Back in September, the Squid reported on the buzz surrounding promising horror debut Hosts, a supernatural home invasion film whose unique premise left us intrigued.
We managed catch up with Hosts director duo Richard Oakes and Adam Leader during lockdown for a chat about their brutal indie flick.
Emily: For those who don’t know about the film, give our readers a little insight into what to expect.
Rich: It’s a crazy cross between a home invasion film and Invasion of the Body Snatchers with a demonic twist. But if you can go into this film knowing as little as possible about it, you will get the best results. You can expect to be shocked and disturbed as well as taken on a crazy thrill ride.
Adam: Do not go into this expecting a typical horror film. Lock your doors, too.
Emily: So I understand you both met whilst shooting Adam’s music video a few years ago – how did you guys come to be on our screens?
Rich: I’ve always been a fan of the grittier/darker side of media. Most of the bands I have shot have been in the metal genre, and my filming and lighting style has been refined to bring the best out of this style. The films I love have always been either horror or dark thrillers, so it was a no-brainer to go down this route for our filmmaking.
Adam: I’ve been in bands since I left school, and for the last ten years have been pushing my current band. I’d always had a drive to do films, particularly horror because those are the films I grew to love from such a young age. Once Hosts was written in late 2018, it was time to put just as much blood, sweat and tears into filmmaking as I did with music. Being on such an identical wave-length to Rich, it just seemed right.
Emily: What inspired you to make this film?
Rich: I’m a big fan of the classics like Ridley Scott on Alien, and I love Kubrick’s The Shining, but I also love the more modern films like Ari Aster’s Hereditary and Midsommar. I like the feeling of dread and tension that these masters achieved with these films. We are passionate about the art of film and underlying depth, and we tried to put a lot of that into our own film Hosts.
Adam: I was eight when I saw my first horror movie. It was A Nightmare on Elm Street. That turned me on to anything and everything horror, and over the years I guess I got bored of the same old on-the-surface demons and ghost stories and began falling in love with films that told a deeper story on the platform of horror. Films like The Shining, The Exorcist, and Hereditary, as well as psychological horrors like Get Out.
Emily: The response from the critics has been amazing. You recently went to Sitges Spanish film festival – tell us about your experience! Was it completely surreal attending a film festival in a pandemic?
Rich: We have been overwhelmed by the positive press so far and feel very humbled. Sitges was incredible, but yes, it was strange having to wear a mask 24/7 and presenting to a scattered half empty cinema, but we respect the protective measures the festival went to to make sure people were safe.
Adam: Loved every second of it. It was a once-in-a-lifetime (so far) opportunity that we just couldn’t miss. Pandemic or no pandemic, it was definitely surreal, but I guess the tension was up with the added worry of everything happening in the world at the moment, which probably added even more tension to the overall cinematic experience!
Emily: You referenced Texas Chainsaw Massacre as an inspiration for your work. What else inspired you to make this film?
Adam: The initial idea came from an experience I had with my ex. She started complaining that she could see a strange blue light right outside in the garden by the window, so I went outside to investigate and brought a knife just in case. After coming inside, I figured this would make for an interesting scene or opener to a film, so I got on the phone to Rich. The two of us spent the whole night writing as many weird and wonderful ideas into a rough structure, which then allowed me to go away and write the first draft of the screenplay. The next few months were spent developing it and thickening the story until we were happy and ready to move on to casting and shooting.
Emily: You two clearly have a strong bond! Were there any creative differences?
Rich: Generally Adam and I were on the same page. People call us a married couple because of how well we click, but we do have our individual tastes and wants from the projects we do. Sometimes we reach a stalemate, but 90% of the time we manage to gel, which creates some unique ideas. For example, I am more a fan of real-world threats like murderers and home invasions etc. – I guess you could say more on the thriller vibe – whereas Adam is a big fan of supernatural horror. So instead of arguing over which style of film to make with Hosts, we put our heads together and made a supernatural home invasion horror-thriller. I think this is why critics have called it original and fresh.
Adam: Yeah, we both seem to click, and with Hosts, we always met in a place where we were both super pumped about the ideas we’d amalgamated together. It’s already following suit with our next film. Watch this space.
Emily: Was there anything that didn’t quite go to plan?
Rich: Well, we actually set out to make Much Ado About Nothing 2, but everything went so wrong that we somehow, accidentally, ended up with Hosts by the end of it. But people seem to be receptive to how it turned out, so, you know, every cloud!
Adam: Like all films, particularly low-budget ones, there are always going to be obstacles hitting you left, right and centre. The whole filmmaking process is about problem-solving, and although we had a few things hit us unexpectedly, the sheer love and dedication we all had to see Hosts through until the very end made those obstacles appear to be very small.
Emily: How was the release at FrightFest?
Rich: It was incredible. We were watching the Facebook pages and Twitter feeds during the screening, and we were seeing overwhelmingly positive posts. Then came the reviews that were some of the best reviews to date, and being listed on one festival coverage site as the third best film of FrightFest blew my mind as we were up against some massive hitters.
Emily: The critics seem to love you!
Rich: Yes, we’ve been nominated for ‘Best Film’ at Sitges Midnight Extreme, and we won ‘Best Death’ at Total Films FrightFest Awards, and ‘Best Kill’ at Britflicks FrightFest Awards.
Adam: Rich said it all. I just want to let the readers know I’m dancing like a little kid right now being reminded of how much further this has gone than we’d originally anticipated.
Emily: Have you had any feedback from famous faces? I’m pretty sure I saw some quotes from Stephen King and someone from the Saw franchise?
Rich: We were unable to confirm the Stephen King quote, but it’s awesome if true – and also, yes, Darren Bousman, the director of Saw 2,3 and 4 and Spiral said on Twitter about Hosts, “I thought it was fantastic! Such a great ride!”. And the utter legend that is Rick Astley giving us and Adam’s band a push on social media was ridiculous too!
Adam: According to Instagram, Boris Jonson watched it and hated it.
Emily: What have your favourite responses been?
Rich: The New York Times enjoyed the film and called it “brutal and blood-soaked”, which was an amazing feeling. Harpers Bazaar listed us in “the top 10 best horror films of the year”, which was nuts. There have been so many amazing quotes I would have to sift through from the press, but to be honest, the moments that really make the film worth it is when we speak to the everyday horror fans, some of which have told us that Hosts is one of the best horrors they have ever seen. That response is priceless.
Adam: Yeah, some of the personal messages and Tweets we’ve been getting from people all over the States and (following FrightFest) the UK have just been unbelievable. It’s an absolute dream come true to have such love and respect come from absolute strangers across the world.
Emily: There’s one specific controversial death in the film. How has that been received by your audiences?
Rich: Haha, well yeah, I think winning ‘Best Death’ at Frightfest kind of covers it, but yes, the response to that has been out of this world. The amount of pureblood horror fans that have messaged us saying they either fell off their chair or had to pause the film to go for a breather has been crazy. As I’m sure you are aware, we are very proud of that moment.
Adam: It came out exactly how we envisioned and wrote it, and the audiences have responded to it exactly how we wanted them to, and we couldn’t be happier with that.
Emily: Did the cast have a say in how they perished?
Rich: No! We put all their corpses in the back of a bin lorry after the shoot as we had run out of funds to pay them and their agents were getting pissy!
Adam: Hell no. RIP. #harrowcouncilrefuse…
Emily: What’s your favourite horror film death?
Rich: Man down plughole in The Blob.
Adam: Charlie’s head being knocked off in Hereditary.
Emily: Out of all the deaths you’ve created, which is your favourite? Which one would you choose to have inflicted on yourselves?
Rich: Wow, what a question. I think I would go for the iconic one to both questions as it is the most brutal but probably the least painful of the bunch.
Adam: I’d quite like to be shot in the face.
Emily: What was the audition process like? Did you have specifics in mind or were you open-minded? Did you let the role take on the actor?
Adam: Neal and Nadia were already cast. The parts were written for them because they’re fantastic actors, and not only that, they’re long-time friends that we consider family, and we want to see them succeed. For the role of Cassie we had thirteen women audition, but when Jennifer sent us her tape, we were both sold, and she got the part straight away. Samantha was a last-minute casting, and boy was it meant to be. She came in with only twenty-four hours notice and completely nailed twenty pages of dialogue on her first day.
Emily: You’ve managed to release a hit film in the middle of a pandemic. What motivation did you use to keep yourselves going?
Rich: The pandemic didn’t hinder us too much to be honest, and actually was a blessing in some areas, as the film was completed just before the lockdown in the UK. But it gave us the time at home to email and be on the phone with distributors etc. to get the film sold, as well as time to produce the artwork etc.
Adam: Yeah, being in total lockdown allowed us the time to literally email everyone. We sent 174 emails and were on the phone the coming days and weeks after being offered deals, but Dark Sky Films were the ones for us. We’d had our eye on them for quite some time, and they absolutely loved the film, completely sharing the same vision, and that was super important to us. We wanted people behind this that were just as hungry as we were.
Emily: Tell us about the soundtrack! It’s a beautiful piece. Did you write and produce it?
Rich: No, we…
Benjamin Symons: Well hello – Benjamin Symons here, composer on Hosts. Sorry to butt in but I heard my name being called across the ether and had to jump in to talk about the music.
First of all, thank you so much, I’m so glad you liked the music. The whole process was a collaborative one, and I can’t thank Rich and Adam enough for trusting me so implicitly with their baby. It all started initially before we started filming. I wrote a few demos to see if I could capture the feeling and sound that the film needed. Luckily, when I showed the guys those demos, they couldn’t believe it. I guess it was like a lightbulb moment where we instantly knew that that was the sound of Hosts. It made actually writing the score relatively painless because I’d already established the musical landscape, and my job was then to focus on making the horror as horrendous as possible, and the emotional scenes heart-breaking.
Rich: Shut up, Ben.. The directors are talking! Adam, we want to hear more about you!
Adam: Thanks, Rich. My band (In Search Of Sun) wrote the two tracks you hear at the end of the film. The first song, also entitled Hosts, was specifically written for the film. That was written back in the early months of 2019, and we were lucky enough to have a whole year to keep building it and making it sound huge. I went and cut vocals just before the pandemic hit in March, and then a couple months back we shot the music video on set (Rich’s house).
Emily: You were recently on the Social Distance Warriors podcast and looked like you had a great time! What’s next for you guys?
Rich: After that podcast, we will probably do an interview with Vampire Squid. Wait… that’s today, isn’t it?
Adam: More podcasts, more promo, but mainly… more writing. We’re well stuck into the next film now.
Emily: Is there an official UK release date and will there be a sequel?
Adam: As it stands, January 18th 2021.
Rich: Nobody wants to see Much Ado About Nothing 3.
Adam: We’re not really sequel people. However, if the film were to blow up and there was a demand for a second Hosts, then provided we have the time to write a fool-proof story with the depth we always want to strive for, then maybe. Never say never.
Emily: Will there be any more movies?
Adam: Yup. 2021 is looking very positive. Look out.
Rich: I think we have seven films on the back-burner… But who’s counting?
We’d like to give a huge thanks to Richard Oakes, Adam Leader and Benjamin Symons for catching up with us! We’re looking forward to seeing what horrors the team will serve up in 2021.
Check out the trailer below for the eagerly awaited UK release, and click here to listen to the film’s soundtrack.