‘Dark Nature’ Director Berkley Brady On Filming In The Wilderness While Pregnant

Dark Nature

For her feature film debut Dark Nature, writer and director Berkley Brady went all out. Not only did she use her own traumas to inform the script, but she also filmed in the Canadian wilderness while pregnant with her first child. Just one of those things would’ve made any shoot challenging. But Brady went for the hat trick to deliver a terrifying creature feature about healing, female friendships, and survival.

Dread Central spoke with Brady at Fantasia 2022 where the film about its world premiere about filming in the wilderness while pregnant, working through trauma, the importance of Indigenous representation, and more.

Dread Central: Where did this story come from for you? 

Berkley Brady: Ooh, it came from many different places. I did a documentary about a Cree elder, Elder Doreen Spence who does vision quests. That was really interesting seeing the process that people go through on a vision quest to prepare for it. It’s four days and four nights without food or water. And you stay on the land. So it’s very much traditionally what you would’ve done when you come of age. It’s something that people do throughout their lifetime as a sort of reset. So it’s really incredible to see the spiritual aspect of life through this sort of approach. I really [felt] like, “This is real.” People can really heal themselves through this process.

Then I have friends like David Bond, who was a big part of helping write this story. So David’s perspective is therapy doesn’t work, it’s awful.

DC: Oh, interesting. 

BB: So I was like, “OK, there’s a nice tension here.” I really wanted to sort of just explore that idea of if other people help other people, what does being on the land do, what does it do to you? It can be this incredibly healing place, but if you don’t know what you’re doing there, it could be a deathly place. I wanted to explore all these different perspectives I’ve been adapting the book Double Teenage by Joni Murphy. I’m not doing it anymore, but I had been working on that for a while. And that book was a lot about trauma, but in a way I could relate to. It’s a very sort of contemporary, intelligent gal’s approach to “Wait, that was fucked up.”

So with Dark Nature, I am hoping everyone in the audience who watches it is gonna see what they kind of already think about healing and trauma. They’re going to be hopefully able to track and project their experiences onto the story.

DC: You have this incredible female friendship at the core and I just don’t think we see enough of these positive female friendships in horror. So it was really great to see both of those things exist in one place. 

BB: Yeah, exactly. And that you can have beef and like not like each other, but then also click into, “Hey we’re here together, let’s get past our bullshit and help each other.” I would not be alive if it wasn’t for my friends. I especially have a couple of good girlfriends who are the proverbial ride or dies.  

And then some of this is based on a bad relationship that I had and looking at how I sort of got out of that and got through it. It was because of my friends. But I also think about how much that [relationship] changed me and really what a bore I was and how selfish I was as I went through that. It was so all-encompassing to me at the time. I was young, pretty, in my 20s. So it was just very self-absorbed. But I just think, “Oh I wasn’t the friend that they signed up for, but they stuck with me.” And so in some ways, Dark Nature is an apology. It’s a letter to say, “I’m sorry. I was so awful.” <laugh> 

DC: Was that challenging for you to channel that into making Dark Nature, reopening old wounds?

BB: I would say it’s so far in the past for me, thanks to having had therapy. But I definitely was checking in because I don’t want t disassociate, I don’t wanna be just blocking this out. But it’s not something that hurts me anymore. It was good to portray. This is kind of how I see things, how I remember things. And I just wanna be honest about that, especially her punching him back, and defending yourself. <laugh> 

DC: For sure. So you also have an incredible creature. What was that process like to design and create it? 

BB: Well, I lucked out with having a genius makeup artist who did the creature design Kyra Macpherson, and our costume designer Jen Crighton, she’s an artist as well as a musician. Both of them they’re just visionary and they’re those people who can make anything with their hands. We talked a lot about some functional things the creature needed to be able to move. It was very important that it’s agile. And then this idea that it sort of created itself. But I don’t wanna say too much for the article!

Basically, this creature sort of built itself from this place and that cave is like where it landed from outer space or something. And it’s been there for like millennia, pulling itself together from the things [in nature]. So it looks like the bark, looks like predators there, very much looks like it’s of that exact spot. Kyra did some amazing things where she really captured the color of the bark and its texture. 

DC: So you were pregnant while filming this.

BB: My second trimester. 

DC: What was that whole experience like to be pregnant and making this movie? 

BB: I think it was great. I definitely was a little more tired and it made me not really have a lot of like pity for people who were complaining. <laugh> It was a really hard shoot. I’m really used to that terrain and we tried to get people who really were. But not everyone was and sometimes it scares people just being out there and rightfully so.

DC: You were pretty isolated, right? Doing the shoot. 

BB: Yeah. It was about an hour’s travel each way. It gave me, I think, a sense of perspective. If things were going bad, it’s not like, ‘Oh my God, this film’s my entire life.’ It’s like, ‘No, I’m gonna have a baby. I’ve gotta be not too stressed.’ I talked to him a lot through it so maybe his stem cells gave me some power. I don’t know.

DC: So he was born after the movie was finished.

BB: He was born in March and we finished shooting in October. I think I was in a sound spotting session, like three days after the birth. 

DC: You’re also an Indigenous filmmaker. What advice would you give to other Indigenous filmmakers who are trying to get movies made?

BB: I’d say that there’s a lot of support and a lot of interest in Indigenous voices and stories right now. But there’s also, I think, still somewhat of a glass ceiling and there are different levels. Like I’m Métis, so I have a ton of privilege, as well. That helped me along. And where would I be without that? Probably not here, you know? And so I know for people who don’t have the same access, that can be frustrating. But I think it’s the era where everything’s accessible that you need to learn. You can shoot everything you want on your iPhone. So I would say, make your movies, make your stories, put them together yourself, and fall flat on your face. Make bad movies that you’re embarrassed of, that make you cry, and then make the next one and fix it. <laugh> 

DC: Amazing. 

BB: I would just say keep going. I’d also say not to feel pressured to perform your identity.

DC: Then going back to Dark Nature, your cast is incredible. Was it difficult to find your cast? I feel like you wanted to get a group of people who had really good chemistry working together. So what was that casting process like?

BB: Casting’s really hard when you don’t have a billion dollars. Yes. There are people I was like, “We’re gonna get this person!” and then found out we couldn’t afford them.

We had worked with the casting director and then I’d worked with Helen Belay on a little short film. And I knew people who had worked with Roseanne [Supernault]. So those two were kind of locked in. I’d also worked with Madison Walsh on an episode I directed for a TV show about Marguerite Riel. So she played Marguerite Riel in that episode. I just thought, “Oh, she’s good.” Like, she was just really good.

For the lead, it was through the casting director and I got to see some of Hannah [Emily Anderson]’s other work. And I remember she just had a movie or a moment in one of the clips I saw where I was like, “Oh, she looks unhinged.”

DC: Oh yeah. She was in What Keeps You Alive. I love that movie and she is unhinged. So it was so cool to see her in this role. 

BB: Right. Totally different. Then be on set with her, I was like, “Oh, that’s why you’re an actor.” She’s in the right job. <laugh>

DC: And then my final question for you is if you could schedule your perfect double feature with Dark Nature, what film would you pair with it?

BB: I would say Beaches and The Descent.

Dark Nature is out now from Dread (a sister company to Dread Central) on digital and VOD.



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