Sacrifice: Interview With Tor Mian

Inspired by Lovecraft and Scandinavian folklore, Sacrifice finds a young American couple in a remote Norwegian village where the residents seem to be hiding something… We spoke to the film’s co-director Tor Mian to find out more.

Inspired by Paul Kane’s short story ‘Men Of The Cloth’ (and shown at FrightFest this year), Sacrifice follows US-based Isaac and his pregnant wife Emma, who return to the Norwegian village on a remote island of his birth after receiving an unexpected inheritance following the death of his mother. There they find themselves caught in a waking nightmare as an ancient frightening evil is awakened to claim the colour of madness in a birthright of its own…

Co-directed and co-written by Andy Collier and Tor Mian (Charismata) and starring horror legend Barbara Crampton (You’re Next, Re-Animator) alongside Sophie Stevens (The Haunted) and Ludovic Hughes (Ride), Sacrifice mixes folklore and Lovecraft to create a creepy tale set in a remote Norwegian village.

We spoke to Tor Mian about the movie, working with Barbara Crampton, The Wickerman and not looking too deeply into the appeal of horror…

How did things start for you for Sacrifice?

Our previous horror feature Charismata was very ambitious in relation to its budget. After the fun and games we had to get [that film] in the can, we vowed that should we ever make another one it would be sensible to design it like most low budget horrors i.e a simple premise, a few characters, a self-contained location etc… 

Unfortunately somewhere along the line, some idiot had the bright idea to set it in the most expensive country on the planet! 

If any, what were your influences when writing the screenplay for Sacrifice?

We’ve had people describe Sacrifice as ‘folk horror meets cosmic horror’. I would love to reel off a load of obscure references but it would be disingenuous not to say we were influenced by the defining works of these respective genres – namely The Wickerman and The Call Of Cthulhu. To imply otherwise would be like writing a vampire movie and concluding Bram Stoker was completely inconsequential to its conception. 

The biggest influence however wasn’t horror related at all… Strangely it was Nicolas Winding Refn’s DriveLike Drive, we wanted to create something that had a fairly conventional framework and proudly hit its genre beats – but that was executed in a hazy and idiosyncratic manner. A subversion of the familiar.

The movie is based on a short story by Paul Kane – what changes did you make and what did you make sure you kept from the short story?

It’s always annoying watching an adaptation of a great novel or short story and realising the filmmakers have completely butchered the source material. I despise many-a film for doing this and am left wondering why the hell they didn’t just film what was originally on the page. With this in mind, any fan of Paul Kane’s ‘Men Of The Cloth’ will probably want to shoot us in the back of the head!

Much of the story elements, characters and of course, the setting, are unrecognisable from the source material. So much so that we credit Sacrifice as being inspired by ‘Men Of The Cloth’ rather than being a direct adaptation. Don’t get me wrong; we would have loved to do a straight-up adaption. We just would have needed ten times the budget! 

What we hope remains from the wonderful source material is its creeping unease, claustrophobia and sense of otherworldliness. Hopefully, we’ve at least honoured its essence and the next time we see Paul he won’t have a gun in his hand… 

Tor wanted to keep the creeping unease from ‘Men Of The Cloth’ in Sacrifice…

Why set Sacrifice in Norway and was it shot there?

Most of Sacrifice was indeed shot in stunning Norway. I have a Norwegian mother and spent a lot of my childhood there. When we were trying to decide on an environment that would embody the ethereal and aquatic nature of the script, it felt like a very natural and obvious fit. 

We also – if truth be told – wanted to distance ourselves from The Wickerman comparisons as much as possible by avoiding the British Isles completely. We thought we were being ever so clever until Ari Aster decided to bang out Midsommar just as we started preproduction. 

In hindsight, we should have probably set it in Sheffield!

How much research did you do into traditional folklore when writing the screenplay for Sacrifice

Certain aspects of the film definitely touch upon elements of traditional Scandinavian folklore. For example, the practice of constructing Tupilacs, beliefs relating to the significance of the Northern Lights, Fjord dwelling beasts… but to really answer your question depends on whether or not 100 years of Lovecraftian Mythos can now be considered ‘traditional’ or not. If so the majority of research amounted to reading The Necronomicon 50 times.

What was it like to have the legendary Barbara Crampton on board for Sacrifice

It’s always tedious to hear the stock response of “it was great” everybody gives when asked about their experience working with any famous and respected person within the industry. It invariably comes across as incredibly disingenuous and conversely reads as “I would have murdered them if we didn’t have to go to the hassle of recasting”. 

Please then appreciate how awkward answering this question is for me considering working with Barbara genuinely was a wonderful experience. 

Re-animater is honestly one of my favourite movies of all time. Despite being a big believer in never meeting your heroes, Barbara completely lived up to lofty expectations and really couldn’t have been lovelier. 

Your cynical readers however are now understandably going to assume we hated each other with a passion… 

The film features lots of colourful visuals, what were your thoughts and ideas for some of those visuals?

The working title was ‘The Colour Of Madness’ rather than Sacrifice and in some ways this acted as an evocation of the visual style we hoped to achieve for the film. Most horrors movies are naturally dark, gritty and visceral in terms of their aesthetics. We very much wanted to create something that felt ethereal, colourful and almost antithetical to what one usually associates with the word ‘horror’. 

We wanted every scene to feel like it was somehow illuminated by the Northern Lights and for the film as a whole to have the mood of Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’. A beautiful shimmering, watery nightmare… 

What is it about horror that appeals to you? 

That’s an extremely deep and troubling question and something I only feel comfortable exploring with my psychiatrist! 

What do you think it is about horror that appeals to audiences?

There is a lot of psychobabble about horror appealing to audiences because fear releases adrenaline and makes one feel ‘alive’. 

The unfortunate reality however is that the general public is evil to its core and consuming horror is just one method it uses to get its immoral kicks. This is of course not to say that horror movies don’t ultimately serve a positive purpose for society. Whereas some argue that violent entertainment inspires violence in real life; I believe it actually nullifies it. 

Just imagine how many more Ted Bundys we would have in the world if Joe Bloggs didn’t get his murderous fix watching Netflix rather than actively indulging in his depraved fantasies. I absolutely shudder to think what [my Sacrifice filmmaking partner] Andy would be up to if he didn’t get to make movies…

What’s next for you? 

That largely depends on how Sacrifice does. If it’s a success we’ll hopefully get to make the zombie western we have in the pipeline. If not… I’m guessing jail. 

Sacrifice was seen at Arrow Video’s FrightFest Digital Edition 2 2020. Sacrifice is out on digital now courtesy of 101 Films.