Making its debut at last year’s Fantastic Fest and finishing its festival run at the Brussels International Film Festival, the Irish creature feature From the Dark (review) has been entertaining audiences for the better part of a year. Now with the film’s release on Blu-ray, horror fans have a chance to see this fast-paced thriller centered around a frightened couple as they try to stay in the light while being hunted by an ageless, vampire-like bog creature that feeds on the dark.
Director Conor McMahon (Stitches) spoke to us from Brussels, also joined by lead actress Niamh Algar (Vikings) to talk about the rigors of shooting out in the Irish countryside and how the story of From The Dark was inspired by an excavation that uncovered intact bodies from Irish peat bogs that were found to be over thousands of years old.
DC: How are you guys referring to the creature? Is it vampiric or is it something much older? What would be the creature’s backstory?
CM: Bog bodies are a real thing they’ve found in Ireland. They found these bodies which were dumped in the bog like 2,000 years ago. What interested me initially were that a lot of these bog bodies, it wasn’t like they just slipped or fell into the bog. When they found them their hands were tied and their skulls were caved in so they were ritualistically killed. That kind of interested me. Why were these people killed? It gave me this idea that maybe 2,000 years ago there was this race of vampiric type people that were ritualistically killed and then dumped in the bog and it’s only now that we’re digging them up.
DC: Where did you both first learn about the ancient bodies found in those old Irish peat bogs? I know there was one that was found that was, I think, 4,000 years old and its skin was still intact. That’s amazing.
NA: You learn about them in school, there’s a natural history museum. Farmers did go out and dig in the bogs and peat was used like a fuel to burn fires. So there was loads of evidence of bog bodies and once they’re dug up they decay really quickly.
CM: It was kind of a known thing. I looked at a few different bogs and one of the guys, he’s one of the last people who actually hand cut the bog himself. Nowadays it’s done by machines, but he was telling me that 40 years ago they pulled a monk out of the ground perfectly preserved. Even the hair was still perfectly preserved but 24 hours later it had completely decyaed because of the oxygen.
DC: That’s so fascinatingly creepy. I’m sure with some of that old peat you could make some pretty interesting scotch but that might infect someone. Maybe that’s a sequel. Niamh, is shooting a lot of the film as the sole actor on set something that you relished or did you miss having other actors to work off?
NA: I think at the start you’re kind of worried because you’re kind of like, ‘Ok, there’s only me here’ and it’s not like you can hide with a large ensemble cast. I didn’t feel alone because it was very much a team effort in the production. It was definitely a challenge in maintaining a stamina within the shooting period to make sure you didn’t burn yourself out while you running around all over the place. It was a a lot of fun and I was so grateful to be given the part to portray and to be given the opportunity.
Was everything captured with natural light or was there some tweaking that went on in post-production to make it look like only some lights were available to the characters?
CM: This was something we worked on quite a bit and did a good bit of tests. The initial idea was to see if we could shoot the film purely with natural light. We were even like, ‘Maybe we could use the moon to light the outdoor scenes’ and the practicality of that was a bit tricky. What we didn’t want to do was be out on a bog because we might as well be in a dark room, you just can’t see anything. We always had dusk and dawn so we always had this half hour period where it still looks like night but there’s enough light where you can read the landscape. From just a practical point of view we did have to shoot some stuff during the day, more so in the house where we could just block out the windows. There’s a fine balance between keeping it real but at the same time if people can’t see what you want them to see then it would be frustrating to watch.
DC: Niamh, do you prefer using very little dialogue? I know both of you have the new short coming up, Strangers in the Night and you’re not really talking much in that one from what I’ve read.
NA: No, I don’t get any dialogue! It’s a tricky balance because you can depend a lot to tell a story with your true dialogue and create a narrative in that sense but I think it’s always great for an actor to be able to do a scene where you have no dialogue and the audience has to interpret how you’re feeling and what you’re conveying in your emotions. I think if you can pull it off, it’s great, and it makes you work harder as an actor.
CM: Probably one of the influences of the film would have been maybe Nosferatu and also Vampyr which is a German film and they’re both silent films. I know they have texts but they’ve probably been the most influential on this. Yeah, I think that trying to tell the story with as little dialogue as possible was what I was trying to do for this.
DC: Do you think both of you could make a silent film scary together?
CM: You’ve thrown down the gauntlet there!
NA: That’s a challenge right there.
CM: Another project I’m working on is a witch film and it’s trying to use the classic witch on a broomstick and make that scary and that’s the challenge of that. I think wherever the protection is that it would be difficult or tricky, sometimes that’s where you have to go and that’s what interests me. Who’d have thought a silent film a couple of years ago would have come into the mainstream so there’s always a possibility for that.
From the Dark is now available on Blu-ray and on VOD through iTunes and Google Play.
The film stars Niamh Algar, Stephen Cromwell, and Gerry O’Brien (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest).
Sarah (Niamh Algar) and Mark (Stephen Cromwell) are traveling through rural Ireland when car trouble strikes. The couple must head out on foot to find any sign of civilization. Eventually they come upon a lonely house – but the man inside is wounded, and when they try to help him, he attacks. Sarah and Mark manage to escape but soon they are confronted by something even worse.
A sinister being has awakened from a thousand-year sleep and it has set its sights on the stranded young couple. Deep within the dark bog, the two are faced with an unimaginable evil, but they soon realize that there may be one thing that can stop the creature: light. As the sun sets and light sources dwindle, the creature becomes more powerful, and Sarah and Mark find themselves in a fight for their lives where a gas lamp or even just the illumination of a single match may be the only thing that can save them.