Andy Collier and Tor Mian have worked together on horror projects for the last decade. Their first full-length feature together was 2017’s Charismata, and they’ve followed it up with their latest venture, folk-horror Sacrifice 2020 which transplants this beloved British sub-genre to a Scandinavian setting. Richard Phillips-Jones caught up with them to talk about shooting abroad, friendly locals and working with a horror legend.
Your work to date has been UK based, and Paul Kane’s original story was set in the British countryside, so I’m interested to know what prompted the change of locale, and in particular the choice of Norway?
Tor: It would be disingenuous not to admit that it was partially due to wanting to distance ourselves from classics of the genre like The Wicker Man. In some ways Sacrifice is the complete thematic inversion of that film but had we set in on a remote Scottish Island it would be near impossible to avoid negative comparisons considering just how iconic it is.
We decided to relocate to Norway for a couple of reasons. Firstly, my mother is Norwegian so it’s a culture and part of the world I am very familiar with. Secondly; once we started to introduce more cosmic, Lovecraftian and aquatic elements into the script, Norway seemed a very logical fit. Anybody who has witnessed the Northern Lights shimmering above a vast Fjord will testify that there are few more ethereal places on the planet.
Andy: Yes; Tor suggested Norway because he wanted a free holiday to visit his family… but when we first arrived there to have a look at the locations I had to agree. It was majestic but also other-worldly at the same time and would obviously help set the mood of the film so well. The location is a character in itself.
It’s interesting that you have an American (Barbara Crampton) as a Norwegian, and two Brits (I believe?) as an American couple – was that a conscious decision or accidental? It makes for interesting casting.
Tor: Having an American couple rather than a British one at its heart was certainly a conscious decision to try and make the film as universal as possible. That the actors playing them both turned out be British was however accidental. It’s a testament to Sophie Stevens and Ludovic Hughes’ performances that most people are surprised to learn they are actually British and not American.
Andy: American audiences don’t like getting behind British leads, unless they are Harry Potter or a baddie. Sadly we were too late to ever cast Terry-Thomas as an evil wizard.
How did you manage to get Barbara Crampton involved? I gather her part was originally written as male police officer. She gives a really enjoyable performance, and of course has past form with Lovecraftian horror.
Tor: Barbara’s character was indeed originally written as a man. In fact, we were already deep into the casting process when one of the producers who had worked with Barbara on another project pointed out that with a minimal rewrite Barbara might be great for the part. She was the right age. She couldn’t look more Scandinavian. Making the character female would actually add an interesting dynamic and well… she was Barbara Crampton… the queen of Lovecraftian horror and a great actress.
The only possible hurdle to this being fortuitous and inspired casting would be whether or not she could pull off the Norwegian accent. Thankfully she was extremely motivated to nail this aspect of the character and certainly had a lot of native Norwegians on set to hold her to account!
Andy: We were lucky! Barbara immediately understood and got behind the script and the character, and the Lovecraftian idea that humans are insignificant and have little control over their own fate. So we were happy that she agreed to take the part, and that she played it so well.
How did you come across Paul Kane’s story originally?
Tor: We are extremely proud of our previous horror feature Charismata, but we left that project very aware of how ambitious we had been in relation to the budget at our disposal. Subsequently we made the conscious decision that our next project would be more self -contained and ‘traditionally horror’. Andy suggested Paul Kane’s ‘Men of The Cloth’ was not only a wonderfully evocative short story but it met with the practical criteria we were seeking for our next production. At least it did until its climax where we would suddenly need a budget 10 times that of what we would realistically have at our disposal.
Initially we tried to move on but neither of us could quite get Paul’s story out of our minds. As such we decided to have a meeting with Paul to see if he would be amiable to us using the essence of his story as inspiration for the film, rather than us producing a direct adaptation. Thankfully, he was on board and consequently we describe Sacrifice as being inspired by Men of The Cloth and the various works of HP Lovecraft rather than a direct adaptation of one tale in particular.
Andy: I’m not sure if Paul has seen the film yet. Hopefully, we’ll be able to visit Derbyshire again without being assassinated, when he does.
Sacrifice has a slow burning, intense and brooding atmosphere – how did you work to achieve this? Were there any reference points that you thought “that’s the kind of feel we’re looking for”?
Tor: I would say that our biggest reference film in this regard wasn’t even a horror. It was Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive.
One of our intentions with Sacrifice was to try and a create a ‘traditional’ horror movie in terms of set-up and hitting certain genre beats but to execute it in an idiosyncratic fashion. Something that is both immediately accessible but that still exhibits its own unique ambience. I think Drive is an exceptional example of this. Somehow both utterly conventional and unconventional at the same time.
Andy: Being able to use the magnificent, vast but (with the right lenses!) also strangely claustrophobic location helped a lot. Also Tom Linden’s subtle, effective score. And great performances all round from the cast. Basically I think we were lucky that everybody else involved in the production was really good at their jobs.
How did the local residents in Bjørke take to having a film production from the UK on their doorstep? Were you welcomed?
Tor: As a Londoner who is very use to having his day inconvenienced by self- absorbed filmmakers, I’m always apprehensive about how we will be received at any given location. I have literally had guns pointed at me by locals and concluded this to be a perfectly reasonable reaction when confronted by a deeply annoying film crew rocking up to your doorstep.
The Bjørke community however could not have been more accommodating. Almost disconcertingly so. Sometimes it felt like the first act of a cliche horror. Everybody was so nice and friendly you were almost waiting for things to suddenly flip and to one day wake up in a basement.
Remarkably however it turns out some people in this world are just genuinely nice and friendly. Who knew?
Andy: I was astonished by how well behaved and polite the extras we had hired for the movie were. I asked the Norwegian line producer which agency he got them from… they were so professional. He said, “They aren’t experienced extras at all. They are locals who responded to an advert I put out. They are just Norwegian.” If only our film crew could have been so well behaved!
There are many evocative scenes in the film: from the boat trip to the island, to the pub, shop and dinner scenes. Did the shoot go smoothly and to plan? Was weather a problem?
Tor: I’ve never worked on a shoot that has gone to plan but disaster usually strikes when you are in the thick of things. However, the fun and games on this one started on the very first day we arrived in Norway. The cast and crew all turned up on schedule for a what would be an incredibly tight shoot in a very remote location. Unfortunately, the camera equipment didn’t, and we were confronted with the very real possibility of having to shoot on my iPhone – not necessarily the aesthetic we had planned for.
The weather was certainly an issue in that it is even more changeable than that of the UK. One minute you have glorious sunshine, the next torrential rain. Good thing our budget was too tight for a dedicated continuity artist or they would have probably had a stroke.
Our main concern weather wise however was how cold the fjord scenes were going to be for the actors. We had been assured that as we were filming late summer it was unlikely that anybody would actually freeze to death but that didn’t stop the cast incessantly complaining about no longer being able to feel their toes.
Andy: The biggest problem was short nights. In all the night shoots – and there were many – we were racing against the clock because of sunrise. In the final scene we almost lost the race… in the very final shot the sun is just about to appear over the mountains. But… it kinda works.
Sacrifice is your third venture together. How does it work out for you as joint-directors? Do you find you’re mostly in agreement during production? Any friction?
Tor: Any more friction and we would probably combust.
Most conflict however is generally duked out during preproduction behind closed doors. By the time we actually step onto set we generally present a unified front so as not to traumatise the cast and crew too much.
Andy: also we split the duties on this one so I mostly looked after cinematography and visuals, but Tor mostly looked after the actors. So we didn’t need to speak to each other much, which always helps.
Finally, at Spooky Isles we cover all manner of British or British-related horror – could you tell us some of your own favourites from these shores?
Tor: Britain has such a rich history of horror cinema that it’s difficult not to just reel off film after film. I love and have been influenced by all the usual suspects but a film that immediately springs to mind is Peeping Tom.
Despite its cult classic status, it still doesn’t quite get mentioned in the same breath as the likes of The Wicker Man, The Innocents, Witchfinder General, Dracula etc… but it certainly should be. So critically savaged upon its release that it almost destroyed Michael Powell’s career. This has got to be a mark of a great film and is something I will desperately cling to as the Sacrifice reviews roll in.
Andy: Obviously I need to go back to Terry-Thomas and say The Vault of Horror. Great movie.
Sacrifice is available on digital platforms from March 15th 2021