28th Dec2017

Horror-On-Sea 2018 Interview: Michael Boucherie on ‘Where the Skin Lies’

by Philip Rogers

Where the Skin Lies is new tense horror from director Michael Boucherie, which has been selected to play at the Horror-on-Sea Film Festival on Sunday 28th January. I got chance to ask Michael a few questions about the inspirations for the film, the writing process with his brother David Boucherie, and creating something which stands out in the horror genre.

where-skin-lies-poster

What can we expect from the film Where the Skin Lies?

Well, it all starts innocent enough. Everyone is getting along just fine, at least on the surface. But as this is a horror film, you can expect things to go downhill rather quickly. Although there are some gruesome events, it’s not a splatter movie. The horror really comes from the people you consider to be friends. You’ll find yourself having shifting allegiances to these different characters as it is revealed, through horrific occurrences, what’s lying just beneath their skin. It’s tense, it’s raw. But it’s also very human.

What was your inspiration for writing the film?

Unusually perhaps for a narrative film, we started with the location rather than with a story. There was this wonderful 1970s style holiday home on the Scottish coast which offered a lot of potential for staging our actors and moving the camera about. We knew it would lend itself well to building up tension and a certain sense of alienation and isolation. It was our director of photography, Edmund Curtis, who suggested this place. The next element was the title, which I picked up from a casual conversation with Edmund. It was a phrase he used when describing the grading process of a short film we did together. We started developing the script from just those two elements, really.

Why did you decide to set the film in the 1970’s?

This comes from the location. The house was built and decorated in the second half of the 1970s and it hasn’t changed since. Rather than setting the story in the 70s, though, we have contemporary characters moving into this old-fashioned holiday let for a reunion weekend. The décor, the architecture and the general mood of this place helped us emphasise the isolation of the characters and the uncomfortable sense of there being something off. It also allowed for referencing classical horror tropes in a more organic way.

What was the process writing with your brother David Boucherie and what strengths do each of you bring to the process?

It was wonderful working with my brother; he has a brilliant mind. Basically, I pitched him the title, the location and the genre – an ensemble horror film. We discussed the beat structure and the characters in a bit of a back and forth, and then David secluded himself to write the whole first draft. He excels at original ideas and structuring plot points, while I dedicate myself to working with the cast to flesh out the characters and their relationships, adjusting the script to accommodate our discoveries as we rehearse.

What makes Where the Skin Lies stand out from other horrors in the genre?

It aims to look at real people and their behaviour in what is essentially a supernatural situation. This is why we spent so much time rehearsing, which is uncommon for genre film. I was lucky to team up with a producer, the wonderful Joy Harrison, who is very supportive of this.

Ultimately, the film is about the breakdown of relationships due to the flaws inherent to being human. The supernatural horror is a catalyst for the horror of how people choose to treat one another. I’m a much happier person than this film would have you think. I just find it cathartic to go into this darker world, where the stakes are higher and the decisions you make more final. This kind of fiction is liberating. And it’s this cathartic sense and this thrill I want the audience to experience. To go somewhere dark and dangerous and exciting, without anyone getting hurt in real life.

The film is also aware of the horror references it makes and integrates that in a web of behaviours which sometimes assuages the expectations of a horror audience and sometimes surprises them. But essentially, it’s a film about tensions, and the violence this can lead to, and plays well to a wider audience because of this.

Elsie (Louise Williams) confronts Mike (Nathan Wright) in his bedroom. © Signwriter Films in association with Animal Tank.

Elsie (Louise Williams) confronts Mike (Nathan Wright) in his bedroom. © Signwriter Films in association with Animal Tank.

Were there any elements of the original script which had to be adapted during filming?

Most of the adaptations were made during the rehearsal process. Part of my interest in film making lies in developmental work with the cast. Which means that we work on the characters, their background and their relationships before even touching the script. When you then drop these fully-fledged characters into the story, it will of course affect their reactions to events, the dialogue they use, and the way the narrative unfolds. That’s the goal, to have the story partly emerge out of the characters. So, the approach was hybrid in its inception, part devising, part script. And we kept on rehearsing and adjusting throughout the shoot.

Other adaptations came from a creative engagement with the crew on location. You look for visual opportunities to tell the story which are hard to predict in the script phase. In a sense, film making is all about meticulous preparation in order to be able to improvise and maximise opportunities as they arise.

What was one of the favourite scene in the film?

For me, directing moments of intimacy, whether romantic or violently abusive, are the most stirring. When you see actors taking what’s suggested by the script and making it more human and more vulnerable than you expected, it is like watching magic unfold in front of your eyes. For a moment, you forget you are directing, and you just feel privileged to be a witness to it.

One such scene which really rattled me shooting it and which still grips me each time I see it, is the confrontation between Mike and Elsie in the privacy of his bedroom. The way the viciousness just kind of bubbles up as the scene evolves, the despair and the regrets behind it. It’s really layered, and I can watch it again and again. There are a lot more of those thrilling moments in the film. Which is why I’m so grateful to the cast for their generosity and courage, and to my brother for coming up with this nightmare for me to play around in.

Do you have any new projects which you are working on?

Currently I’m writing a sci-fi survival horror. It’s thematically linked to Where the Skin Lies, but involves different responses to extremely demanding external pressures. And this time it’s designed to catch your breath in desperation rather than make your skin crawl in abject horror. In other words, it’s going to be fun.

If someone is looking to direct their first film, what advice would you give them?

There is a lot of conflicting advice out there, to be honest. I would say, make short films first. And – unless you’re someone who really does not thrive in an educational environment – I would suggest to take a film course, especially one which will actually allow you to make a short film in the process.
Also, know your shortcomings and surround yourself with people who can fill in those gaps. Film making is all-encompassing and thrives on collaboration. If you don’t know something, figure it out or recruit someone who does know. The reward is in the process.

Where the Skin Lies will be playing at the Horror-on-Sea Festival on Sunday 28th January at 5pm.
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For more information on the event and to purchase tickets for the Horror-on-Sea please see the website for details:  https://www.horror-on-sea.com

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