David Prendeville discovers what exactly is In Fear as he chats to Jeremy Lovering about his new film set in rural Ireland, which recently opened the IFI Hororthon and goes on general release on Friday.
Jeremy Lovering is in buoyant form and so he should be. His terrific, intensely claustrophobic new horror In Fear has just opened this year’s IFI Horrorthon to a rapturous response, an experience which Lovering says he ‘loved’. The film follows a young British couple, Tom and Lucy, who travel to an unspecified area in rural Ireland for a music festival. However, Tom’s decision to bring Lucy for a romantic night in a hotel before the festival, leads to strange, sinister events. Despite following the road signs correctly the couple find themselves lost and unable to find the hotel. As night and darkness hits, the couple encounter even stranger things- visions of a man in a mask, giant trees falling, their possessions disappearing and then reappearing in strange places. Just who or what is the cause of these things? And what is the purpose of this strange game?
Despite the film being set in rural Ireland, it was shot in England. Lovering cites a ‘benign version’ of the story that he experienced while visiting Sligo to research a documentary on the famine some years back as the reason for the film’s setting. In the real life incident Lovering ended up driving around in a circle for twenty minutes as the result of a practical joke played on people in search of house with a history of extreme violence. While Lovering laughs at that incident now, he notes the ‘primal fear’ it instilled in him at the time and how that juxtaposition of practical joke and violent threat inspired him with the story for this film. He also acknowledges that he initially wanted the film to be set in a completely nameless area so as to emphasise the universal nature of the film’s themes but ultimately decided that the audience ‘needed context’.
Context is something that Lovering deprived his actors of while shooting, in the sense that he refused to tell them the story and instead shot chronologically, feeding them pieces of information bit by bit, or not at all. There are moments in which you can see real fear in the eyes of the actors because they were genuinely afraid and found the events unfolding in front of them every bit as unexpected and shocking as the audience do. How did Lovering come to the decision to shoot the film in this way? ‘I always wanted to do it like that. I wanted to shoot a horror film like a drama. There are certain expectations and provisions in shooting a horror film but I’m scared when I’ve forgotten that something is a film, when it feels real I’m scared.’ The improvisatory nature of the film coupled with the fact that its action is confined largely to a car and a forest at night time would strike one that it must have been a difficult film to shoot. Lovering had no such concerns however: ‘I absolutely loved the shoot. I love being in the forest. It was tough, we had a minimal crew and I had to think constantly, but I loved it. The producers were amazing. There was a lot of trust and faith. Various executives came down and had fun. If an actor improvises, the crew improvises. We have to jump to the next moment and I loved that’.
The realistic nature of the film’s aesthetic and approach to performance is not the only subversion of the horror genre that one encounters in In Fear. In contrast to a lot of other recent horror films there is a distinct lack of gore and the film is instead focused on a build up of threat and tension rather than the release of extreme violence or torture. Was this a deliberate tactic deployed by Lovering or was it something that came about organically from the nature of the story? ‘ It was absolutely my intention’ says Lovering; ‘ I told my cast and crew that if at one end you have Saw and at the other end Knife in the Water then we are somewhere in the middle.’ When violence does occur in the film it’s messy and unpleasant – ‘ I wanted to portray violence as pathetic. We can really do without it. That is terribly important to me. I’m interested in the consequences of violence’.
In Fear joins a list of edgy, interesting horror films to emerge from Britain in recent years, such as Kill List and Berberian Sound Studio. Does Lovering feel there is something of a renaissance happening in terms of low-budget horror films in the UK? ‘In England audiences look for films with a psychology. They don’t do straight genre in England, they do elevated genre. That’s why there is probably an opportunity for films like Kill List and Berberian Sound Studio, which are elevated horror, to get made there. The same films probably wouldn’t get made in America, for instance.’ Lovering ponders the question once more before chuckling: ‘So yes, I suppose you could say there is a renaissance.’
You get the impression that Lovering is a man who really cares about the medium he is working in. He is interested in genre and in subverting it. You also got a strong impression he is a man who is deeply interested in the human condition and likes to work a strong human element into his work. When I ask him what his plans for the future are and whether he plans to remain in the horror genre for his next film he responds by saying, ‘At some point I’d like to do something lighter. I suppose it depends on your personal sense of mortality. Something with more of a happy ending perhaps. At the moment I am writing a psychological thriller. I like the dark side, the human ache. I will always be drawn to that’.
Whatever it is that Lovering tackles next, it is something which horror fans and cinema fans alike, would be advised to keep a keen eye on.
In Fear opens in cinemas on Friday, 15th November 2013.