching the film. As Peli explains, “The day after he saw the film, the door to his bedroom was somehow locked from the inside. He called a locksmith, and when he couldn’t get it unlocked, he ended up having to cut the door open with a saw.”
Although Peli declines to comment on plans for the film’s sequel, it’s possible that he could build a Spielberg style empire of his own. Not only is he producing Paranormal Activity’s sequel, but his upcoming second film Area 51 has secured presumably lucrative distribution deals all around the world. It seems the return on that $15,000 can only get bigger…