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Rob Savage discusses indie horror and Stephen King collaboration

The catastrophic Covid-19 pandemic that strained economies and health services around the world had detrimental effects on almost every part of society, putting a roadblock in front of the rush of modern life. Of the many industries that were affected, Hollywood suffered a significant setback, swallowing their pride to allow several big-budget movies to be released on streaming services, taking mighty blockbusters to the homely suburban telly. 

Millions of people across the world became (quite literally) captive audiences and streaming services dominated the airway as people subscribed to some distracting flashy drama to avoid the real-life mania going on beyond the drawn curtains. Such became the perfect time for filmmaker Rob Savage to pounce, taking the horror market by storm when his quarantine-made flick Host was released in July 2020. 

Directing actors remotely, instructing them how to set up their own cameras, lighting and stunts, Savage’s techniques were robust and original, with the final film being something of a found footage revival for a subgenre that had so long craved innovation. Two years later and the Wrexham-born horror pragmatist is back with Dashcam, a found-footage horror that makes similar strides forward as his previous feature. 

Shot, for the most part, on the titular camera lens of the dashcam of a car, Savage’s story is once again a simple one, following an arrogant live-streamer named Annie (Annie Hardy), who travels to England and proceeds to disrupt the life of her old friend, stealing his car after an argument and joyriding it around the unnamed city’s outskirts. Entering a closed takeaway she stumbles into a woman desperate for assistance, asking Annie to take an elderly woman (donning a familiar turquoise face mask) to a location across town, offering her cash in return.

We discussed the insanity of the ensuing horror when we sat down with filmmaker Rob Savage to talk about the release of his brand new movie, breaking down the terror of the flick as well as the director’s future collaboration with Stephen King as he takes to adapting The Boogeyman.

Far Out: So, you’re in LA at the moment, how’s post-production on The Boogyman going?

Savage: “We’re just editing it and heading into the first preview soon. We’re feeling good about it, it’s come together really well”.

How’s it been working on a Stephen King adaptation, did you experience any added pressure during production?

“It’s daunting, but he loved the script. The short story is two or three pages, it’s really just the flavour of an idea and so we’ve expanded our mythology on top of it, and fortunately, he was cool with the direction we took it”.

How have the stories of Stephen King inspired you as a horror filmmaker? 

“I used to read a lot of his stuff when I was growing up. He’s got that balance. His stories, apart from a few of them, aren’t just totally nihilistic, they’ve got that humanity and that humour and they feel lived in and authentic and kind of relatable in a way that I think all the best horror does. I strive for that when I can, King is always someone I’m calling on for tone, he’s such a master of tone”. 

Do you have any particular Stephen King favourites that you turned to whilst making The Boogeyman?

“The one that I would read and reread as a teenager was Carrie, I think that was the tortured teenager in me wishing I could burn down the school gymnasium”.

“A lot of his short stories I’m always looking to pull from, so, Night Shift and some of his other collections. I’m reading his book on writing at the moment which is great, it’s so straightforward and unpretentious and has so much great stuff to say about the principles of storytelling…He’s great at just cutting out the bullshit”.

How have you found adapting to a big-budget production like The Boogeyman, in comparison to small features like Dashcam and Host

“It’s nice. There’s a Christopher Nolan quote that I always thought of whenever I was getting nervous about doing the production and all these millions riding on me. When he went from doing Following and Memento to doing the Batman movies, he said the only difference was the walk to the set. You walk past fire trucks and vans full of lighting equipment and just hundreds of people, but by the time you get to the set and you’re in that, kind of, inner sanctum with the actors,  the DP, and your core team, it’s all the same, you’re just trying to figure out the best way to tell the story with the tools you have…I hadn’t been on a proper movie set for three years and it felt so natural just stepping back on”.

It must have been strange coming back to a full movie set after filming on an iPhone for Dashcam. Was production really that limited?

“It’s literally all on iPhone, there’s an app called Filmic Pro, it doesn’t enhance the image but it lets you control it, so you can set the exposure and the frame rate and all this kind of stuff just to make sure that it at least has a consistent look. But it’s all [filmed] through the iPhone apart from the underwater scene that is done on a GoPro because we couldn’t afford to try to break an iPhone doing that”. 

While watching Dashcam there are several moments when I thought ‘This guy really knows how to handle horror,’ you have a real knack for making the audience feel uneasy. Some of the uncanny valley aspects worked really well, like when Angela [the curious infected woman] is chasing the car.

“So that’s real, she’s on a wire suspended from the car, the reason it’s uncanny valley is because she’s running but in thin air, she’s actually elevated off the ground so we could get the angle. But she’s suspended on this crane with a wire”.

That’s a really cool effect. There were several shots where I had a similar reaction, thinking ‘I haven’t seen that before’, ‘That’s interesting’, ‘How are they doing that’?

“I’m big into horror and I watch it constantly and I love the language of horror. I see a lot of filmmakers dipping their toe into horror but you can tell they just don’t love it or understand it. They’re kind of arrogant working in the medium, whereas horror’s so much in my DNA because I’ve been watching it since I was ten years old”.

On that, what are your thoughts on this whole idea of elevated horror, do you subscribe to this movement of an ‘enlightened genre’?

“I just think it’s another way of looking down on the horror genre. It’s this idea of, ‘there’s no merit in some horror movies’ and then there are the horror movies that are critically acclaimed which are considered elevated horror, and actually there’s so much subtext and complexity to be found in even the schlockiest of horrors. Horror is such a Rorschach test because, even if you’re not intending to make a message movie or a movie where there’s a discernible metaphor, the time in which you’re making a horror movie speaks to the horrors that you’re presenting”.  

“Horror movies have this antenna which picks up on and speaks to what we’re afraid of and what our preoccupations are at the time. To be so dismissive of horror is to shun one of the most purely cinematic genres, one of the few genres that is still concerned with visual storytelling in its purest sense”. 

In that idea of horror films reflecting a truth about contemporary times, is there anything you think about your own found footage films that speaks to a certain reality? What is it about the medium of filmmaking that you love so much?

“Yeah, I mean, we live on screens these days so it’s instantly relatable, but to be honest, the thing I love about found footage filmmaking is that it’s so cheap. All the money goes on screen because you’re not having 100 trucks full of lighting equipment roll up, and it doesn’t pin you down, you don’t have to make all your decisions months in advance, you can be down on the day and be spontaneous and shoot in a very lightweight way”.

“But Host and Dashcam were two of the films that have responded the fastest to all this kind of bizarre shit that’s going on at the moment. It’s very direct. Host was an attempt to capture the feeling of the claustrophobia of lockdown. Then Dashcam was made at the end of 2020, when Donald Trump and Joe Biden were going head to head for the White House and everyone was losing their shit. Dashcam’s a losing your shit movie because it was made at a time when everyone was fucking screaming at each other. So we really tried to take the temperature of what was going on at the time and make a movie that felt appropriate to that feeling”.

On that, I think one of the most divisive things in the film was the main character, Annie. She’s a curious protagonist as she’s quite an irritating figure. What made you want to put that person front and centre of the movie.

“Well, the movie wouldn’t really exist without Annie because she actually does this show called ‘Band Car’ where she drives around and improvises music. It was seeing that and seeing what an incredible character she is on that show and in real life, that I thought, ‘I’ve never seen a movie where the final girl has a brain like Annie’. Her brain is just wired differently from anyone else, so you put her in any situation and you don’t know how she’s gonna react. She’s witty and she’s silly, and she’s also surprisingly tough. Her beliefs have kind of prepared her in a way for all the craziness of the horror that’s going to ensue. 

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“There are all these interesting things which just make your experience of watching the movie a different one, which is always what I’m thinking about. How can you give the audience a different experience?”.

“Also, I just think she’s funny as fuck, I think she’s really funny. We wanted to make a movie that had that kind of Larry David-type figure. Like, let’s just have a character who bulldozes through all the things that we’re normally polite about, especially when it comes to Covid protocols and all these things. We were just coming out of lockdown when we made it, so it felt like, ‘maybe it’s time to just take the piss out of everything we’ve been doing for the past six months’…we kind of made it in this period of time where it felt like everyone was taking a breath of fresh air and attempting to get back to real life”. 

Who are the filmmakers you turn to when making these idiosyncratic horror movies?

“Sam Raimi is a big one, Raimi and his Evil Dead movies are huge to me. I’m working with Sam at the moment, which is kind of mind-blowing to say, it’s always been a dream of mine. Both Host and Dashcam, and Boogeyman as well, all owe such a debt to Sam because his focus on prioritising storytelling and the audience experience is something that, every time I’m making a movie, I think about. He always asks this question, ‘Is this for you or is it for the audience?’. Because a lot of filmmakers make films that are just very pleased with themselves, and there’s a lot of stuff in it that isn’t for the audience’s experience”. 

“I’d apply that metric when I was going through the beat sheet for Host, and Dashcam was an attempt to capture the crazy, zaniness of Evil Dead 2 and also just a lot of splatter horror movie sequels from the 1980s like Evil Dead 2, Hellraiser 2, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, these poor taste, bigger budget, much bloodier sequels. If Host was the more restrained, polite version, I wanted to make a very impolite splatter movie to follow it up”.

If we’re talking Sam Raimi, Drag Me To Hell is very underrated in my opinion

Drag Me To Hell is a masterpiece.”

How about your top three horror movies of all time? Does Sam Raimi make the cut?

“Top three? I’d say, Evil Dead 2. There’s a movie called The Innocents from the 1960s. I think that might be the greatest horror movie ever made, it’s just so impeccably staged, from the direction to the performances to the kind of nuance and subtext of the script. Then there’s this found footage movie called Lake Mungo, which I think is probably one of the greatest horror debuts of all time. This guy only made this one movie and I think it’s the most brilliant horror movie about loneliness that’s ever been made. It’s one of the great movies about alienation and also it’s scary as fuck. So yeah, I’d say you couldn’t go wrong with those three.”

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