Vicious (2016). The lead actress is Rachel Winters. Directed, written and produced by Oliver Park. Video Source: Youtube.
Welcome to another Countdown to Hallowe'en blogathon, in which Histories of Things to Come joins hundreds of other blogs during October to count down to All Saints' Eve. Today, I am very pleased to interview UK film director Oliver Park, whom Bloody Flicks calls "the new face of horror." Park wrote, directed and produced the acclaimed short British film, Vicious (above). On 24 September 2016, he premiered his new short horror film, Still, in the UK at the Exit 6 Film Festival in a screening at the Vue Cinema in Basingstoke, Hampshire, with more screenings in coming months in the UK and USA. Originally from Bath, Park is also an award-winning actor.
Vicious is just over twelve minutes long and has won many international film awards. It scared me! Park visually quotes other horror films, but his take is new. He told TurnAbout Media about his inspirations:
"I was born in the 80’s, so I grew up with stories by M. R. James, H. P. Lovecraft, and Stephen King. Then, when I discovered horror films I quickly fell in love with films by Carpenter, Craven, Kubrick, Romero, Cronenberg, Russell, Barker and of course – Hitchcock (to name but a few). I remember being terrified by those stories and I would regret them every night as I was lying in bed unable to sleep!My father is also a huge film fan so he introduced me to the horrors from the 50’s and 60’s, the Hammer Horror collection – and two of my all-time favourites: Night of the Demon by Jacques Tourneur and Nosferatu by F. W. Murnau.
I do not know if Park draws from film noir, but for me, the first scene in Vicious echoed Experiment in Terror (1962; online here), when a woman comes home from work late at night. The scene is similar, down to the barking dog. The woman hurries to leave the lonely street and get inside her house, where she'll be safe. In fact, the dog is warning the woman not to go inside her house.
This is where Vicious starts, at the moment when the place where we feel most secure becomes a cauldron. The film combines horror genres: the home invasion, the haunted house, mental isolation inside the four walls. Perhaps Park's secret is his relentless subliminal insistence on the invasion, even rape, of Millennial privacy; the associated thrall of home-based technologies and Internet connections leaves us trapped and subjugated. Our time wasted. Our lives squandered. Our identities frayed. Park's films may have monsters, but they are secondary to the violated spaces they occupy. There is no privacy, no safe place left. Park remarked on Still's premise:
"My stories are designed to target real life situations - it's not about a 'jump scare'. Still takes you on a journey that we all go on, but then it takes a detour and asks 'what if...'. We all think of our homes as our safe place, when in fact, they can just as easily be our prison - or worse - our tomb. You think you're safe inside - you're not. You're trapped."
Image Source: Turnabout Media.
Promotional image from the Still campaign at Indiegogo. Image Source: Indiegogo.
ToB: Vicious opens inside a flat and leads the audience along a hallway to gaze down to the street. We see a girl coming home at night; she finds her front door unlocked. The place is inviting her in! This flips the vampire trope, where your home is your castle, and the vampire cannot enter unless you invite him or her into it. Both of your films, Vicious and Still, focus on home as a place of danger. However, the home in Vicious is also not your typical haunted house. What were your ideas and influences as you developed the inverted narrative that home is no longer a safe place?
Oliver Park: Horror should scare people whilst their watching, then after, quietly grow in their mind. Most of us don’t live in the typical haunted house (although I wish I did), so I wanted to make sure I could target everyone. In using a very normal house, the idea is that the audience gets back to their own 'home sweet home,' and realise that they’re back in the film but this time there is no character to hide behind. Still is even more sinister and targets the danger areas even more than Vicious. Be warned!
ToB: With technology, the whole world is now in the intimate and private space of the home. Do you feel horror has changed for the YouTube generation?
Oliver Park: Horror is the same today as it always has been and should be treated as such. One downside might be that our attention spans have decreased, but more people are posting films on YouTube than ever before, which for me is great as it means that there is even more content for us to watch!
ToB: When the character is trapped inside the four walls, she is really trapped inside her mind. Ridley Scott said that Alien (1979) was a haunted house movie, with the house replaced by a spaceship. That film initiated a theme in the Alien franchise that the characters were bodies, trapped inside a spaceship, which was another body. They even call the spaceship, 'Mother.' Given that your characters are also trapped inside their homes, how do you think of the fear factor in the nexus between humans and their environment?
Oliver Park: In Vicious it’s mistrust, as the home that she thought was a safe haven, quickly became her prison. In Still, it’s almost as if our villain has seen Vicious and knows exactly how to twist the house into a trap. The only difference between ‘free’ and ‘trapped’ is which side of the door you’re on and who has the key. I loved Alien but once you leave the film, the fear is gone (unless you live on a spaceship). At the moment, I am targeting the things we all take for granted as ‘safe’. Home is where the heart is, so I am starting there. I have many feature length scripts which all target different types of fear. No-one is safe!
ToB: Do you think that mass media and marketing and technology in general have increased an appetite for the subliminal?
Oliver Park: I’m sure they have, however the stories that still remain scariest for me were told hundreds of years ago, so I would think that it depends on the person.
ToB: One of the things done amazingly well in Vicious was the shift back and forth between 'it's all right' and 'no it isn't.' You have a great sense of the confidence game we play with perceived reality. Just when the viewer and the character think it was all in her imagination, something happens to flip the script. What are your inspirations for that?
Oliver Park: Thank you! One of the things I’ve learned is that “horror is all about the when” (John Carpenter), so in order to really scare an audience, you have to catch them off guard. Horror audiences are too smart nowadays, so they know it’s going to happen and it’s only a question of when. Peaks and troughs are what make stories more interesting. It’s in the calm, quiet moments that the audience move closer to the screen – and closer to the big scary monster that is about to appear!
ToB: In Vicious, I recognized the perfect horror story 'beats' which you embedded at exactly the right moments in just the right way. These are the scares that terrify the viewer, while also making sense in terms of the horror context. They display the internal logic of fear, one block at a time. When done correctly in a film, they build the sensible narrative and look seamless in execution, but in fact only a really great director can make them fall into place in just that way. Where did you get your sense of horror story timing, the flow and structure of an unfolding psychological catastrophe?
Oliver Park: Thank you again! There is one thing I’ve not mentioned yet and that is the team that I worked with. Every single person helps to make these beats work perfectly; the shimmer of the light in her eyes, the way the camera twitches, the props, make-up, sound – literally everything! But one department in particular that does this is the editor. My editor (Simon Pearce) has an incredible eye for film and knows exactly where to cut. We watch and ask ourselves when we would want to be afraid and usually agree. I go by my gut and my knowledge has come from the countless horror films I have seen and learning from every single one. I get so excited when things work well in horror films that I often forget to jump. I just smile … people around me may think I’m a little crazy.
ToB: This may be apocryphal, but I have heard it said that film makers know enough horror film techniques that they could scare people to death if they chose to do so. Even in the most shocking films, directors hold back the amount of frightening material they present. Are you interested in where that limit gets drawn, and where, and why?
Oliver Park: Hahaha! I would love to think that was true but if it were then there would be a lot of banned films out there! I don’t pull back. In fact, some reviews of Still border on ‘too much’. It touches a very real nerve with some people. There is a limit to how much someone can be afraid in a cinematic experience, which is why I would love to work on a horror maze someday. Films can scare you but nothing comes close to immersion. However – there are limits and the bottom line is always that the audience wants entertainment.
ToB: Vicious reminded me of another recent horror film, Darling (2015; the trailer is here), a drop dead terrifying homage to Roman Polanski's Repulsion (1965). Although it has a historic setting, The Witch (2015) contains similar psychological material. After years of CGI survival horror and exotic gore, we have moved to pared down minimalist films that are domestic and intensely disturbing. What do you make of that shift from extreme violence to extreme psychology?
Oliver Park: I don’t agree with extreme violence – I’m not a fan of blood and gore in my stories. I don’t think that Vicious is extreme psychology. Each person takes something different from Vicious. If you think it’s a psychological horror then you have done half my job for me – you’ve scared yourself more! On the other hand, Still is more extreme and clearly not psychological. It’s down to the audience where it sits on the scale as I like to leave as much as possible to the imagination.
ToB: Vicious and Darling both make use of Stanley Kubrick's trick in The Shining (1980) of the frozen shot, forcing us to stare too long at something mundane, which makes us uncomfortable. Do you think that static vision has become more frightening with widespread computer use, because people are now accustomed to kinetic vision? Do directors know the time limit of how long we have to stare at something without the camera moving before we start to become afraid of it?
Oliver Park: I don’t think our fears have changed due to more computer use. It’s all instinct. With the right music and slight hint of suggestion, I am sure someone could get us watching paint dry for an hour! If there is a scientific study found for keeping people in suspense longer, I want to read it! The longer the audience watches the paint dry, the bigger the pay-off will be when it cracks.
ToB: You crowdfunded Still on Indiegogo. How does that different funding model influence film-making, actors, musicians and other artists?
Oliver Park: Still was only part crowdfunded. Many of my friends and family, who didn’t know anything about the filmmaking process, wanted to help with Still so the crowdfunding helped significantly. Crowdfunding is such an amazing invention and it has helped so many of my friends who are in the creative world. I had complete freedom with both Vicious and Still as they were mainly financed by myself. I’ve not worked with investors on a higher level but I would hope that when I do, we would work together to achieve the same goal – making the scariest films possible that stand the test of time.
ToB: Oliver, thank you so much for discussing your work with Histories of Things to Come in the annual countdown to Hallowe'en!
Go to Oliver Park's Website.
A shot from Still. Image Source: Oliver Park.
Still teaser trailer (15 August 2016). Video Source: Youtube.
See all my Interviews.
See all my posts on Horror.
See all my posts on the Paranormal.
Posts on the Occult are here.
Click here for my posts on Ghosts.