Thrill & Kill: Brian, LET US PREY is your first feature film. So people didn’t have an idea what to expect from you. Can you tell us a bit about the process how you became the director of this movie?
Brian O’Malley: I have been directing TV commercials with Irish production company Red Rage Films since 2001. I’ve made over 200 to date. In 2004 I wrote and directed a short genre film called SCREWBACK (available on Vimeo) which featured Liam Cunningham. It was intended as a ‘taster’ for a feature film script I co-wrote called SISK, which was a Shakespearean family tragedy set against the backdrop of a contemporary Gangster Thriller. It tells the story of a dying Ex-Gangster who return to Ireland after 30 years of exile to atone for his sins. The script won the Hartley Merrill International Screenwriting prize in Cannes in 2005 and was picked up by a leading Irish Production company in 2006. We had Liam Cunningham attached in the lead role as well as some other big international names. In 2009 the financial crisis resulted in a collapse of the financing on the film and I found myself without a project. It’s a heavy, dark and deeply emotional thriller which I still hope to make in the future.
At this time one of my Irish TV commercials Producers had written a beautiful short story about a little girl in Burma who’s family are massacred by the Military Junta, forcing her to attempt to escape across the Salween River into Thailand. It was based on true events and he wanted to develop it into a short film. I wrote the screenplay based on this and in 2010 with funding from the Irish Film Board we shot the film in Thailand. The film is called CROSSING SALWEEN and is also available on Vimeo.
Shortly after this I was approached by John McDonnell of Fantastic Films who asked me if I would be interested in directing LET US PREY. He required a director who understood genre and with a strong visual sense, and as we had worked together many times in TV commercials, he knew my work ethic. John and the other two producers, Brendan McCarthy and Eddie Dick, also felt I was the right guy for the job and despite me never having directed a feature film before, they offered me the job. I was very pleased.
T&K: The script was written by David Cairns and Fiona Watson. How much did you stick to their book, how much did you add some own ideas?
Brian O’Malley: I really liked the script and the characters, but the producers made it clear to me from the start that I had the freedom to push the story towards something more suited to my sensibilities. They didn’t want an everyman director, they wanted someone who would put their mark on the story.
The original story in very much intact, I didn’t destroy the original idea or alter is significantly. But I added the opening with the character of ‘Six’ emerging from the waves to create a sense of something other worldly being vomited up by the Earth, and the montage of the crows and the empty village intercut with Six walking across the landscape was something I created to place the audience in a space that was strange and unpredictable. I also wanted it to be elemental, hence we open with water, cross the earth, and end with fire. Six’s character feels like a force of nature, and I wanted his arrival and departure to reflect this. Born of water and earth, infused by fire.
Apart from that I altered the character of Six so he was much less like a rock star than he had been written. I wanted him to be more quiet and understated so the audience would listen to him more closely. I felt if he was loud and menacing he wouldn’t be threatening. Once we had Liam attached I knew he would create this sense of threat without dialogue, so we cut this back to give him more room to breathe.
I saw his character as a cross between Louis Cypher and Snake Plissken. Someone who represents a quietly commanding supernatural power, but with a world weariness of someone who has become somewhat cynical about the world.
T&K : I think you have a great cast, lead by Pollyanna McIntosh and Liam Cunningham. We did an interview with Pollyanna McIntosh when THE WOMAN came out and she said she was still learning the horror genre. Where do you see her today? What separates her from the average scream queen?
Brian O’Malley: I actually saw Pollyanna for the first time in a small UK comedy drama called Bob Servant: Independent. I think this was a good thing because I didn’t immediately place her in the world of horror. I saw her as a strong dramatic actress first. I then watched THE WOMAN and saw how fierce she can be. So these qualities of being a great dramatic actress, but also with a fierce screen presence meant she could give me the extremes I wanted for her character. In the film she is someone who has had a great wrong done to her at a young age, yet she has survived. And not matter what she encounters on this night, she will survive, even if she faces the Devil himself.
So I don’t see Pollyanna as a Scream Queen. I just see a terrific actor which a great sense of integrity. She is very beautiful and has a strong physical presence, which I suppose can lead to assumptions that she is a fierce action hero. This can certainly be true, but she is a very gentle and empathic person, and I think it is these qualities that attracted me to her in the role. She plays her part as though she finds the events that unfold very difficult. She is not The Terminator, she struggles and she gets hurt, and the little girl she once was is always just there under the surface. But she is our hero and she lives to face another day. Pollyanna is my Ripley.
T&K: Liam Cunningham plays a very interesting guy, too, who could easily be over the top or even laughable, but “Six” is a sinister character, who is hard to predict and while we get an idea what he is, it’s never 100% clear. So, who or what is “Six”?
Brian O’Malley: Ok, I’m going to assume the viewers will watch the film BEFORE they read this interview. SPOILERS!!!
Liam is ‘Death’. He is the Devil, and tonight he has come to collect the souls of the damned.
But as a child brought up in Catholic Ireland I was always confused by the Devil. We were told he was evil, yet he only took the souls of sinners. So if you weren’t a sinner, if you had done no wrong, was he not your ally? So this is how I see the character of Six in the film. He’s kind of the good guy, provided you havn’t committed any evil acts.
But he’s also old, and very tired. He has walked the Earth for all eternity and when we meet him its become a job. Like Snake Plisken in Escape from New York, he has a job to do, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to enjoy it. He’s also lonely and would also like to share his time with a companion. Many years back, maybe 10 or 15, he met a child by chance whilst taking the soul of a child abuser. He was fascinated by her great strength and her desire to survive, and tonight, many years later, is the night that he will reveal himself to the adult she has become. Everything is about Rachel, the whole night is a serenade to her.
T&K: I am a big fan of LET US PREY but there is one thing that kept me guessing. It seems like there is too much unrelated violence going on at the same day in the same town. It seems like this is either a very strange coincidence or “Six” made these people do what they did. Can you tell us more about it?
Brian O’Malley: Spoilers!!
This is no coincidence, this is by design. Six is The Devil, and he has chosen tonight as the night he will come to town and take the souls of the damned. His presence there encourages them to reveal their true nature, and one by one they reveal to the audience that they are worthy of their place in Hell. Except for Rachel, who will be given the opportunity to join him.
So if you imagine that this is his job. He travels the world taking souls to Hell. Well its easier to gather up as many souls as possible in the one place. He’s a puppet master, and he has pulled the strings so tonight everyone is in the same place. But remember, the focus of his attention is Rachel. She is the reason he’s there. She’s the reason this all happens tonight, her first night on the job.
Its kind of like a western. The stranger is coming to town, and when he does, all hell breaks loose.
But nothing is a coincidence.
The film is set in a small town somewhere in Scotland. But tonight that town is in Purgatory, the waiting room for Hell, and only those who have sinned and committed despicable acts are present.
There are clues to this throughout the film. The opening sequence intercuts with an empty village. Why is it empty? The two Cops pull into a petrol station, but there is no attendant. After Caesar is placed in the cells MacReady tries to call a tow truck, but there’s no answer. We cut back to the town several times during the film, but each time there is no life. The Pub is empty, the Chinese takeaway is empty, the supermarket is empty, the streets are empty. This is because we are ‘elsewhere’.
This is why no one comes to help, and there are no ordinary passersbys on the street or at the Station. They are probably living their lives happily in Inveree, just not this Inveree. We have crossed over!
The only person who has a chance to redeem himself is Caesar. He has just one foot in Hell, and it will be his decision if he crosses. Six doesn’t want to take his soul yet, because it means an innocent girl will have to die. And Six only want sinners to suffer. So he encourages Caesar to admit what he has done so the girl can be saved. If Caesar saves the girl then he saves himself. This gives us an insight into Six. He is disappointed that Caesar doesn’t make the right decision. He wants the girl to be found and to survive. He’s only interested in the souls of the damned. He understands the beauty of innocence, which is why he is so interested in Rachel.
T&K: You are from Ireland and while there haven’t been that many horrormovies coming from there, I remember some nice films like GRABBERS or STITCHES in the recent past. Is there a solid filmmaker scene? And how much support can a young filmmaker expect from the Irish Film Board?
Brian O’Malley: There is a very solid film scene in Ireland and we have great support from the Irish Film Board. Let Us Prey was supported by the IFB, but also by Creative Scotland.
Genre cinema is less common in Ireland. We make horrors, this is quite popular, but science fiction and action thrillers are rare, almost non-existant. I am a lover of genre, which is why I was offered the movie to being with, and I hope to make more, but we have yet to break through in Ireland and make genre cinema that reaches a very wide audience. There have certainly been some big movies such as LOCKOUT, LAST DAYS ON MARS, but its relatively uncommon. This is probably true for many territories as they are always competing with Hollywood. But genre cinema as a bona fide form of cinema is still a relatively new idea in Ireland, but that’s changing. There’s room for everything.
T&K: What will your next movie be about?
Brian O’Malley: I have completed the screenplay for my next Film – THE LOST STATION. It’s a ghost story set in the London Underground about a Track Walker who unearths a dark secret and a despicable malevolent force. It’s a very creepy, bloodless horror which uses the London Underground as a character in the story. I always felt the best scene in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON was the scene in the Underground, and this is something I’ve always wanted to explore more. People all over the world have been in the London Underground, so it’s a setting that so many people can relate to. And the idea that there could be something chilling and unexplainable in the passageways and tunnels is very easy to imagine if you’ve ever found yourself standing on an empty platform late at night!
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