By ROBERTO E. D’ONOFRIO
Black Fawn Films, the independent Canadian fright factory founded in 2008 by Chad Archibald, Chris Giroux, Jeff Maher and Cody Calahan, is back with another creepy tale. THE HERETICS, directed by Archibald and penned by Jayme Laforest—who previously collaborated on BITE—is a nightmarish ride into hell, and Archibald talked exclusively about it with RUE MORGUE.
Out today on VOD and coming to DVD January 5 from Uncork’d Entertainment, THE HERETICS is about a satanic cult aiming to use young Gloria (Nina Kiri) to bring the dark angel Abaddon, the Lord of Locusts, into this world. From the beginning, the story is full of twists and unexpected events, and the movie keeps throwing surprises at the viewer till the end. With convincing performances by leads Kiri, Jorja Cadence as her girlfriend and Ry Barrett as a former cult member trying to save Gloria, THE HERETICS puts a refreshing emphasis on practical effects, keeping CGI to a minimum and thus making the fantasy elements more believable. This makeup component, the atmospheric cinematography by Jeff Maher and the evocative music by Steph Copeland add great production value to this tense, fast-moving chiller. We spoke with Archibald at Spain’s Sitges Film Festival.
How did THE HERETICS come about?
It came together very quickly. I pitched it to the studio [Breakthrough Entertainment] and told them I wanted to do a story about this evil cult. They liked it, and we were supposed to be on set filming six weeks later. So the very next day, I wrote a treatment and sent it to Jayme Laforest, and he finished a draft in a couple of weeks. As he was writing it, we were doing preproduction, looking for the locations we needed, and we started building the cabin out in the woods. We began shooting the week before we actually got the script. Even the casting was done beforehand; we wrote dialogue for all the auditions just based on my idea of the story. We had 14 days of filming, and then an extra two or three days of pickups. It was two weeks at the cabin in the middle of nowhere, with no running water or houses around. You had to drive through someone’s property, cross a field and go into the bush.
Why did you build your own cabin for the film?
We initially tried to find one, but that didn’t work out. There were some places that were OK, but they didn’t have everything we needed for the script. My production designer Vincent Moskowec, with whom I’ve done a bunch of films, and I went out into the woods one day without the other producers, because they said, “You are not building the cabin!” We found this spot that was perfect, and since we didn’t have enough money, he came up with the idea of using pallets, because construction companies actually pay people to come and get rid of them. The idea was to get 250 of these things, cut them apart and use them to build our cabin. The producers said there was no way we could build an entire cabin out of skid wood, but Vince was able to convince them. So every day at lunch, I would pick up some of these skids in my truck and drop them off in Vince’s backyard, where he was cutting them up with a saw. Then, since we didn’t have enough money to hire workers to put it together, we put a post on our Facebook page asking, “Does anybody want to go to the woods and build a cabin?” We had a lot of people show up, and amazingly, we finished it in eight days.
Is the cabin still there?
Yes, of course. That was our deal with the people who own the property; when we finished filming, they loved it so much that they asked if they could keep it. We actually had a press conference there. We brought journalists in a van from Toronto, which was about an hour away, and gave them the masks we used for the cult members in the film, and they did a tour of the set.
Black Fawn never uses a lot of digital effects; instead, you go old-school with makeup and mechanical effects.
Yes, because digital looks too cold. When you do the effects practically, everything looks more real. Also, if you don’t have a lot of money or someone very good to do CGI, it’s hard to get good results. As a filmmaker, I prefer to figure the effects out on set, because you know whether or not it’s going to work when you see it right in front of you. Obviously, sometimes you need to use the computer, but basically, everything in THE HERETICS was done by our fantastic makeup effects team: Monica Pavez, Roy Lee, Karlee Morse, Edel Bedard and Carly Nicodemo, while myself and others helped out moving things with wires and rods. It certainly was a challenge, but we at Black Fawn Films have made 22 features over the years and the majority of them have been horror movies, so we’ve gotten very good at doing these tricks.
What is it that especially interests you about horror and fantasy?
I grew up with horror movies, and loved watching them when I was little. I was one of those lucky kids who was allowed to watch them when I was far too young, and I’ve always been a fan. The first film we did [DESPERATE SOULS] was horror; we’d had no schooling or anything and had no idea of what we were doing. We had just watched JASON X, and afterward I said, “If this movie can get made, we can make one too!” We did everything wrong on it; we were going to shoot it over a weekend with a 130-page script, and instead it took three years. So that was sort of our film school. Horror movies are so much fun to make, and we’ve had success with them so far; people keep coming to us to do more, and I still enjoy making them with my friends.
After directing and producing so many movies, has your approach to filmmaking changed over the years?
Yes, definitely. Every movie we make, we try to do something different—it could be the lighting, the environment or the characters. We did eight films in three years, so we had to make sure each one had its own feel and style so it could stand alone as a separate entity. With THE HERETICS, building that cabin in the middle of nowhere was a way to do things differently. Everything was more realistic than filming in a studio, and it brought a lot of unity to our crew.
Today, every time we write a movie, we’re thinking of the trailer moment. There is always a scene we know is going to be in the trailer, so we spend extra time on those shots, because they have to get the attention of the people who will hopefully go see the movie. We know the budgets we have and what we can achieve with them, because if you get too ambitious, you tend to fail. So we try to find a balance between what we would like to do and what we actually can do.
You always cast solid, reliable actors—some of whom, like Ry Barrett, are familiar faces in Ontario’s horror scene.
Ry is an amazing actor. We work very well together and are such good friends that it’s easy for me to direct him, because we know each other so well. Nina Kiri was in LET HER OUT, a movie we made a couple of years ago, and she is such a talented girl. She’s just awesome on screen, and she went through hell making THE HERETICS. She was covered with blood and other stuff constantly, and she spent so much time with makeup on that I can’t thank her enough. THE HERETICS is the first feature Jorja Cadence has ever done, and the first day she was on set was actually the last scene of the movie. It was her first screen role and on her first day, we asked so much from her! But she did very well.
What do you have coming up?
We actually never stop; right after we finish one picture, we start working on a new one, since we have this 10-film deal with Breakthrough Entertainment. The latest one is again written by Jayme Laforest and is titled I’LL TAKE YOUR DEAD; it’s a project we have been working on for a few years [see details here]. Usually we have to complete a script in a month or two, but this one took some time and effort to get finalized, and we had a bigger budget this time compared to the money we’ve had before. We work closely with the Breakthrough marketing team, pitching our concepts and ideas to them, and it’s always a challenge developing a film at this budget level and coming up with a unique idea that’s bigger and better than the last one.