A young man begins to investigate why someone is leaving him Occult-like cards, and why a mysterious masked figure is watching him. Meanwhile, an apparently supernaturally-gifted young woman attempts to escape her oppressors and start a new life for herself.

Writer/Director Stephen Horgan takes Film Ireland Behind the Veil, which screens at the Underground Cinema Film Festival.

I went into writing Behind the Veil drunk on David Lynch films. I loved and was fascinated by the narrative and visual freedom that Lynch’s surrealist style gave him within a film. I basically set out wanting to make a visually vibrant and also hopefully fairly exotic film that felt a bit like a cinematic acid trip. As well as that, the plan was just to make something that didn’t look or feel typically Irish -maybe it does now, I’m not sure… this was back in 2012/2013.

It was originally going to be a less wacky film about an eccentric delinquent in a mask, and then one image just changed it all – a foreign girl, in what looked like a burqa, holding a set of cards that had a supernatural ability. Somehow this image got in there and the whole thing became about a group of sinister folks who use this girl’s supernatural abilities. A bit like the Solitaire character from Live and Let Die. I was originally actually going to use normal playing cards and tried to find out if any cultures applied special meaning to any playing cards. That came to nothing, and I decided I’d just make up a set of cards and give them names and symbols  -although the symbols were the work of Fiona Patten, the film’s production designer. I wanted there to be some sort of Asian influence on the film, so I watched a few Japanese films, such as Audition and Death Note. I actually watched a few others too, but whether you’d see the influence or not, those two films were the only ones that really gave points of inspiration.

I did a bit of casting my friends for the most part, rather than casting experienced actors  -although there were a few of the latter, such as Emma Dunlop and Emily Lamey, and Dave Duffy from Irish television, and, as someone who does fancy himself an actor, I did indeed cast myself.

Getting the necessary funding was only made possible because of the generosity of producer Victor McGowan’s family. I’ve known Victor since I was five, so I think his family took that as enough reason to help us as much as they did, and they really did. We held various fundraisers and launched a crowdfunding campaign, but every step of the way we only got what we needed thanks to the McGowans and Dawsons – both sides of Victor’s family.

Shooting was initially only supposed to last two weeks and a bit in 2013  -we thought this was going to hit festivals in 2014 – but it became clear after an early screening in January 2014 that four additional scenes plus a reshoot were needed, and shooting only concluded in July 2014. This was followed by a long, long pre-production phase during which I wrote another feature, directed a short, actually gave up on Behind the Veil because of the sheer amount of work clashing with a degree I was doing, re-edited the movie on better software, re-edited it from scratch three more times due to the new programme crashing… and then finally it got fully finished at the end of last year!

As for the look of the film… I like things that look weird. The main influences in terms of the cinematography were Argento’s Suspiria in terms of the surreal, crazed colours and the music video for The Dead Weather’s ‘Die By The Drop’, in which I liked the modern gothic feel and the way the video played with its shallow depth of field. We basically went crazy with the lighting, and it was a really collaborative process. We felt it was okay to play around this much because at the end of the day, the film we were making essentially features a clash of black magic and mad science. If you can’t go wild with lighting that, you can’t really go wild with lighting anything.

The sound of the film was hugely influenced by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ work on Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I spent weeks, probably months, trying to just figure out how they created those sounds. Very obsessive, I know. Still haven’t figured it all out, but I do feel like I got somewhere with it. I actually made a lot more music for the film than what you hear in it, but it was all worth it. I also wanted to add in an exotic feel to go along with the Deepthi character and the black magic – which in the film is called ‘Ikhru’, so you’ll hear bits and pieces that are trying to sound like Eastern music. I’m hoping it works!

Behind the Veil screens on Saturday, 2nd September as part of the Underground Cinema Film Festival 
Buy tickets here 
The 8th Underground Cinema Film Festival takes place in the Royal Marine Hotel in Dun Laoghaire from August 31st to September 3rd.

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