Though not necessarily a horror film, Descent director Neil Marshall’s latest flick Centurion is certainly set to showcase the auteur’s persistent lust for high-octane, combative carnage.
Centurion tells the muscular tale of the Romans’ tussle with the Picts – the wild and weird Celtic inhabitants of the Scottish Highlands. Having last reported on the film here, Dread Central just had the good fortune of catching up with Mr. Marshall himself to chat about the inspiration behind the film and flooding blood within it.
The tragic tale of the Roman Ninth Legion is what initially goosed Marshall to create the film. “I heard about the legend of the Ninth Legion about 10 years ago. A friend of mine told me over a few drinks in a bar one night. He said he had read about this myth, about this entire Roman legion that marched into Scotland and disappeared without a trace. And I was like, ‘Okay, that’s fantastic, I need to find out what that story is and there might be a movie in it somewhere.’”
Due to a lack of recorded history of the Picts, Marshall had a vast playground of creative license when it came to the Picts’ intimidating look and battle techniques. Though there will be tattoos and elaborate costumes, however, the director strived to never get carried too far away. “I didn’t want to get too outrageous with it, but we had to fill in a lot of blanks and be as practical about it as possible. I’m sure it would’ve been fun to have Olga running around in some kind of a fur bikini like Raquel Welch, ya know? But it’s Scotland in the wintertime so there’s practicalities involved with ‘Were the Picts really that stupid that they would do that?’ The Romans recorded that the Picts would come running into battle completely naked. And maybe they did do that, and maybe they did that in the summertime. For me the motivation was just to make a great historical action movie, which is the kind of movie that I love to watch. The films that I make are the films I really want to go see, but I obviously hope that other people want to go see them, too (laughs).”
A history buff much like his father, Marshall continued to list influences, both from history books and film. “The storyline was loosely based on the story of the Genifax, which is from ancient Greece. This General Genifax took an army of Greek mercenaries to fight in Persia, and when they got there they were betrayed and turned upon by the Persians. They ended up having to fight their way back home. There’s a little bit of that, a little bit of western mythology in it as well. Northern Britain – the frontier of [north] Britain – was the [equivalent of] the wild west from the Roman point of view. So I applied a little western visual sensibility to this as well, [like] Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but mainly the cavalry movies of John Ford. Ya know, Fort Apache and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. They’re similar because of I guess the very un-PC point of view that we’re telling this story from an invaders’ point of view just like John Ford did back then. But that was the aesthetic I was going for – the idea that the landscape was massively important to those movies as well. “
Marshall has gone on record as acknowledging that Centurion isn’t simply a good vs. evil story and that (almost) every character is justified in what they are doing. I mention The Descent to Marshall, as I recognized a similarity in his approach to two factions doing battle (those creatures were simply protecting their turf, and I did find myself feeling bad for a few of the Crawlers).
“It’s funny you should mention The Descent because I remember at the time I jokingly said that ‘this is actually a film about these perfectly happy Crawlers living in this environment in which these six psychotic women come in and start massacring them.’ [For Centurion], my interest was [the] gray area of war – that there are heroes and villains on both sides. I’m not siding with the imperialists, but I am siding with the individuals. I think that Etain (a Pict who was previously and severely victimized by Romans) is utterly justified in her actions so she wants to slaughter the Romans. That’s fine – what she’s been through in her life, that’s fine. But she’s just kind of traditionally placed in the role of the villain from the Romans’ point of view. But I’m not interested in a villain that has no motivation because that doesn’t make them very scary. From our heroes’ point of view, [Etain] is absolutely the Devil incarnate. She’s out to kill them and nothing will stop her. And our heroes are basically just the same as our soldiers out there on the frontlines at the moment, which is [to say] regardless of whether or not you support the cause or support the army being there, I for one absolutely support the idea of the boys coming home. And that’s why we root for [the film’s] heroes, because they just want to get home. The cause is lost to them.”
Having made films featuring gruesome battles between humans and non-humans, Marshall approached the violence necessary to telling Centurion’s story with sincerity. “I approached it honestly. [I wanted] this to be an honest depiction of what actually happens when a bunch of guys start killing each other with swords and axes and spears. It’s not pretty – it never could be. It’s very deceitful to try and depict it as anything other than bloody and horrible. That’s what warfare is, and this particular kind of war was savage – really savage. So my attitude going into it was I was never gonna hold back on that. I wanted the battle sequences to be as authentic as possible. I definitely brought my horror movie sensibility to that aspect of it so there was no shortage of blood and guts around on set. And it’s fun to do – that’s absolutely a horror movie sensibility of trying to come up with new and creative and violent ways to kill somebody.”
Yet, even with all of the gore onscreen, Marshall’s good fortune with the MPAA continued – they didn’t lay a finger on the film. “No, not at all. I’ve been really lucky with that – I’ve never had any issues with them on any of my films. That seems to do with the type of violence – there’s no sexual violence so I don’t think it’s too offensive unless you’re particularly squeamish.”
Despite the wardrobes and locations, the greatest challenge for Marshall was “trying to do it on hardly any money. Trying to create an ancient world with next to nothing in the budget was tough.” The intense effort involved in creating such an epic period piece didn’t intimidate Marshall, though, who would still “love to do something else in a historical setting – I’d love to do like a Medieval movie.”
Hypothetical projects aside, Marshall is currently set to produce wife and Centurion actress Axelle Carolyn’s directorial debut, Ghosts of Slaughterford, which is currently set to film in November. As far Marshall stepping behind the camera again to shower us with the red stuff, splatter fans have Burst 3D to look forward to. “I’m also attached to do Burst 3D with Sam Raimi producing, which is going to be a complete 3D gorefest. I want to get on with it now – I’m just really, really excited to work with Sam, and it’s a great, great concept and I can’t wait to put it on the screen in glorious 3D.”
Centurion premiered on VOD, XBOX and Amazon.com on July 30th and opens in theaters August 27th, 2010. More soon!
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