[Panic Fest Interview] Director Giles Alderson for THE DARE

Written by Giles Alderson and Jonny Grant and directed by Alderson, THE DARE is a tense thriller, with some gruesome practical effects, that will keep you guessing right up until the end. The film tells the story of Jay (Bart Edwards), who is having a quiet evening at home with his wife and children when an intruder kidnaps him. He wakes up chained to the wall in a grungy room with three other people and is forced to play along in a nasty game led by his masked captor. Why are they being forced to play along and who, if anyone, will survive? Audiences learn the answers to these questions and the insane plot twist when THE DARE premiered at Panic Fest this week. 

Nightmarish Conjurings had the pleasure of speaking with director Giles Alderson about creating the story for THE DARE, those gnarly practical effects, his talented cast that includes horror favorite Richard Brake, and a lot more. Read on to find out what we talked about!

You wrote THE DARE with Jonny Grant. What was your inspiration for the story and what are your thoughts on Stockholm Syndrome?

Giles Alderson: I had this idea years ago. Actually, it was two ideas that were percolating in my head; one day it just dawned on me to join them together. Suddenly, I had the story. So, I spoke to Jonny Grant, who has written a project I’ve been working on, called The Nobodies, and asked him to write it with me. Within months we had a solid draft, so myself and Julian Kostov formed Jupiter Lights film company and started sending it out to possible executives to make the film. THE DARE is a psychological horror so it has an in-built audience and it’s an interesting take on the genre, which should appeal to them. 

It was picked up quite quickly by the clever executive producer Yariv Lerner from B2Y at Nu Boyana Studios. It wasn’t a walk in the park, though. I had to work my ass off pitching it and creating mood reels, a 20-page pack with my notes on style, how I would make it, shoot it, the look of the film with many images and why it would do well, etc. So, with the help of my excellent producer Julian we got a deal at the remarkable Bulgarian Studio. They have an amazing set up over there; so many studios and facilities, amazing crew and equipment, etc.; so, it was a no brainer for me to shoot THE DARE there. I also managed to bring my fantastic cinematographer Andrew Rodger (To Dream, Plebs) along with me too, which meant I had a well-established shorthand which was vital for helping each other and inspiring each other during the shoot. 

I was surrounded by talent and before we knew it, we were in the studio on built sets making it. But I couldn’t have made it without all the amazing people around me. Jonny and I wanted to use Stockholm Syndrome in the film but not make it obvious. And yet is Dominic better served in his old home or with Credence anyway? Is it a bad thing? Most of the time Stockholm Syndrome or similar is, but in this case, we wanted to play with the audience’s feelings on it and let them make their own minds up.

How did you go about scouting locations and what made you decide to use the farmhouse we see in the film?

Giles Alderson: I love that most people think these are real locations. Apart from the woods exterior and the front of the farmhouse, the rest was built inside a giant, very cold studio on the studio lot at Nu Boyena Studios. We worked really hard to get the look and feel of a real location. The outside of the farmhouse is actually a wooden flat held up by a couple of planks that actually and miraculously stayed up for three years in the snowy windy woods until Rambo V production tore it down and rebuilt it. But I always wanted that farmhouse look of horror films of old. We all know what scary horrific farmhouses should look like; it’s in our dreams and we can picture it easily, so I knew it didn’t have to look too far in my imagination to create this. But I wanted my own slant on it and came up with the design so we could create some extra little effects in the VFX room to really enhance the scary-looking barn-like place and the fence around it to make it even more foreboding.

I thought the SFX makeup was really impressive and the scenes with bugs and spiders were especially cringe-worthy. What inspired the look of Dominic’s mask?

Giles Alderson: Thank you. We are delighted with the SFX and the look we have created. I wanted a mask that could at least hold up against so many famous masks in movie history. We went back and forth with so many designs, but it was actually Julian who came up with the idea of Botfly larvae eggs which permeate through the mask to give it the rough effect. We kept it subtle too, so unless you really look you can’t see it. We also took inspiration from Alien, when the baby alien hatches from the stomach. Well, this particular fly grows in the hosts’ flesh and gives birth inside a mammal’s guts. Horrific. Yet perfect for Dominic to use this. 

We also wanted it to look homemade; that Dominic himself could have made this, so we added teeth and a pig’s eyeball making the mask’s imperfections show. The other gory VFX work with the bugs and cockroaches were done with a mix of reality and CGI. I really wanted to get as many practical effects as possible and the cast was keen for it. Alexandra Evans playing Kat, was up for having a cockroach in her mouth but in the end, although that could have been great, it’s not really fair on the insects, so we created them on the computer. But so much of all the gore and blood was done in-camera and on set; the eyeball cut and pretty much all the torture and stabs were done with clever camera trickery. I just prefer all those wonderful horror movies where they create these effects practically, so we worked very hard to do this. Luckily, I had a brilliant team around me to do it justice.

Richard Brake and Giles Alderson in THE DARE

Dominic’s story is tragic, but it almost felt like the bullies were worse than what Dominic eventually became. Do you believe monsters are born or made?

Giles Alderson: Thrilling psychological horror is a great genre and I really wanted to capture those tragic and often dark emotions we feel with them. With THE DARE, we are playing with the minds of the audience. I want them to think about who they are rooting for, where their sympathy lies and why. THE DARE has feelings, deeply hurt emotions and hidden secrets that I can’t wait to share with them. It touches on morals and important themes such as bullying, as you said, and how sins from the past can come back and haunt you. Exploring the level to which we will go to survive when stripped down to our bare assets, and invites the audience to ask, “What would I do? How would I feel?”

It’s all about circumstances and what our environments are like around us. Dominic was abused by his family and it might not have made him who he is because of it, but for what happens to him in our story proper, yes, I think monsters are made. Certainly, in this case, they are. Luckily, I had so much talent to work with not just crew but cast as well. Take my basement guys; Richard Short, who is a lead in the brilliant TV series Mary Kills People, Bart Edwards who is The Witcher, Alexandra Evans who is the lead in Redistributors, Daniel Schutzmann who has worked with me on World of Darkness, among others, and Robert Maaser who in Mission Impossible 5

We cast well, but I was very lucky. Some actors deal with scenes in different ways and I was able to talk to them individually and guide them to what I wanted. But they are very talented actors and were at the top of their game. I love working with actors. It’s a special ability to be able to turn on a performance especially in the dark and bleak environment we created, and I respected these guys so much. They all brought the script to life and made it their own. I also had the joy of working with younger actors Mitchel Norman and Harry Jarvis who are both doing very well and they both worked brilliantly with one of acting legends Richard Brake (Mandy, 31), who was incredible to work with. He really got the character and brought a wonderful dark pathos to the role of Credence.

From the first shot of the film, you successfully created a suspenseful atmosphere. I thought the outside shots through the window were reminiscent of John Carpenter’s style, so I was wondering if there are any directors who have influenced your work and style?

Giles Alderson: I really wanted to create the feeling of fear from the outset and that suspense you are talking about. It was important for me to let the audience know what kind of film they are watching from the beginning. I love shooting scenes as one long take. Letting my actors sit in the characters and not keep cutting all the time. It can be challenging and difficult, but I know I can really work performances this way and actors love it. Coming from a theatre background, I find it an invaluable experience. Doing long takes is a great way to keep that atmosphere, the focus, and the sense of dread. Even though it was mentally and physically exhausting, I have never felt more alive than when I was on set with my actors and crew, working through the scenes and tweaking moments before turning over on the camera and calling action. It’s like magic. The feeling of capturing something so special from an idea you had and are now burning it onto film, in this case, cards, but you know what I mean, and to see it come alive is electrifying! 

So, to be even be mentioned in the same sentence as John Carpenter is a huge delight for me. I’ve been influenced by so many directors. Mr. Carpenter is one of them. They really understand their audiences and when you are making a film like this, that is what you have to think about. Danny Boyle is another one. What he did with Shallow Grave was outstanding. Other favorites of mine include Adam Egypt Mortimer, Wes Craven, who gets a name check Easter Egg in THE DARE, see if you can spot it, Beck and Woods and Paul Thomas Anderson, who always creates a sense of dread, menace, and horror in all his films. And who doesn’t like that!

For more on THE DARE, check out our review here.

Giles Alderson
Michelle Swope
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