Over the years Bram Stoker International Film Festival has fostered an extremely tight knit community of artists, writer / filmmakers and genre fans who gather every year to showcase an international tapestry of cinema and music. While in the past this incestuous context has helped produce films such as B – movie parody Attack of the Mutant Martian from Mars (dir: Neal Harvey), this years ‘Bramily’ fostered film was Hinckley’s Drop, a narrative short from documentary filmmaker Neil Vidler and screenwriter Joz Rhodes . As a nuanced account of psychological torment and redemption set on the literal precipice of a clifftop, Vidler’s debut is an impressive feat.
From cinematic visions of North Yorkshire’s striking coastlines to Vidler’s impressionistic eye for detail as a cinematographer, Hinckley’s Drop maps a tale of a photographer (Ivan Hall) dealing with the fallout of his wife’s recent suicide, lost and psychologically tormented by a ghostly force from his past. In the tradition of psychological thrillers such as Jacobs Ladder (1990) and The Babadook (2014), the film shuns away from didacticism and refreshingly allows imagery, sound design and silence to formulate interpretation. While an almost 30 minute short is an ambitious feat for a first time narrative filmmaker, elements of Hinckley’s Drop undoubtedly demonstrate a director with a visual eye and thematic leanings towards more mature horror which is always promising.
Flickfeast caught up with director Neil Vidler after the world premiere of Hinckley’s Drop to chat filmmaker fatigue, working with the ‘Bramily’ and developing a pallet for psych – horror.
Flickfeast: As a first time director how did Hinckley’s Drop originate and what it always your intention to shoot something locally in the North East?
Neil Vidler: Well I have a massive passion with filmmaking and my background in filmmaking has mainly been documentaries and events. This is my first attempt at a narrative short. I wanted to do something locally because of the scenery we have here in Saltburn / Whitby. It is not really exploited much on film and it is the most amazing coastline. Basically I wanted to do a ghost story hinting at things rather than telling the story overtly. I am a huge M.R.James fan, you know the ghost stories from Christmas etc. So the project started when Neal Harvey our arts and effects director approached me and asked us to collaborate on a film together. I went away and came up with the story and that is when we got Joz Rhodes involved who came on board and did the script writing.
FF: One of the main things that stuck out for me is how impressionistic and dialogue free the film is. Was it your intention to make a ghost story that focused on feeling rather than shocks and scares?
NV: Absolutely. The whole idea was for it to be minimal dialogue and the story to be told with pictures as much as possible. We wanted more of a mood and a feeling about the whole piece and I wasn’t sure how it was going to come along at first but the scenery we have in the local area and the lead actor we got on board gave more focus to the piece. Ivan Hall the lead was amazing and if you had somebody who couldn’t pull that role off I think the whole film would have fallen flat.
FF: Another thing I have noticed at my time at Bram Stoker International Film Festival is the tight knit community you have here. You previously directed a promotional documentary for the festival and your FX supervisor Neal Harvey designed a lot of the art and logos for the festival. Also Neal Harvey, scriptwriter Joz Rhodes and festival organizer Micheal Mcarthy have worked together in Attack of the Mutant Martian from Mars before. How does it feel to premiere the movie at Bram Stoker International Film Festival, is it a homecoming for you?
NV: I first volunteered my time here to do some documentary work and I got to know them that way. Another Bram Stoker legend Mark Rathborne for instance I met at a film called Inbred which screened at this festival and I asked him if he wanted to star in my film. Even Ivan the lead is an actor in the Pavilion in Whitby where the festivals is housed and somebody introduced me to him here and the project ran from there.
FF: Due to the abstract style and tone, the film could be interpreted as a ghost story exploring mental health, grief and depression. Did you intend to use the paranormal elements to explore themes of the psyche?
NV: You absolutely hit the nail on the head. I wanted that sort of ambiguity whether it was the supernatural and sinister at play or his own mind playing tricks. I wanted to get the balance just right so people can’t decide one way or another yes. I like the exploration of grief and how people deal with it but it’s also important to build empathy with the character straight away so the audience is engaged. I wanted to make sure the audience was always engaged.
FF: Scriptwriter Joz Rhodes mentioned a feature script for Hinckley’s Drop. Is a expansion on this short on the cards and what other projects would you like to pursue in the future?
NV: I would probably do a project with 2 locations as this short had about 20. I think the next project is going to a 5 minute short as I have a couple of ideas kicking around at the moment and then I would like to move on to a feature. Hinckley’s Drop is a 26 minute film and in essence it is like doing a feature film. Originally with Joz I gave him a 20 word synopsis of the film and he went away and wrote 120 pages and we needed a 26 page script. That was brilliant because of the amount of detail and back-story he managed to put in but then when you get that you have to trim it down to work in the short film.
FF: As a cinematographer, editor, director on Hinckley’s Drop, how did the experience of several roles effect you as a first time narrative filmmaker?
NV: It is massively challenging. I did the camera, cinematography, direction and editing and wrote the original story and Micheal McCarthy did the sound . When you are an independent filmmaker you do have all these roles. You may not put them all up on the credits as it looks a bit crazy but if you are the cameraman or cinematographer it is really good at getting close with the actors and engaging with them. The downside is perhaps you don’t see the big picture sometimes. There are positives and negatives but if I was doing a bigger picture I would definitely bring a cinematographer in. I would like to be a lot closer with the actors but also have a better view of things that are going on. You have so many things going on in your head as a filmmaker sometimes and it is very taxing but overall very rewarding.
FF: Can you see yourself working with Neal Harvey again in future and would you like to see any of his creations in your films in the future?
NV: Neal is amazing and I would love to work with him again. You will have to ask him if he wants to work with me again really and I have already spoke to him briefly about my new short and he said once he gets Halloween out the way we will sit and talk about a brief for the next project.
FF: As a director exhibiting at Bram Stoker, do you consider yourself a horror fan and what is the your opinion on modern horror?
NV: I am a massive film fan and I love all types of horror. I think I like a lot of stuff that is coming out now as there are a lot more ghost stories and a lot more subtle horror away from the ‘torture porn’ that was prevalent not too long ago. I like horror that plays upon the psychological aspects of people’s lives rather than ‘let’s go chop someone’s head off’. I mean there is nothing wrong with that and it works very well but my preference is the hinting at things.
FF: What do you hope audiences will take away from Hinkley’s Drop and where is the film screening next after Bram Stoker International Film Festival?
NV: I’m not sure what I want people to take away from it because it’s quite a subjective thing isn’t it. I don’t know really. We are trying to get it in a couple more festivals and online. One of the questions at the festival is that a lot of people in the local area would like to see it because of the use of locations so I would like to host it online. This was the first time the film was screened and even the cast hadn’t seen the film up to this point. Only my wife, myself and Neal Harvey have seen snippets but today was the first time it has ever been screened. We had lots of good questions and I was really pleased with the reaction.
For more information about Hinckley’s Drop check out http://moorroadfilms.com/