In his short time as a director Christopher Smith has dabbled in tightly wound monster movies (Creep), survival horror (Severance), mind-bending time skipping (Triangle) and, most recently, the Black Death itself. SciFiNow was fortunate to catch-up with Bristol’s best export – since Banksy, trip-hop and, erm, Justin Lee Collins – for a natter about his career to date.
Where did the idea for Triangle come from?
I had the idea back in 2004 and I was actually writing it when the script came to me for Severance. So I stopped working on it to make Severance, which is probably a good thing, because of the budget levels I probably wouldn’t have been able to make [Triangle] if I hadn’t made two films before it. I think where it came from originally was that I was just obsessed with The Shining, and I was obsessed for a long time with La Jetee, the short film that Twelve Monkeys was based on. I love movies where they go off and come back in on themselves, so I’ve always been ambitious to try to do a horror movie like that. I’ve always had the idea where you see someone at the top of a ship and that person you think is going to be the killer, or a girl that was washed overboard, but it actually turns out to be you. I thought ‘oh my god, we’ve never watched a horror movie where we are both the victim and the killer’, so I just got obsessed with it. I think I wore the influence to it on my sleeve a little bit to The Shining, because I believe that that film does a very similar thing where you’re not sure if it’s in his head, or whether the hotel is haunted. That kind of unsettling thing of not being sure where you are helps with Triangle and helps with The Shining.
Were the cast clued in to how events were going to transpire, or did you hold things back in order to maximise the effect of the climax?
No, they’d all read the script. It was one of those scripts that everyone knew about for a long time, because it was a mad script. I’m very privileged and pleased that Icon and The Film Council made it. It’s a mad film. So they knew how it was all going to work, I knew to a certain extent how you would feel at the end, and I hoped that you’d have a feeling similar to what it was like when you watched Memento, that you’d feel a bit spun out. I also hoped that you’d care for the character enough for her to want to go back. All the stuff she learns about herself is like the peeling of an onion, and so you kind of go through all these different emotions with her. Sometimes you’re annoyed with her, sometimes you like her, sometimes you hate her; and at the end you think, ‘you know, she’s quite brave if she’s going back in to do that for her kid’. We only hoped that these emotions would come out the way they did, so we’re very pleased.
What background research did you do for the movie?
I studied a lot about the idea of psychosis, but I’ve not studied psychology, and I had somebody come up to me afterwards and say: “you’ve made a movie pretty similar to how people feel when they have a psychological breakdown, where they have a paranoia and start to think somebody is watching them, and eventually they become the person looking back on themselves and become a split personality.” So I kind of made that organically, I hadn’t planned that. I kind of nailed it just organically without trying.
I think he is the best director ever. Full stop. Spielberg described him as the best director that not only has ever lived, but will ever live. I don’t use the word very lightly, because it is overused, but he was a genuine genius. He had the ability to actually make the films exactly the way he wanted to make them. There are so many things that influence me in his films. Even if you look at the scene in Severance, where Danny Dyer looks back on himself, you can see that moment in Severance is the same in 2001: A Space Odyssey when he comes through and sees the older version of himself. So I think that stylistic similarities are just ideas. I love directors that make movies with great ideas.
Where did the idea for Black Death come about?
I think Black Death is one of my best films. It is a movie that I read the script for, opened the front page and it said: “1314 AD – the plague is coming to England”, and I just said I’d do it. I love that period. I got involved with the script and it’s a movie about fundamentalism, it’s a movie about how faith is exploited, it’s really dark. So I just got involved, yeah, loved the script and worked with the writer for about six months. Then we made it. It’s one of those great things where they say: “Sean Bean’s in the film, do you like Sean?” and I said, “of course I like Sean, he’s the Bean, he’s a legend.” So suddenly I’m making a film with Sean Bean. He is brilliant, he’s one of those actors I consider to be our Robert Duvall. He’s just always good.
Being a director of horror, is there anything in the genre that you think needs changing?
Any of the remakes, effectively. I’ve never been interested in those films. The horror films that I used to like when I was growing up were the really dirty ones. Obviously I liked the classics such as The Exorcist, but I think why I was drawn to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was because you weren’t sure whether to laugh or look away. All those video nasties made you feel a little unsure as to whether you were in safe hands. What I don’t like in horror movies is where it just becomes a technical product, and they get a slick director in. What I do like are movies where you really unsettle the audience. I think a lot of movies when they don’t emotionally disturb get a little boring. Less being technically clever, more being interesting. Look at something like Don’t Look Now. It’s a great film. It would never be made now.
What projects are you working on next?
I’m due to be doing – hopefully this year – a kid’s film based on the books called Cherb. I call it a cross between Shane Meadows, The Goonies and Spy Kids. I’m also working on a really twisted kind of thriller that has the tone of Shallow Grave. I’ve still got another twisted film in me.
Triangle is available to purchase now on DVD & Blu-ray, courtesy of Icon Home Entertainemnt.