‘Beyond The Woods’: 10 Questions With Seán Breathnach

❉ We chat with award-winning director Sean Breathnach about his debut feature film.

Following a successful run on the festival circuit where it picked up the Best Feature Film Award at the World International Film Festival Montreal in 2017, Seán Breathnach’s spine-chilling low budget nightmare Beyond The Woods finally makes its way to UK and North American DVD and VOD courtesy of Left Films. 

We Are Cult spoke to the director of Beyond The Woods, Seán Breathnach. 

‘The Creature’ with John Ryan Howard in Beyond the Woods.

Hi Seán. Beyond the Woods is your directorial debut.  Can you tell our readers a bit about your background in filmmaking?

I started off writing scripts – it’s the only thing you can do cheaply when it comes to filmmaking! I had options taken on some scripts, but they were never made. Eventually I got frustrated with that so I decided to shoot one of the short films myself with some friends. I’ve been making films ever since – once your bitten by the bug it’s impossible to stop.

The wood is firmly set in the classic horror genre, a remote, isolated location stalked by an unknowable, deadly menace. Are there any films that were a particular inspiration or influence?

Yes, but not the ones you’d think! The low-budget sci-fi film Coherence was a huge influence. I wanted the audience to get to know the characters – if you don’t feel something for the characters then it’s very hard to feel something for the film. John Carpenter’s films were also an influence, as was Mike Flanagan’s Oculus (in terms of creating a feeling of dread.)

What other filmmakers, writers, and directors have inspired you in your career so far?

I’ve been influenced by so many that it would be a very long interview were I to list them all. John Carpenter is an influence, as is David Lynch and David Cronenberg. I admire Jeff Nichol’s ability to create tension, and Mike Flanagan’s ability to create dread out of mundane moments. Scott Derrickson has made some fantastic horrors too. They all seep into my brain in one way or another.

Conversely, what new or unusual elements do you think the film brings to the horror genre? I particularly liked that the majority of the film takes place in bright daylight and the emphasis on mundane, everyday interaction as we see the friends socialising and unwinding during the first reel, to ground the setting in reality.

Thank you, I’m delighted that you liked it. I wanted to create that rapport between viewer and cast – the worst thing you can feel for a film is nothing. I don’t mind if people love or hate the characters as long as they feel something about them. So character and quality of acting were very important to me. I’m not sure that the sinkole near the woods has been done before either, so that is something new.

John Ryan Howard in Beyond the Woods.

Beyond its apparent connection to the noxious sinkhole that’s referred to but not seen in the film, the Creature’s origin is kept a complete mystery… Did you have a backstory or mythology in your head when conceiving the monster? Is this something you’d consider exploring in another film, or do you prefer to keep it enigmatic and unknowable?

Yes, there is a mythology – it’s quite extensive and it is something I would consider exploring in another film. I knew I was never going to be able to get it all into this film, but it is also essential that the mythology exists, otherwise the film could have gotten lost. There is a playful element (in a very evil sense) about the creature- elements of Hannibal to an extent – it wants to see how things will work out, even though it can really engineer pretty much any outcome it likes for the characters.

What was the biggest challenge in making the movie?

Budget. We had to be very clever with what we showed and what we didn’t show. We didn’t want the film to look cheap, so if we couldn’t do something to the level we wanted then we left it out of the film. The actors would probably say the weather was the biggest challenge, considering we shot half the film in July and half in January, and the characters had the same costumes for both.

The film has received a number of awards on the festival circuit prior to its commercial release from Left Films. Can you tell us a little about the film’s journey to distribution, what’s it been like?

It has been a great journey, but lengthy. People always say to expect to spend about 4 years with a feature film as a director, and that is certainly true. Our film was well received on the festival circuit, so that was clearly very satisfying. But it was brilliant to get Left on board -they really know what they are doing and have been fantastic at bringing the film to a wide audience.

Claire Loy, Ross Mac Mahon, Sean McGillicuddy, Irene Kelleher in Beyond the Woods.

In recent years there’s been something of a revival in British horror, for example the films of Ben Wheatley. Who are your favourite indie film directors working in England and Ireland today?

I love Ben Wheatley – Kill List is an incredible film. Ivan Kavanagh and Brian O’Malley have both made some cracking horrors. Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin is a terrific film. Neil Marshall too – The Descent is fantastic.

How did you go about casting for Beyond The Woods?

I wrote a lot of the parts for actors who I’d worked with in the past. Bad acting can ruin a film, so I wanted to work with people I trusted, and people I knew were talented. The actors I hadn’t worked with before came through either an agent whose judgement I trust and also seeing the actors in short films on the festival circuit. Every actor knew at least one other person on the cast or crew – that was important to me too. I wanted everyone to feel welcome and happy so that feeling would be reflected in the film. Until we killed them of course.

What are you working on next?

I’ve written two horror features – one is about a creature living in an old house, the other is about a mysterious UFO cult. I’m hoping to start work on one of them later this year.

Beyond the Woods is out now in the UK, and on DVD and digital 2 March in the US, from Left Films. Order on DVD from Amazon UK (region free) or UK VOD on iTunes.

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