GORE IN THE STORE
IN CONVERSATION WITH JOHN MCPHAIL
With a sparklingly new Blu-ray version of ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE due in shops on December 2. 2019 FrightFest Gore in the Store is delighted to republish our In Conversation article with director John McPhail.
Director John McPhail’s ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE sees the small town of Little Haven become the scene of a zombie apocalypse. Anna (Ella Hunt), together with her friends must fight, slash and sing their way to survival, facing hellish snowmen, an undead Santa and bloodthirsty elves in a desperate race to reach their loved ones hiding out at their local high school. McPhail shared with FrightFest his thoughts on his Yuletide tale.
Savouring the Experience: “One of the things is the excitement about it. For me, the whole thing is an adrenaline rush the entire time, and what that ends up meaning is the film turns out being a blur. I always remember, and it’s a feeling that I don’t think I’d ever want to lose, is that anytime I’ve walked onto set, I think I’m a total fraud and today’s the day everyone goes: “Hold on a minute John McPhail, you are not a director, you’re just some douchebag who likes movies.” There’s a risk, not a risk of failure, but fear or worry that you are not good enough. I’m explaining this weirdly, but I like it because what it does is it keeps me on my toes. My first film just felt like a blur it went so quickly. We shot it in sixteen days, and with ANNA, I remembered that, and so one of the things I always wanted to try and do was to every now and then savour it, to take it in and enjoy the actual moment of making it.”
A Love of Character: “The thing about WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? Is it’s a nice film, and it’s never going to be a film that sets the world on fire. I made it because I wanted to make a nice film in Scotland - we just make miserablism; everything is doom and gloom. One of the things that I love, and I don’t know if it’s apparent from my shorts and from my first feature, is I just love characters. I believe the characters are what always drives the story, and they have to be interesting and fun people. One of the things in my pitch was: “I love these kids in the script.” I wanted to do them justice, to play with those characters and bring them to life. A lot of people when they were pitching this film I think were getting caught up in the musical side of things, or the gore and the practical effects. I brought to this the horror side, that eye on the wall that I have, and the producers will always tell you that that is my world, and I understand it. I am versed in understanding what horror fans want, and if you are going to do a teen musical, you are going to need to do certain things right to get horror fans on board, because I am going to be hitting them over the head for the first fifteen or twenty minutes with teen angst.”
Limitations of Charm: “Charm does come from getting to know people, and once you get to specific points in the film, you stop developing the characters, and you are setting them on their way. Usually, that’s from the mid-point onwards, and so by the third act, you know and understand them. One of the things I wanted to do with this film was, I didn’t want to have the zombie attacks in the first fifteen minutes. These first fifteen minutes had to be about getting to know Anna and these kids. I broke up the three-act structure, and the first act would be a funny teen comedy, the second act would be a horror-comedy-drama, which meant my third act could be a horror.”
Waiting for Carnage: “I felt if I just take the time getting to know these kids, to laugh with them, understand their wants, dreams and desires, their teenage angst, then once we got to the turning my life around with everything’s carnage and chaos, it’s like we built it, and it’s like we are holding it all back. And actually when she wakes up in the morning, I do a lot of little horror tropes, like high angles, and you’re on the eye, then you’re above her and then underneath the bed, and it’s all built to nothing. What I was trying to do was nod to the audience and say: Thank you for waiting. Thank you for allowing us to build and develop these characters; the zombie carnage is now about to ensue. And she walks out, and it does ensue.”
Apocalyptic Evolution: “Throughout that second act we were still getting to know the characters, and following them on their journey. But it’s fun, it’s gory, and it’s silly, and by that mid-point when you start to introduce the drama, it meant I could nod to the audience to say that drama is going to be coming later on in the film, and we were setting that side of it up. What it seems like with this film is you are setting a tone and a style up to then evolve it. The funny teen comedy turns into the horror-comedy, but by introducing drama in the second act, it means that we can totally get away with having a lot more drama in the third act.”
The Language of Colour: “With ANNA, it was hard to be able to be specific about language. The tropes we play within the acts, there was always a transition between them. There’s more of a colour language in this film – my director of photography Sara Deane and I love colour, and it was one of the things that was our common ground. I wanted the first act to have the blacks on the floor and bright greens. I wanted these Christmasy colours, the bright oranges, yellows, blues and reds. I wanted them to be bright, and then once we were at the mid-point of the second act, I wanted to darken and muddy them, so that with the third act I could have a twist on them. I could have pinks, peaches and greenery-blues, and by that point, our blacks would be a lot darker. There will have been a change throughout the whole process, and the story will have been getting darker with a natural element to it. But because there has been a zombie apocalypse, the heightened twisty colours do help sell that world and keep that world bright. It shows a change if that makes sense.”
Released on Double Disc Blu-Ray on December 2nd 2019 from Second Sight Films