In Fear director on 2013’s scariest British horror film

Jeremy Lovering tells SciFiNow about In Fear, Iain De Caestecker, and scaring your actors

Iain De Caestecker and Alice Englert take a wrong turn in In Fear
Iain De Caestecker and Alice Englert take a wrong turn in In Fear

British horror film In Fear, starring Iain De Caestecker (Agents Of SHIELD), Alice Englert (Beautiful Creatures) and Allen Leech (Downton Abbey), is released in UK cinemas this Friday and is looking like a safe bet for the best British horror of 2013 (read our review here).

The story of a new couple who get lost on a series of back-country roads in Ireland, director Jeremy Lovering chose to withold as much of the script from the actors as possible in order to get genuine reactions from them. Lovering spoke exclusively to SciFiNow about creating fear, working with Iain De Caestecker and going off-road (cinematically speaking).

Had the idea of not giving the actors a script always been part of the plan?

Without a doubt. I mean, I had the story I wanted to tell, and then I had the sort of theory or the thesis, which was looking at fear as a kind of state of being rather than being scared of spiders or whatever. And combining those two things, I felt the only way I wanted to do it was without a script and to try and make them scared, to be honest. Because that way I could get the maximum authentic performance and also I could genuinely build their characters with them according to how they responded to a given consequence. How they repsonded to a given situation, they gave me a character consequence.

So yeah, I always wanted to do it that way. I think I was also interested in the other side of it, which is probably less interesting, but just as a kind of filmmaking exercise, I was interested in applying a kind of drama technique to a genre film. So using improvisation, but knowing that I could cut it off at any given point with an event and also knowing that each scene had to aim for any given event. And it made it easier to sell and make quickly, to be honest. They all bought into it, Nira was the first person I spoke to at Big Talk, then the rest of Big Talk then I did a long treatment, which was kind of a story narrative and a plot without any dialogue, or just sort of examples of dialogue, and they bought into it and then Studio Canal bought into the idea, they were quite excited, and then Film4 were equally excited. I think I got lucky because I had producers and financiers who went “Oh yeah, this is a good way to do this subject.”

So financing came about pretty quickly?

Very much so, yeah. I think again, it’s a very low-budget film, so there’s a point, I mean it’s all done by mathematics and algorithms now, by marketing departments, and they look at what they can get and what they will spend, and I think they looked at what we were asking for and the way we wanted to do it and they said “Okay, fine.” That fits the model.

Alice Englert and Iain De Caestecker are fantastic together in the film. Given the level of improvisation, did they know each other before filming?

They didn’t know each other, again that was part of my process. I was interested in, if you’ve got a couple that’s known each other for 20 years there’s been, you can list the number of films, you know, Vacancy, blah blah blah. There’s endless films where there’s couples who know each other, and there’s obviously five teens who are put together who may or may not know all about each other, but what I wanted to do very specifically was to look at a relationship that we know is probably going to be fragile. And look at whether the element of sacrifice and betrayal and how it fitted into that.

My idea was always “Don’t rehearse for longer than the length of time that the characters will have known each other before the film starts.” And I don’t know if Iain and Alice had known each other, if they were best mates would I have cast them? Maybe not is the answer to that. So they didn’t know each other, they met for the first time in the audition, which was a Skype audition just because she was in Australia. And they were, I said to them “Look, I don’t want you to talk about your characters outside of the rehearsal space so that you only know each other to the extent of what you tell each other.”

Obviously, if we’re doing a normal script you sit around with all the actors discussing all the characters so that everyone knows everything, and this was very deliberate. Iain created a whole back story. He was a journalist, he was in a frustrated situation, he was working on sports pages, etc, so he had a whole back story and he had family and he had a brother he didn’t speak to. None of that was relevant to the story we were telling except in terms of how he approached things, and Alice would only know about these things, that he’s got a brother that he had issues with, if during the course of the practice scenarios and the rehearsals, of which there were many, he brought it up.

So for example, all I would do were practice scenarios that had the tension I needed, so for example I said “Okay, he needs glasses,” we actually abandoned that, but at the time he was going to wear specs so we went to one of the high street shops in character, and he was buying glasses, and his brother always used to take the piss out of him and bully him because of him wearing glasses, so she didn’t know that until that scenario where it came up. So we did things like that, we’d go out for dinner and I’d say to him “I want you to just play that game, getting to know you, options game, but make it slightly threatening” and then I’d say to her “How are you feeling about him, push that element,” so that was how we did rehearsals really; they were just putting the characters in scenarios and then letting them as actors develop the character. Then in the evening I’d go home and I’d work with John Croker, who was the script consultant, and together we’d kind of go “Okay, this is how they reacted in this scenario, this is the scenario I’ve written in my treatment, how do we anticipate them reacting, therefore do we need to make any changes to what happens next?” So it’s kind of, they didn’t know each other, they were learning about each other as they were creating their characters themselves and then I’d kind of head them off into certain places that were relevant to my story.

In Fear 2Were they both up for exploring their characters in that way?

Yeah, they loved it. And the great thing was like what happened, I was spoilt for choice, there were loads of actresses and actors in Britain at the moment who are really good and really up for it. Iain and Alice were totally up for it. The truth is that we wouldn’t have started if they weren’t, they had to be up for it, and I said to them “This is the way we’re going to do it. If you will embrace it, that’s exciting, if you’re not going to embrace it or if halfway through you’re going to get freaked out by not knowing the story, that’s also cool, but I’m not going to do it in another way so that’s fine, let me know.” And they were totally up for it. They’re very cool people, I don’t know what the right word for it is, but they’re very cool people as human beings. They know themselves really well, that’s what it is. So they’re confident in their own skin, they’re confident in their own sexuality and they’re confident in their own emotionality, so they were like “Yeah, cool, let’s just see what happens.”

Iain De Caestecker has obviously got a lot busier recently…

I think he is absolutely exceptional. And he’s got this rare ability, you know Jack Thorne the writer, he told me about it, which is basically he can aim for the end without it feeling like it. And on my one obviously he didn’t know what the end was, but he still somehow made the character feel as though it was totally organic. So he’d already got to a place and then he arrived there but because of that, it was just totally believable and that’s quite a rare gift I think. I think he’s exceptional, he’s really good. And they both are, but I think he’s a bit older and he’s doing some extraordinary things at the moment.

In Fear 3You got the ultimate horror test by showing it at FrightFest; it went down really well.

It did, we’d had Sundance in America and Sundance in London, we’d had a few screenings, but actually this was the only one I was quite nervous of, A it was massive and B it was people who really know their stuff. Ultimately we’re presenting this as a scary film that hopefully makes you think about it a couple of days later but primarily it’s a genre film, a psychological horror, is it going to work with an audience who are hardened to that kind of thing. And I was thinking “Oh God, this could be where you get crucified.” And it wasn’t, it was really exciting, genuinely exciting because somebody screamed in the audience and it was like “Wow! Somebody at FrightFest is actually screaming,” and afterwards people were saying it was genuinely frightening, the tweets and what people said to me, they were genuinely frightened by it. This is exciting because it’s hitting that audience who can teach me a lot about what this film is meant to be about. So it brought out the pleased little kid in me who’s managed to please the big kids, if you like. So it was great, it was really nice. And it was interesting because they’re very generous as an audience, but they’re also very critical as an audience so if they slip into one mode they ain’t going to let you get away with it, and I felt that this is a suspension of disbelief and I think they allowed themselves to go with it and once they went with it they did enjoy it and get scared by it, so it was really good, really exciting.

Are there any future projects on the horizon?

There are things I’m talking about, I’m talking about a remake of The Changeling, which is a really interesting prospect because it’s one of my favourite films, I still find it really scary. So I’ve got an approach to it which completely spins it on its head; rather than an updated remake I want to approach it from a completely different perspective with the same film, if that makes sense. So I’m talking about that, that’s very early stages but that  really excites me. The other, there’s a film I want to write which I’m pitching at the moment to Film4 and StudioCanal who made In Fear and that’s a sort of messed up post-war hallucinogenic thing, which is a kind of psychological thriller rather than a psychological horror. So those are the two things I’m most excited about at the moment.

In Fear is in UK cinemas 15 November.