Ahead of the European premiere of his psychologically disturbing supernatural thriller, CONSECRATION, at FrightFest Glasgow 2023, director Chris Smith talks about the supernatural side of religion, filming in Scotland, and his encounter with a pregnant sheep.
Another FrightFest, another Chris Smith movie! Why has FrightFest always been a key component to your release strategy?
I feel very fortunate to have been brought into the FrightFest family. I was very lucky that my first film, Creep, was included and then I got very lucky with the dates of release of my subsequent films. Severance was shown the night before the festival started in 2006 and then of course there was the spectacular Premier for Triangle at the Empire Leicester Square. FrightFest has also shown Black Death and Detour. They didn’t bother with Get Santa but that’s their loss. FrightFest is the best audience for any director.
Where did the initial CONSECRATION concept come from?
For a long time I’ve been trying to come up with a movie that was about the supernatural side of religion. If you look at Christianity, so many elements of the story are supernatural - the power of miracles, bringing someone back from the dead and then Jesus reappearing after his crucifixion. This requires belief and it is believed of millions of people and my story is not questioning that. I didn’t want to make a film that from an atheist stand point because to me there are more interesting questions to be asked from the position of a believer. I wanted to look at the miracles and say: “What would happen if somebody was born today that had the power of Christ? What would happen to that person 300 years ago? What would happen to that person in a modern context. What if that new Messiah was a woman? These thoughts were basically the seed of the idea for Jenna’s story.
You co-wrote CONSECRATION with producer Laurie Cook. Who came up with what?
So, I was kicking some ideas around with Jason Newmark who was the producer of Triangle, and Jason said that Laurie, who I’d collaborated with on The Banishing, had a treatment that may tie in nicely with my desire to make a religious film. Laurie had come up with a story of a priest that arrived from Rome to reconsecrate a church where there’s been a murder. I took that basic idea, which I really loved, and just wrote the first draft of the story we have here. Laurie then came in after that first draft was done and he wrote a draft over the top of it and then we just went back and forth with it till it was finished.
You have described CONSECRATION as “A film about the nature of religion and how defining one thing as divine creates a false opposite that is heretical”. Can you explain more?
I’m interested in the idea that people believe there will be a second coming and I tried to imagine how that might actually occur. How would those miracles be demonstrated and what would be the church’s position on it. Would the person be vilified? Certainly in the past they would. If it were a woman she would be a witch. I love digging into this stuff.
You’ve also called CONSECRATION your scariest film yet. Why do you think that is?
For me personally, anything that deals with fundamentalism is scary. So in that context only, this would be the scariest, along with Black Death. It’s impossible for me to answer really. Creep is the film that time and again people say is my scariest.
You assembled a great cast including Jena Malone and Danny Huston. You must have been pleased they responded so enthusiastically to the material?
I’m absolutely thrilled at the cast of this film but to be honest. I’ve always been very fortunate with the actors I’ve worked with. I love working with actors and that passion is recognised by them. I’ve always been a huge fan of Jena Malone, so when she responded so passionately about the material I was thrilled. Originally the story was going to be set in America but then we investigated Scotland and we found this amazing castle on the edge of a cliff in Skye. Jenna was already attached and there was absolutely no way I was going to lose her, so she had to polish off her accent and become English. I’ve loved Danny Huston since Ivan’s XTC, which is still one of the best movies ever made about Hollywood, so when he signed on too I was in fairy tale land. But the whole cast were amazing. Some of whom we’re cast the old fashioned way from audition tapes. Eilidh Fisher who plays the young nun Meg, Thoren Ferguson who plays the policeman, both local Scottish actors and both great.
And playing Mother Superior is the brilliant Janet Suzman. How did you tempt her out of retirement?
I was very lucky to have worked with Janet Suzman on a TV show I shot in South Africa and so, as soon as I came up with this Mother Superior character/ Nurse Ratched type, I immediately thought of Janet. Not because Janet’s remotely like Nurse Ratched but because she’s not! She’s delightful. She’s just a brilliant actor from the John Hurt/ David Warner school. A proper legend.
FrightFest Glasgow is in Scotland obviously, so where did you film CONSECRATION on location here?
We filmed all of the exteriors that you see on the Isle of Skye. There’s an old castle on the edge of the sea and we used that as the old broken down Monastery. The interior of the monastery is all set in an old ex-monastery on the outskirts of London which fortunately has been deconsecrated. I have to say, I’ve fallen in love with Scotland as a result of being here so much. I’ve been up to the highlands twice this year already. Once to go up Ben Nevis with my son, which nearly killed me and then once to go hiking around Fort William. It’s no wonder the Queen loved the place, it’s gorgeous.
A smooth shoot? Any challenges or anecdotes you can share with the class of 2023?
Once I was sitting at the monitor and a sheep came up to me bleating. The sheep then gave birth to a baby lamb in front of me. You don’t get that on the King’s Road!
Finally, what’s next?
I’ve written a war movie which I’m trying to get made set in Syria. I’ve also got another horror movie that I wrote some time ago but couldn’t quite finish. It’s very much an old school gory horror with a serial killer but deadly serious in tone.
CONSECRATION is showing at the Glasgow Film Theatre on Sat 11 March, 3.45pm, as part of FrightFest Glasgow 2023. Chris will be attending.