Over the last few years, more female-focused genre storytelling has moved to the forefront for a number of reasons. While horror is a very fluid genre of film, the horror from aboard continues to weave tales that are more than gender or issue based but find a way to blend the lore of the culture, land, and its people. This has continued recently with the most recent dark drama from the emerald isles in Lee Cronin’s THE HOLE IN THE GROUND.
Focusing on a mother named Sarah (played by Actress Seána Kerslake) and her young son named Chris (James Quinn Markey), THE HOLE IN THE GROUND tells a very haunting story filled with symbolism, authenticity, and frights. Put out by one of the benchmarks for quality cinema, A24, we were lucky enough to grab a rising starlet and talented actress Seana Kerslake to talk for Nightmarish Conjurings about her work on the film, being picked up by A24, being surrounded by motherly figures, and how she feels about mirrors after the film.
Thank you for taking the time to talk about THE HOLE IN THE GROUND and congratulations on the film.
Seána Kerslake: Well thank you so much!
First, can you talk about the idea of losing your identity and how terrifying it is? We have seen this in a variety of horror storytelling including the different incarnations of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS.
SK: I think for the Sarah character, it is not so much losing herself but instead, her thinking that she has lost her son Chris. I think when we meet them, she is trying to rebuild herself and trying to redefine her life after past events. She definitely has that fear of losing someone you know. She is trying to start fresh and facing those demons. Also, accepting and living with those demons backwards and forwards.
It is so scary especially since it is a child. I’m not sure if you are a mother or not, but talk about what research or experience went into playing the role of a mother in this film?
SK: I am not a mother but many of the people around me are. So, when I met with James, I just tried to get know him as a person instead of me just saying, ‘I will be your on-screen mother now.’ I just wanted to get to know him as a person and get to know what he was into. I wanted to build that friendship and not have a huge transition, not switching on and off as a mother. Being a mother is just one part of who you are, but you are still the same person you are. It does not mean you flip a switch and one minute you are a mother and then one minute you are not. It helped as well to see the ease that many of the people around me that are in motherhood. It was good.
On set, James would get my undivided attention sometimes, sometimes he wouldn’t. If he would behave in a certain way, I might ignore him, or I might call him on it. We would take situations as they came. Also, seeing James and his own mother and how their relationship is. I’m was trying to see what he responds to with his mom. I drew upon that as well.
Another strength of this film was the use both of practical and CGI FX in regards to the locations and how these locations become characters in themselves. Can you talk about how the locations impacted the film and your character?
The locations we shot in Ireland were in Dublin, Winslow, and Kildare. We shot the interiors in this really big and old house. The art department actually dressed all the floors and put everything in it. They did an amazing job! What was good, was that we shot everything possible in the house so by the time we finished, we had everything we would need. It was a small crew in a confined space. I think that all helps to get in on the character and Sarah’s headspace.
The underworld stuff plays a good part in getting into the psyche of the world coming in around you. That claustrophobic element of the film bleeds into the character.
At the screening for THE HOLE IN THE GROUND in New York City, I was speaking with a journalist from an Irish media site and he brought up how authentic the film was with locations, lore, and music. Can you talk about making sure there were Irish authenticity and honesty that came through to fully immerse the viewer?
SK: I think Lee (Cronin) was conscious of the Irish lore but he was also conscious that it could be set in anytime and in anyplace. So, it could be somewhere near you, if the accents were different. I think everything from the script to our performances to the music that Stephen McKeon composed was all very much set up to ground it. The track that comes in the end credits is a very well known song throughout Ireland as well as the song ‘Rattlin’ Bog’ in the film. They have that eerie Irish element to it.
The paranoia escalates as the film moves through each act. Cronin uses different storytelling devices to build paranoia. What does that paranoia give to you as a performer?
SK: I think I have a pretty wild imagination. If I let it run wild, that paranoia can have a field day. That was good form to let it run wild!
What was it like to in your first horror feature? What drew you to horror and what does it give you as a performer work with?
SK: I wasn’t really versed with the genre of horror and I have never done one [a horror film] before. However, I never realized how much I enjoyed it until I did the press for this movie. So many good horror films are out there. I mean look at these character-driven movies like A24’s HEREDITARY, A QUIET PLACE, GET OUT, and all those things. I think THE HOLD IN THE GROUND goes with that. In this horror movie, I wanted to base my character in a reality you would find in a drama or thriller. This is very much happening for her, whether it is real or not. I could only play the horror if I could make it as honest as it could be from a grounded place.
Speaking of A24, what is your thoughts about a company with such an amazing body of film titles like A24 acquiring this film?
SK: It’s absolutely amazing that A24 picked up this movie especially before we went to Sundance! It is really great news. With the success of the films that they have had, if we have any sort of success like their previous films have had, it would be extremely positive for us. It’s an amazing position to be in. It is hard to believe where the movie is now. When you shoot the movie, it is not where you’re thinking. You are not thinking about where the film would be at all. The journey has been great so far.
How was the Sundance screening? How was the atmosphere and audience of this high profile film festival towards the film?
SK: Sundance was amazing. It was a bit of a whirlwind. It was my first time there and it was absolutely beautiful. I didn’t really get to experience it as much I would have liked, but when you have a movie there, it is mostly press and going to the screening. It was amazing to have such a good slot at the ‘Midnight Selects.’ The audience was so responsive, and they stayed for the Q&As. That was a really positive experience.
What was your experience like working with Filmmaker Lee Cronin?
What was great about Lee, is that he knew what he wanted, and he had a very clear vision. So, he and our DP Tom Comerford were very smart in how they shot the movie. They knew the shots they wanted, and they very much plotted these things out because there were some tricky shots.
In regards to my performance, he tried to give me as much space as I needed or as much conversation as needed even though I don’t like to overly talk about things. He might plant an idea and walk away, or he might play music to set the scene. Give me one or two words and let my imagination run off with that. It was very helpful. For the script, if something did not fit well with me, he would look to change it. He was very collaborative in that sense. It was a really positive experience working on this.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us Seana. I must ask, do you look at mirrors differently after this film?
SK: Thank you so much, Jay, for taking the time to talk about the film! I haven’t looked in the mirror since! Not so much, not so much. However, you look at people differently. You never know the workings of someone else’s brain. Living with monsters, there are monsters walking around in broad daylight beside you, you don’t know who the monsters are.
For more of a detailed review and observation of THE HOLE IN THE GROUND, check out Jay’s review HERE. THE HOLE IN THE GROUND is currently available on DirecTV and available in theaters on March 1st. For more information about the film and where it is screening click HERE.