FrightFest interviews: Jordan Barker, Joe Begos and Zack Parker
The horror directors behind Torment, Almost Human and Proxy share their thoughts
FrightFest has proved to be one of the most popular events at the Glasgow Film Festival. Year after year the horror faithful gather to watch the latest in shock cinema and 2014's event looks like another masterclass in fear, featuring Ti West's latest film (The Sacrament) as well as highly anticipated sequel Wolf Creek 2. It's also one of the best places to check out upcoming horror talent on the big screen. The List caught up with a trio of directors – Jordan Barker, Joe Begos and Zack Parker – who tell us all about their new films and their love of the dark side.
Could you give us a brief synopsis of your film?
Jordan Barker: Torment is about a young family who head out on holiday but when they arrive they realise the house has been broken into. They call the sheriff to come take a look and everything seems fine but [their son] Liam (Peter DaCunha) goes missing and that sets off a chain of events that sets one family against another. And the other family that have been secretly living in the house are a cult-like deranged family that are hell bent of adapting Liam to their family.
Joe Begos: Almost Human is a sci-fi horror hybrid that is essentially Fire In The Sky meets The Terminator. In the opening we see a man get blasted by a beam of light, and presumably get sucked into the sky. He's missing for two years until he ultimately shows up naked in the woods covered in alien slime. As you can imagine he's not what he seems …
Zack Parker: Proxy is essentially about a pregnant woman who loses the baby in an unprovoked attack in an alley. After the attack she joins a support group for other victims who have lost their children and in that group she meets another woman who has recently lost her child as well and they start to develop a very strange and unhealthy relationship.
Would you class Proxy as a horror film?
Zack Parker: I think it's a very dark film, it has horror elements to it. I'm mostly a fan of horror films from the 60s and 70s, especially a lot of Roman Polanski's work, like Repulsion and Rosemary's Baby or Michael Haneke's early work, so I feel it's more of a European horror film than an American slasher. Alan Jones at FrightFest was one of the first people to see this film and he embraced it immediately, and there's no bigger horror film fan that I know than Alan. So when he embraced it it made me feel the horror community at large could embrace it as well.
And Jordan how was working with Katharine Isabelle? She's becoming a real horror favourite after Ginger Snaps, American Mary and now Torment.
Jordan Barker: She's a wonderful actress, while she works quite a bit in the genre she doesn't watch any of these movies. If there's a spider around she's really jumpy, she's not into gore but I think she has a very alluring presence and the genre likes a strong female protagonist so she's done a lot of different things within the genre. She's amazing to work with, you couldn't ask for any more, what you see on screen is set over one night but we were doing that for 30 days, having to keep up that energy and level of intensity every day.
How did each of you first get into filmmaking?
Joe Begos: I became a huge fan of Robert Rodriguez and Sam Raimi at an early age, and realized that even as a kid you could pick up a camera and make films. I quickly became addicted and worked my ass off to make sure whatever I was making was a noticeable step up from my last flick. Almost Human utilizes many of the things I learned by becoming a filmmaker this way and feels like a natural evolution of making short films in your backyard with friends.
Jordan Barker: I started dreaming about being in the film industry when I was very young, my father took me to see The Empire Strikes Back and I stood through the whole movie; I was like "what is this world? I wanted to be a part of it". It's one of my first memories. I started making films at a very young age, gathering friends or relatives into making stories with me, then went onto film school and made my first film when I graduated.
Zack Parker: It's all I've done since as far back as I can remember my father brought me home a video camera when I was about 11-years-old and I just started making movies with it. It's all I've ever wanted to do, I've always felt a kinship with film and had an understanding of the vocabulary of cinema. But I still feel like I'm learning with every film I make so I'm always excited to apply that knowledge to the next one.
Do you like that horror movies provoke a reaction in the audience?
Zack Parker: I've heard the beginning [of Proxy] is quite shocking – in fact I've been surprised at how shocked people have been – but I think that works to our benefit because what I want to happen is to make the audience feel off balance very early on, to make the audience feel anything could happen in this film, to make watching that much more exciting. My intention with Proxy is that every time you think you have a grasp on the film it becomes something else, so it keeps surprising you.
Joe Begos: That's the kind of stuff I love. My favourite horror movie of the past decade is Haute Tension [aka Switchblade Romance]. You get the shocks from the brutal violence, you get sweaty palms from the extreme tension. The movie looks absolutely gorgeous, the music and sound design is incredible. You have all these sensory elements pulling together to make such an awesome fucking product and experience. That's what I strive to do.
Is the fact that horror doesn't rely on big name stars and huge budgets something that attracted you to the genre?
Jordan Barker: I think it's one of the only genres where you don't have to rely on international sales companies and their request for big cast names. The genre itself, the story, the unique hook on human fear is what sells it.
Zack Parker: The genre can definitely be the star rather than say a romantic comedy where you really need those familiar faces, but in the horror genre you can really let that premise or concept be the star of your film.
Joe Begos: I've been a horror fan long before I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker. Having said that, I feel lucky that the genre of film I most want to make is something that doesn't rely on huge budgets or name actors. You can sell a horror movie on concept alone. People may argue this up and down, but The Conjuring didn't make hundred of millions of dollars [just] because Patrick Wilson was in it. People love to be scared and to be honest I think when you have a name that's too big it may detract and possibly take people out of the story.
Do you think horror is the only genre that still regularly breaks boundaries?
Joe Begos: Not at all. I think we are in a great period of time where some super interesting things are getting made. One of the movies that caused the most controversy last year was Blue Is The Warmest Colour, and that's fairly far from a horror film. I think one of the most boundary breaking films in recent memory is Enter The Void, which could be considered by some to be a horror film, but I disagree. That movie is something else. That being said, I feel like we are long overdue for a new horror film to completely shatter any boundaries or taboos that we currently have. It seems to be a decade long cycle, and I think it's fast approaching.
What attracts you to horror?
Joe Begos: I'm not sure really, it's just something I was drawn to from a super early age. I think it may have something to do with the roller coaster ride that it can give an audience. You can have laughs, shocks, scares, suspense, tension, holy shit moments. There's really nothing like when it all comes together and gets people talking. I feel like horror is what sticks with you the most, well good horror anyway.
What are you working on next?
Jordan Barker: Our production company [Gearshift Films] have a romantic comedy we're developing and we have a drama, and I personally have a sci-fi film that I've been developing that's getting closer and closer. It's a much bigger project but with some great contemporary themes about technology and connections called NextWorld.
Zack Parker: I have a few things but I've got another project with the same co-writer as Proxy, it's called Inversion, it's a script I've been working on for about 14 years. It's actually one of the first things I ever started but it was too complex for my first feature. I just wasn't smart enough as a filmmaker or just as a person but it's a good concept and now I feel ready and Proxy has had a bit of exposure now and it's helped secure the financing that I need to make it the right way, so hopefully we'll be shooting by the end of the year.
FrightFest at the Glasgow Film Festival, GFT, Thu 27 Feb–Sat 1 Mar (with a ‘Best Of’ repeat screenings at Cineworld, Sun 2 Mar).