By: Thomas Pitts
Set in bleak, post-Brexit London, Charismata follows a young police officer named Rebecca Faraway (Sarah Beck Mather) as she investigates a string of ritualistic murders. As the case becomes more complex, Rebecca struggles to differentiate between reality and fiction, taking her into strange, uncharted territory.
Set to be released later this year, those familiar with Polanski’s Apartment trilogy (Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant) will be at home in this psychological horror/thriller. Rue Morgue got the exclusive opportunity to sit down with Tor Mian and Andy Collier, the writers and directors of Charismata, to discuss the methods behind their film’s madness.
Please give the readers an introduction to Charismata in your own words?
Andy: It’s about a police detective whose sanity begins to unravel as she investigates a series of brutal satanic murders. It begins like a gory Se7en-esgue procedural and then goes to some hellish places.
Tor: Charismata is a police procedural with a supernatural twist that has been described by my mum as objectively the best film produced anywhere in the world since Citizen Kane.
How did the creation process begin on Charismata?
Andy: Tor pitched an idea. He said, “It owes a debt to Angel Heart… a detective is investigating a ritualistic, occult obsessed serial killer, but the twist is that he really has supernatural powers.” That was more than “owing a debt to”, it was more “totally ripping off”, so in that spirit I suggested that the central character could owe a similar debt to Rosemary’s Baby and particularly Repulsion. Rather than a cliched tough cop who doesn’t play by the rules, we made her this really fragile sensitive character who doubts her own abilities and faces oppression and misogyny wherever she goes.
Tor: The majority of horror movies are very scenario centric. Typically the protagonist is dropped into a dire situation and spends 90 minutes reacting to it. From the outset we wanted to create something more plot driven where the protagonist is proactive… rather than simply reactive. This was very much the thinking behind wrapping everything around a detective story. If every other element fails the audience is still compelled to endure it to the bitter end…if only to find out who did it!
Did any particular movie or book help inspire Charismata?
Andy: Directly Angel Heart and the apartment trilogy, but also in terms of the colour and cinematography of Michael Mann’s films from the 80s and a touch of Giallo. It’s definitely a throwback horror!
Tor: To add to Andy’s examples, the first season of True Detective was also a big inspiration. In some ways Charismata is an inversion of one of the key themes from the show – the pursuit of rationality within the esoteric. Conversely Charismata explores the ‘mystical’ within the confines of a ‘rational’ universe. Even our ‘Mr Exposition’ character is a hard line sceptic.
The film feels like a throwback to when psychological horror was pushing boundaries, was this the intention?
Andy: Absolutely yes. It’s probably true that there are no totally original stories any more, but we wanted to frame something in an unusual way that’s very relevant to today and yet evokes that golden era of psychological horror.
What would you like an audience member of your film to feel or think after they have experienced Charismata?
Andy: We made the ending an abrupt slap in the face, so we hope it gets an emotional response. Some people love the ending, others less so… but it definitely seems to create strong feelings! But more than that, I think those apartment trilogy films work so well because they leave a lasting impression of the central characters’ terrible plights, and how it affects them as real, relatable people. I hope that to some extent, Sarah Beck Mather’s absolutely amazing portrayal of Rebecca can have the same effect.
Tor: The biggest triumph of course would be audience members to not feel or think anything after watching Charismata – as the experience has been so terrifying it has scared them to literal death. Failing that; feeling that they have been reasonably entertained for 90 minutes would also be considered a success.
Can you tell us a little bit about the character Rebecca Faraway?
Andy: We were really awful to poor Rebecca. We took a fragile, sensitive character and threw everything at her to make her life hell. Charismata is very much her story… the entire film is played out through her eyes. As she begins to doubt her own reality, the audience is taken on this increasingly unsettling journey too.
Tor: Horror protagonists are often designed to be unfailingly sympathetic so as to ratchet up the audiences reaction to their suffering – or conversely so unsympathetic that the audience is actively rooting for the next teenage decapitation to occur. We wanted Rebecca to feel grounded, flawed and relatable rather than archetypical. In Sarah we were fortunate to find a lead that was somehow able to convey real nuance – even in the midst of all the sex, violence and satanic rituals!
When using special effects it seems you have a mixture of both cgi and practical effects, which did you prefer to work with
Andy: Practical all the way. It works better, feels more organic and is (contrary to popular belief!) much cheaper too. Some CGI was necessary to tell this story, but we avoid it as far as possible.
Tor: I agree with Andy. Always go practical… until it’s no longer practical. Had our shooting schedule not been so tight we would have gone ‘In Camera’ with every element.
Can you tell us a little bit about the satanic element that filters into the film, is this a little salute to ‘gateway to hell’ styled films?Andy: Yes absolutely – once again, Angel Heart and Rosemary’s Baby. The bad guy in this story, Michael, is a deliciously evil Faust character who spends most of the film trying to open up a portal to the Abyss. Does he achieve it? And like Faust, does he come to wish he’d never gone there in the first place? No spoilers!
Tor: Not only a salute to ‘gateway to hell styled films’ but a salute to the much maligned religion of Satanism in general. Hail Lucifer! Blessed are his children!
What do you think your horror film offers horror fans that others don’t?
Andy: More than anything we tried to make the film engaging, to take the audience on this unpredictable ride and keep them hooked right to the end. There is a lot of very dark comedy in there, which (we hope) entertains people but never takes them out of the film. Also we say something about Rebecca’s struggles in this terribly oppressive misogynistic environment, which is topical.
How do you feel about the current modern horror movie climate?
Andy: Actually I think it’s awesome. There are so many great and innovative horror films coming out now, as a horror fan I get to see so much great stuff. Obviously there is a lot of bad stuff too, “let’s make a horror. Horror makes money” but on balance there is plenty of amazing new work out there if you know where to look. Scream Magazine reviewers provide a nice filter, for one.
Tor: Unlike the western or the musical or film noir… horror is quite unique in genre cinema in that there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on a ‘golden age’. It’s been in rude health since the birth of cinema and the modern age is no exception. There is a real abundance of great stuff currently being made.
What horror films have caught your attention recently?
Andy: I only recently got around to watching Jug Face, and loved it. The Autopsy of Jane Doe was perhaps the most memorable film of this year, so simple and effective. I loved Under The Shadow, people should seek that out. Also What We Do In The Shadows… basically all the shadow films.
Tor: There have been so many awesome horrors in 2017 alone. All the obvious mainstream breakouts and deserved critical darlings: Get Out, IT, Raw, It Comes At Night, Gerald’s Game…the list goes on. A film that is maybe a bit more under the radar that I was super impressed by was Super Dark Times. A film that I personally loved, but that I seem to be in the minority about was A Cure For Wellness. It’s a real shame it apparently did so badly commercially speaking, as it’s so rare to have any horror film produced on such a grand and opulent scale.
Can we expect any new horror films from the Andy and Tor team?
Andy: We are working on a modern western horror that is hopefully shooting in Utah next summer. Really excited about that.
Tor: Charismata was also originally due to shoot in the states until we ran into some insurmountable logistical issues. If it’s not Utah, we it will be filling the streets of Watford with Zombie Cowboys…
Some say horror movie sets are cursed and anything can happen, are there any stories from on set that you’d like to share?Andy: I think that applies to all low budget film sets! The worst experience we had was that we were shooting the “murder dungeon” climax scene in this old world war 2 bunker deep beneath the streets of east London, and every afternoon it flooded and we had to evacuate. It flooded, knee deep with stinky slimy water, despite an August heat wave. On the last day we realized that we were 50 feet beneath a plant nursery on the street above us, which turned its water sprinklers on at 3pm every day.
Tor: It’s a morbidly romantic notion that some film sets are cursed. Unfortunately, the various injuries and fatalities that plighted our production were down to nothing more than shoddy health and safety.
Reviews have been flooding in and you have gotten some great feedback, is there the potential for a Charismata 2 at all?
Andy: The reviews have been awesome. We’re so pleased it’s getting such a great response. We did cunningly leave plenty of scope for a sequel, so who knows? The film is being represented by Raven Banner Entertainment in Toronto, who have an excellent reputation for helping the films they look after to really make a splash. We’d love to do a sequel. Nothing in the pipeline yet though.
Tor: Charismata can in no way be considered a success unless it spawns at least 7 sequels- of which at least one is set in space.
If there is anything you’d like to tell the readers now’s your chance the floor is yours! Thanks for a great interview!
Andy: Just thank you for the interview it’s great to get the support!
Tor: Wow. Anything? That’s quite a responsibility! Okay, I’ll leave you with the best piece of advice anybody has ever given me: Always put old newspaper at the bottom of your bin to absorb food juices.