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Arrow Video FrightFest 2019 interview: Paddy Murphy teases his chilling new film The Perished

The Irish film-maker discusses his topical new horror.

Paddy Murphy
Credit: Mike Shawcross

Paddy Murphy is bringing his latest film The Perished to Arrow Video FrightFest in August.

The chilling tale social horror set in Ireland, takes a topical issue and puts a horror spin on it. Think a more socially conscious Hellraiser and you’ll get a feel for what to expect.

I caught up with Paddy to find out more about the film, discuss the contentious subject matter, and talk about his long-held passion for the horror genre…

Hi Paddy. How are you today and where does this email Q&A find you?

Hey Pip. Thanks for reaching out. I’ve currently spent my first day away from the computer in months at Stephen Tubridy’s house (who plays Kilin in the movie). We haven’t seen each other since we wrapped, so was nice to catch up and let our kids hang out and stuff. Other than that, just been working with the post production team on ensuring everything is the best it can be for the FrightFest premiere in August.

Your new film The Perished is showing at Arrow Video FrightFest. Tell us what’s it all about.

The Perished is a social horror about a young Irish woman named Sarah Dekker (Courtney McKeon) who finds herself with an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy, despite using contraception. Sarah makes the difficult decision to have an abortion after her boyfriend, Shane (Fiach Kunz), breaks up with her. Sarah’s ultra conservative, religious mother (Noelle Clarke) finds out about the abortion and throws her out of their house.

Sarah flies to the UK to have the procedure, with help from her father (Conor Lambert) and when she returns, she heads to the Irish countryside, to stay at her best friend, Davet’s (Paul Fitzgerald), family holiday home; old parochial house. Unbeknownst to Sarah or Davet, the former religious home sits atop a mass baby grave. As Sarah wrestles with the emotional weight of her decision and not telling Shane, the spirits within take shape as a physical entity known as Kilin (Stephen Tubridy) that look’s to Sarah as a mother figure, longing to be reborn.

The Perished

Credit: Celtic Badger Media

The topic of abortion is one that is still so contentious in the Republic of Ireland. Why did you want to tackle it and did you have any reservations about it?

I actually started writing the script in September 2017, before it was announced that a referendum to repeal the eight amendment would take place. The eight amendment was an article added to the Irish constitution that gave equal rights to the life of an unborn baby, as the mother – even in cases of medical emergency. When the referendum was announced to take place in May of 2018, I felt there was a certain immediacy to the story. The script grew and evolved as I watched the toll the referendum was taking on my friends and family.

People were being pulled apart on both sides, based on their ideals. Nobody was really communicating and there was a lot of anger, sadness and hatred being thrown around. I decided that I wanted this lack of communication to be the cornerstone of the film. I felt that the women of Ireland deserved a story that was not black and white, but treated them with empathy; on both sides of the debate. I personally didn’t have any reservations about telling this story, the only thing I wanted to ensure was that Sarah & Rebecca were written in a believable way and did service to all the women who went through these very real-world horrors, that their characters go through.

I think Courtney did an incredible job of holding the role together and making Sarah feel very believable and sympathetic. She really did justice to all the women holding in their grief and loss, sometimes for decades with no support. I’m immensely proud of her and all the cast and crew. I also feel that Lisa Tyrrell who plays Rebecca did an incredible job of bringing an opposing view to the screen in an equally sympathetic way. We never truly feel like she’s an antagonist. Much like Shane, she has her own reasons for why she is hurt by what is happening and she tries to keep her emotions in check, but the house has other plans for her. Some of her work near the end of the film, blows me away every time I watch it.
So proud.

Where did the original idea for the film come from?

The very first nugget of an idea for the film was actually completely unrelated to the subject matter. It began with the idea of being in bed, suffering sleep paralysis and having something stalk towards you in the dark and just sidle alongside you, cuddling you. This led to the idea of what “monster” would have that kind of agenda.

I had been reading a lot about the horrific mass baby grave discovered in Tuam, Co. Galway – the remains of over 800 babies were found in a septic tank beneath a mother and baby home in 2014. Immediately I imagined how lost, broken and confused those spirits would be. This led me to my answer of what “monster” would want to simply cuddle a young woman; a monster made up of discarded infants, longing for a mother.

I spent the next 6/7 months refining the film across 7 drafts. Originally Sarah wasn’t the protagonist. It was a priest character, which to me just felt wrong and after my first feature film, which explored hypermasculinity in Ireland, I really wanted to explore a realistic female perspective. There were several drafts where Shane was totally psychotic and acted in a very different manner, even bludgeoning Davet with a crowbar, which just didn’t feel right. Eventually I nailed down the rhythm I wanted for the film. I wanted it to feel like labour.

It can take a while, there are moments of intense pain and eventually it builds to a sharp, fast, bloody, climax. That describes not only labour, but the narrative flow of The Perished.

There are some really effective scares in The Perished and fantastic practical effects. How did you ensure that you’d keep viewers on the edge of their seats?

I knew I didn’t want to go the route of straight up jump scares. I wanted to build a sense of tension, suspense and dread, much like in classic films such as Don’t Look Now or The Changeling. I wanted the crux of the horror to be human drama, because come on – that’s often the scariest thing of all and I wanted the supernatural elements to gradually bleed into the reality of the film.

Bekki Tubridy, our special effects make up supervisor and creature designer, did an incredible job of taking my conceit and manifesting it into something visceral, real and for me genuinely tragic and sympathetic. Her whole team worked tirelessly to bring it to life in a very short turnaround and I’m so proud of what they achieved.

I didn’t want Kilin to be solely terrifying, I wanted it to be lost, tormented and confused as it’s made up of discarded children who have no idea why their lives have been cut so tragically short.

Stephen Tubridy, who plays Kilin, brought an incredible depth to the creatures’ movements, making him feel scary but ultimately childlike – it roars and cries, crawls and carries a lot of the attributes we associate with infants, but with a terrifying visage. I had worked with Tubz, as we call him, on a short film called An Beanshi, where he played multiple creatures and I was impressed not only with his physicality but also the amount of passion and energy he brought to the roles.

To me, it’s the juxtaposition between Sarah’s real-life drama and Kilin’s supernatural torment that keeps the viewers on the edge of their seat, especially when their realities collide.

Paddy Murphy

Credit: Mike Shawcross

What would you say was the biggest challenge while making this film?

From a production standpoint, I think the biggest challenge was tackling such a big concept with a relatively low budget. Luckily, the producers of the film, Barry Fahy (also DP) and Vachn Gill (also Make Up Assistant) really stepped up and helped me to get everything in place in pre-production to make the whole process feel a bit less daunting. Likewise, the associate producers Marie Hourigan (also AD) Aaron Walsh (Editor) and Evan Murphy (composer) helped out when we really needed it.

From a technical standpoint, lighting was one of the biggest challenges but luckily, we had Barry Fahy on our side. We wanted the darkness to feel genuinely dark and imposing, but we didn’t want to get too much noise or grain. We also wanted to use lighting to help with the narrative of the film, such as the red lighting in the films climax which again, hearkens back to the blood red associated with birth. Barry Fahy outdone himself and really made my job easy as I was able to focus on working with the actors and makeup department.

In terms of the performances I know it’s incredibly challenging for an actor to give a consistent intense performance, but I really feel Courtney McKeon did an incredible job of playing Sarah as someone beset by grief, but also genuinely trying to push on and move on with her life. Courtney was actually acting in a comedy play in Limerick while we were shooting and working a full-time job so her commitment was incredible. Similarly, Fiach Kunz and Lisa Tyrrell were both in a stage play called Extremities right before we filmed and it was incredible to see them transform from those characters, who hated each other, into brother and sister, Shane and Rebecca.

The actual weight of the films message was a challenge in and of itself, but I think that everybody was prepared to make a joke or lighten the mood where possible but respect the actors and their process when we had to move to the really heavy material. It was an incredible set to be part of and everyone gave 100%, which made every challenge feel just that little bit smaller.

How important is it for you as independent film-maker to get the support of a festival like Arrow Video FrightFest?

For me, the support of FrightFest is incredible and a dream come true. I’ve been coming to the festival since 2016 and have made so many friends, who are more like family, over the years. The festival is where I’ve seen so many films that have inspired me, gotten to watch my contemporaries showcase their work in both feature and short form and just been an incredible experience, year on year. On top of that the festival is such a huge name In the genre world, that it definitely helps bring attention to a film like The Perished, that doesn’t have a huge marketing department or budget.

I’m so thankful and grateful to the FrightFest directors, Paul McEvoy, Alan Jones, Ian Rattray and Greg Day, not only for the selection but their help and advice in getting the film to where it is now. They do so much for genre film and ask so little in return. They just want folks to come and enjoy the films, meet the film-makers and have a ruddy good time. Thank you FrightFest!!!

Which horror film-makers have influenced you?

I’ve always been a huge fan of John Carpenter and he’s probably my favourite living director. I also grew up obsessed with the works of Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw was banned in Ireland, so I had a bootleg VHS) and Wes Craven. In terms of more contemporary film-makers I’ve been blown away by the works of Ti West and Adam Wingard as well as female directors like Natasha Kermani and Gigi Saul Guerrero. The Soska Sisters have been so kind to me and have championed my shorts for years and I feel absolutely blessed. American Mary is possibly one of my favourite revenge films of all time! I can’t wait to see Rabid on the big screen this year at FrightFest.

Lately I’ve been blown away by the EXTRAORDINARY works of Jordan Peele and Ari Aster and I just can’t wait to see what they do next. I loved Get Out and Hereditary and really appreciated both their sophomore outings of Us and Midsommar. They’re genuine modern visionaries, in my humble opinion.

What’s your all-time favourite horror movie and why?

It changes from week to week, ha ha. But one film that always sticks with me is Hellraiser. I actually wore my VHS out, I played it so much. I just love how Hellraiser seems so grandiose and huge, but at its core is a family drama about lust, obsession, taboo and a small (but incredibly powerful) sprinkling of the supernatural. Clive (Barker) is so talented like that. I love his books and my dream is work on an adaptation of his book Coldheart Canyon.

Why should Arrow Video FrightFest fans go and check out The Perished?

If you’re the type of person who is interested in horror that’s a bit outside the norm, that tackles maybe certain taboo topics and focuses on Drama just as much as horror, then I think you’ll enjoy our movie. The films that personally inspired me when making this movie were Don’t Look Now, The Changeling and The Brood, so if those kind of emotionally charged horror films that tackle difficult themes float your boat, I really think you’ll enjoy this movie.

The Perished will receive its World Premiere at Arrow Video FrightFest on Monday 26th August 2019 at 3.30pm in the Prince Charles Cinema Discovery Two screen. For more information and tickets please visit http://www.frightfest.co.uk. Watch the trailer for The Perished below:

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