In the increasingly popular genre of horror and fantasy, Ireland is being used more often for international movie and television productions, so it is no surprise that home-grown talent is being inspired to do the same. ANN MASSEY caught up with Irish director Zoe Kavanagh to find out more about her upcoming feature film, Taryn Barker Demon Hunter.
Zoe tell us a bit about yourself and your background in filmmaking.
I have always wanted to make a feature film and I began my path to filmmaking in 2006 when I shot a few short films and began dabbling in music videos while studying TV and film at college. One of the music videos I directed was for the band ‘My Dying Bride’ and it had over 300,000 views.
I went on to do a year in Cinematography, then completed a BA Hons. Degree Course at the National Film School. Mainly I did music videos for a lot of independent artists that inspired me and it was a great experience to exercise a certain filming style.
You describe ‘Taryn Barker Demon Hunter’ as a Fantasy Action Thriller/Horror. Can you tell us a bit more about the film?
It’s a completely independent film funded mostly out of my own pocket with the help of Constant Motion Pictures. I wanted to make a film that had strong elements of style, drama and adventure. We tried our hardest not to compromise the ambitious plot.
It is about a troubled girl who’s been brought in for questioning by the police over the murder of a man who she claims is a demon. Detective Beckett realizes this is the same girl he made a promise to years ago that he’d find the monster who raped and murdered her 12 year old sister. When his daughter is abducted by a demonic cult he must seek her help in rescuing her and perhaps redeem himself for the broken promise he made.
The screenplay for the film was written by me and co-writer Tony Flynn. It was essentially me and Tony going back and forth with different drafts until it was right.
The storyline is very dark and sinister and reminiscent of cult films such as The Crow. What films, writers and directors have influenced you and why?
A few of my favourite directors are John Carpenter, James Cameron, David Fincher and Ridley Scott. In terms of films that have influenced me I’d say The Crow is certainly a huge inspiration. However, our screenplay definitely takes influence from classics such as The Terminator and Highlander, the plot jumping back and forth between the past and present is quite a rollercoaster.
Another influence was the videogame franchise Devil May Cry which follows Dante, a demon hunter, half-angel and half-demon. The games energy and style was certainly an inspiration.
The film has a very strong female lead, who has gained strength through tragedy, albeit for revenge. Demonic traits aside, who or what has inspired Taryn Barker’s character?
I had a lot of pain in my own life and this with the influential music of bands such as The Birthday Massacre and Nightwish helped me build a character that would stand up to evil and fight to avenge the innocent.
It was in late 2007 I was listening to a song by Demon Hunter called ‘My Heartstrings Come Undone’, and I drew this girl in an alley holding a sword. She was broken but she had a quest, I knew something bad happened to her, possibly the worst pain imaginable. The rape and murder of her young sister would become her motivation in hunting evil and henceforth her catharsis.
Her name itself came from two influences. I took Taryn from a character in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, a complex character but her name is unique and is strong. Her surname Barker came from Clive Barker – his dark demonic stories influenced the evil in the Taryn Barker world.
Charleville Castle in Offaly is one of Ireland’s most haunted places and you filmed here! Did you choose it because of its spooky history or its gothic design? How was the experience?
Most certainly for its wonderful gothic design which elevated the production qualities. We got the location by chance at the time leading up to filming. Just prior to shooting I couldn’t find an ideal spot to film the climax but I got help from an incredible Location Manager who put me in touch with the lovely people at Charleville Castle. We filmed for five days and unfortunately I didn’t see any ghosts or demons. I’m someone who’s snuck into abandoned asylums and the Magdalene Convents on my own just to take pictures but I am a cynic about these things.
What other locations did you use and do you think Ireland has a naturally ethereal quality for filming fantasy/horror that can’t be achieved elsewhere?
We filmed in Ardgillan Castle, Pigeon House Power Station and The Old Mill in Slane West Meath to name a few. Had I tried to make this film in another country I wouldn’t have had the money to afford such ambitious locations. These places certainly brought the comic book fantasy style of the film to life and Ireland’s epic locations are its strongest point.
Both television and film have seen a rapid rise in the number of fantasy thriller/horror movies. Why do you think this genre is so popular today and what makes ‘Taryn Barker Demon Hunter’ stand out from the rest?
Well firstly there’s never been a film like this made in Ireland ever. I hope people will be able to relate to Taryn and the world she inhabits! I hope my style of filmmaking and the fantasy horror elements will attract audiences that this genre appeals to.
There’s such a huge dark world of fantasy to be put in production. TV has become cutting edge and I do believe even cinema audiences have matured and they want darker more challenging stories that not only have strong imagery but a heart and soul.
With Taryn Barker Demon Hunter, I’m hoping the audience that finds it are those who appreciate dark superhero stories such as The Darkness, The Crow, Batman, Razor. I hope she clicks with the mainstream as her world of demon hunting has only just begun. There are many roads to go and I’m eager to tell more.
What is your favourite fantasy thriller/horror and why?
My favourite fantasy thriller/horror would have to be The Terminator. James Cameron’s masterpiece is perfect in every way from the flawless script, film score and love story to the paradox of time travel, the horror of the machine and the message of destructive capitalism.
Taryn Barker was first introduced in a short film where we saw the background to the shocking event that led her to become who she is today. When you started out did you anticipate the momentum and dedication that led to the full length feature film ‘Taryn Barker Demon Hunter’ and have you exceeded your own expectations?
It was the plan from the beginning. The feature script was written in 2011 however I didn’t have the money so I shot a short film and thought it’d be a good idea to shoot the feature over a long period of time once I had funds. Big mistake! Lessons learned, scenes remade, roles recast and now the film is made. Let’s just see if the world likes it! The things we pulled off making this film as you can see from the trailer! I believe for the most part we exceeded ourselves.
Finally, when do we get to see ‘Taryn Barker Demon Hunter’ in action?!
The film is currently in post-production. Once there is a cut, we’ll reach out to distributors and see what avenue we’ll take with the picture. It’s looking promising already but I won’t jinx it. But later in 2015!