Charismata, the latest outing from filmmaking duo Andy Collier and Tor Mian, is a pitch black noir-horror which pits embittered detectives against the forces of hell. Sarah Beck Mather plays Rebecca Farraway, a cop already under seige from a bitter ex-husband and the institutional misogyny of her workplace. Drawn into a world of ritualised murder and conspiracy, her mind begins to unravel.
We caught up with Collier and Mian to talk about what happens when sleuthing meets the satanic.
Tom: Critics have praised Charismata for building tension and suspense without relying on jump-scares. What was your approach to building atmosphere?
Andy: Good question… We used lots of long, fixed, deliberate shots – often with restricted lighting so there were lots of shadows creeping around the frame – with the intention of continually ratcheting up the tension. And we avoided jump scares precisely because we didn’t want to break that long build up unnecessarily. The score helped a lot too!
Tor: While there is something to be said about the creative mechanics of film making (lighting, mise-en-scene, blocking etc.) the real way one ensures a film is imbued with ‘tension’ and ‘suspense’ is via the general on set atmosphere between cast, crew and everybody involved in the production. With a maniacal sadist like Andy at the helm this was never in doubt.
Tom: Satterthwaite’s performance as Sweet is very unnerving. At what point during the casting process did you realise that he was your psychopath?
Andy: Haha, actually quite early. We advertised the role and then had the most suitable 20 or so actors who applied send in self tapes of a scene. It was the second scene in his office when he is being exceptionally smug and condescending. Within seconds of starting the video clip he sent us we all hated him, he was so punchable – it was perfect! Later, we found that he wasn’t even acting as he is equally punchable in real life, but it worked for the film.
Tor: Andy is of course being facetious. I can assure you that Jamie Satterthwaite could not be more pleasant, polite and personable in real life. Much like Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer.
Tom: You’ve previously cited Angel Heart as an inspiration, as well as Polanski’s Apartment Trilogy. How did these films inspire you and were there any other major influences that you drew from?
Andy: Absolutely, they were our go-to references even before we started working on the script. We both love those films, so it was an easy sell to each other. Tor’s idea was an Angel Heart homage (or, rip off) where detectives are investigating occultist murders but the twist is that the guy they are hunting really has supernatural powers. I loved that core idea and threw in that we should avoid the ‘tough cop who doesn’t play by the rules’ cliche by mixing in an equally blatant Apartment Trilogy homage/rip off – making the protagonist an insecure, unstable Mia Farrow/Catherine Deneuve character who is in worst imaginable situation in every way, is victimised by… everybody… and is the ultimate unreliable narrator. Other influences, there were too many to list but notably Michael Mann in terms of style I think.
Tor: I’ll also add Terence Fisher-era Hammer Horror. We wanted to create something that had a similar archness-while still being horrific.
Tom: Shooting on low budgets is always challenging. Were there any sequences that you can recall that were particularly difficult?
Andy: All of them. In particular the nightclub scene was in a ‘working’ venue full of Watford’s finest revellers on a Saturday night. We had no control and needed quite a few takes. The ‘murder dungeon’ was in a crumbling, semi-flooded former World War Two bunker deep beneath the streets of Dalston. There was a heatwave outside why we were shooting, but we all came out at the end of the week as gaunt grey faced creatures riddled with typhoid and rickets.
Tor: Any sequence that was filmed in a location we had blagged for free from friends or family-of which there were many. Not so much because these were particularly challenging from a technical point of view but because watching somebody’s property being destroyed after you have repeatedly assured them that they will “barely know we are there” is always awkward.
Tom: You have tended to write and direct as a duo. How would you characterise your working relationship?
Andy: Mutual hatred, mostly. Except if Tor hates my idea for a particular thing and I hate his, after a few days of insults and threats we generally come up with an entirely different third idea that we both think was better than either of our original ones. But after this long and bitter process, by the time we get to shooting at least we are completely aligned.
Tor: Sexually confused.
Tom: For Andy, this was your feature length debut as a director. If you could point to one thing that the experience has taught you, what would that be?
Andy: Only use practical effects, and keep the run time to 85 minutes.
Tom: I understand that your next film is titled Perpetual. Is there anything you can tell us about it?
Andy: It’s a 120-minute gritty modern western supernatural LGBT zombie coming-of-age horror with a hard-hitting political edge. We wanted to keep things light and simple.
Tom: Lastly, are there any other upcoming projects that you can talk about?
Andy: We have another film working titled The Colour of Madness, which is a very Lovecraftian folk horror. Rather than New England we are setting it in a remote fishing village in Norway, because fjords look cool. Also, tentacles. Depending on how the various elements of Perpetual fall together, we might actually make the folk horror first.
Many thanks to Andy Colliers and Tor Mian for talking to us! You can keep up to date with them on Twitter and check out the trailer for Charismata below.