Downhill arrives on DVD just in time for the Halloween season. Extreme sport athletes Stephanie (Natalie Burn) and Joe (Bryce Draper) are grieving the loss of their friend when they are invited to compete in a BMX race in Chile. Having decided that it will be good for them, the young couple accept. However, a practice walk through the course leaves them fighting for their lives as the snowy mountains are hiding a sinister secret.
The film got its UK premiere at this summer’s Frightfest and was described by festival runner Alan Jones as ‘a fast, fun and ferocious gore buster’. The cast and crew features a melting pot of nationalities that highlights just how small the world really is. Director Patricio Valladares is Chilean, his writer Barry Keating is Irish, and their leading lady Natalie Burn is originally from the Ukraine. We managed to catch up with the trio in London ahead of their Frightfest debut. They were in high spirits about the movie and were excited to be part of such a prestigious genre festival. Patricio remarked ‘this is a movie shot in Chile with a Chilean director who speaks English like Speedy Gonzales. Shot in English in Chlie, it’s a low budget movie. Being here is like magic.’
In our chat we discussed how the idea came together, the modern need for less dialogue in movies, and the truth behind that ‘glamorous’ acting lifestyle.
How did the idea/concept come together?
Patricio Valladares: The original idea was me and my wife had been going trekking in the mountains and we discovered this stone with markings that meant there was someone lost in the area. It looks like an occult symbol. So I starting thinking – why not mix sport, extreme sports and a cult movie? I talked to Barry about my idea and he made it work. More easy for me (laughs). My English is not perfect so I wrote the idea down in Spanish and Barry made it into English.
Were there a lot of drafts, was there a lot of work getting it perfect?
Barry Keating: Well Patricio had hammered out some beats of the story and sent them to me and we literally just sent this document back and forth until we had it. It changed directions here and there. Once we had the story down we went straight to script. I wrote the script, maybe four or five drafts just moving things around, cutting things here and there. That was it, it was a pretty smooth writing process. It was fast and fun to write.
There’s a lot that happens in what is really a short run time. Was that quite frantic to shoot?
Natalie Burn: It was shot in fifteen days.
PV: It was very fast. We shot on two cameras because we’re going into mountains and we have to make the movie fast. We didn’t have money for light, and because its in the mountains we need generators for electricity. Rather than do that I needed a very new camera. We used a Sony i7s, we shot in 4k. The camera is amazing, you almost don’t need fake light. Natalie would say ‘oh your camera is very small, can we really make the film on it’
NB: (Laughs) ‘Can I fit in it?’
PV: So we used two cameras and went into the mountains. It was very cold. I shot with two cameras, kind of like they do on television. I think it was the best way to make the film more dynamic.
Natalie, what was it about your character that made you want to play her?
NB: I guess sport’s was the first thing that I was attracted to. I’m into sports a lot, I do a lot martial arts and training. I liked that this was a character that liked to stay fit. It has horror elements and I’m a big fan of genre films myself. Plus I know Barry’s work. I’ve worked with him on another movie – we did Killer Mermaid. So it was going back with the same crew. It was fun. We talked about the character so I understood exactly what he had tried to write. It’s easy like that when we already know the writer. It was a fun character. There aren’t a lot of characters in the film. It’s just me and really my boyfriend played by Bryce Draper. It focuses on those two characters and I thought their relationship was interesting. That was what attracted me too. And the fact that we shot in Chile. That was awesome.
The location was just amazing. It was beautiful, a little cold, as always when you shoot a horror movie. It has to be cold because you don’t have the budget to shoot it in summer. But it was fun. it was great. We were way out in a ski resort. There was no shops, supermarkets, no nothing around. No restaurants, we were literally living in those cabins. They were all connected to one another and we all became this family during those fifteen days. It was very comforting and very social. Everybody knew your advantages and disadvantages and then all the things that you like and dislike. It was like a 24/7 set that never stopped. It was unique.
Did you have to do much training? Especially around the biking sequences.
NB: I usually just train before any kind of movie, especially if its physical. I just trained before hand.
PV: I think it’s important that you work well, I don’t have budget for stunts.
NB: Yeah I do my own stunts. But I knew going in there that I’d have to ride the bike downhill. I was like – ‘oh I hope I’ll be okay’, so you kinda just prepare yourself mentally and physically. If you’re strong and you’ve been training every single day – which I do, I do kickboxing and jujitsu – I know that my body can handle it, even if something does go wrong. I went in there just blindly saying ‘okay, I’m going to be riding a bike downhill’ (laughs)
Patricio mimes pushing Natalie.
NB: (Laughs) Exactly he was like ‘go!’. That’s pretty much what happened. I was stood there and said ‘I don’t think I can just do this..’ and he just said ‘Go!’ I was just like ‘holy shit this is serious, we’re not joking here.’ He just stood there saying ‘Natalie, Go!’ I did one take and I thought – ‘wow that went great’ – and he just says ‘again’, and I was like ‘no’ (laughs).
What was the toughest scene to get right?
NB: I think always the hardest thing for me to do is when you have more than two people in a scene. When you have a crowd of people. Because you have to connect with everybody. I think as a director he (points to Patricio) has to make sure that everybody is in sync, he’s got to get everybody’s reactions etc.
PV: Yes, it’s a little more difficult for me.
NB: The scene at the beginning with the fire, I remember being tough because of the fire. That caused the biggest problem. It was really cold and yet the fire was blowing at us with a lot of smoke. Constantly everyone was crying, non-stop. It would just cause so many tears. I remember one of the girls, Ignacia [Allamand], she would not stop crying. It was insane. Patricio kept asking her to stop crying and she just couldn’t because of the smoke.
PV: I stopped and she kept crying, but then it was a wide shot so it didn’t matter.
NB: Yeah, but we were literally dying because of that smoke. We couldn’t stop the fire because it was so cold. The minute you got away from it you were dying because it was insanely cold.
PV: The other big problem was the make-up. The movie looks good, but the problem we had was the time it took.
NB: Yeah, it’s all real make-up, but it took so long for Bryce to be in the chair. I think to put that final make-up on was four or five hours.
PV: And he was blind.
NB: Yeah, I had to take him all the time by his hand, put him in spot and say right ‘we’re going in’.
PV: And you were almost naked.
NB: And I was almost naked. I had no shoes on and I was running around on the ground. You could see some snow around. It was freezing. I’m always the lucky one. I remember in Killer Mermaid I was diving into the pool…
BK: And that was meant to be freezing.
NB: …It was the coldest pool I’ve ever gotten myself into. Seriously I lost my voice the next day. That’s how freezing it was. You just have to deal with those things. I’m not always as glamorous as I am right now (laughs).
The glamorous life of an actor..
NB: The shooting part is definitely not. When we were shooting at night it was very cold as well. But it’s so beautiful there. The forest and the scenery, and it’s just so wild, and you feel it. You just get into the character even more by being around this area.
PV: Yeah, but when I presented the story a lot of people said – ‘no this movie is sooo expensive, $1 million.’ I explained – ‘I know but I can do it, give me the money!’ (laughs) A lot of people just said no. It was funny after in Ibiza in Spain, I have a very good friend and investor, she was like ‘okay what do you want?’ I explained that the movie was about horror again. She said – ‘oh but it looks expensive, how much do you need?’ I told her about the budget and she just said – ‘okay, lets do it’. I tried to tell her the story, but she was just ‘nah I trust you.’ I offered her a producer credit, but she wasn’t interested, she just said – ‘it’s your burden now. Call me when you finish the movie.’
NB: That’s always nice.
PV: So with this budget I can make a lot of magic, I can make the movie look more expensive.
NB: Well that just shows a good director. That’s always a challenge. When you first read it, it has a lot of action. It has a lot of biking and stuff happening. Lots of locations and it’s turned out quite well.
BK: I think as well, originally when we wrote the first draft of the script, I suppose I don’t really think about the pain and suffering that (to Natalie) you have to go through when I’m writing it. But in the original first draft we had a huge, big race, but in the snow. I was watching all these down hill races with all these guys riding down glaciers and stuff. I was like wow this is cool so we’ll put that in. This massive big event, it was so good, but no it had to be cut.
So what is everyone working on next?
PV: One is Snow Baby, it’s like a film noir. A Very Violent Ascent – your English is better Barry, what is it about?
BK: It’s a revenge thriller. It’s about this guy who is carrying out his daughter’s last wish, without giving away too much.
PV: But I want to make the film with almost no talking.
BK: Minimal dialogue.
NB: Yeah, Patricio does not like a lot of big scenes with monologues. Every time there’s a big monologue in the script, as soon as we start talking, he’s like – ‘ah no cut, cut, cut.’
PV: Whenever I go to the cinema, when I went to see Sinister 2 alone, there were a lot of teenagers. As soon as the movie starts they were all talking until the action and then they were silent. I just sat there and thought – ‘oh, new generation.’
I know what you mean, I went to a screening of Paranormal Activity that was full of teenagers and the only time any of them shut up was during the night time scenes. So there is something to be said for glossing over some of the talking and getting as much of the story across in as few words as possible to keep that social media audience engaged.
BK: Nowadays you see them just literally front-loading the exposition as quickly as possible in the first few minutes, and then bam! – straight into it.
PV: Last year together we shot three movies – Downhill in Chile, The Ghosts of Garip in Turkey, and Bulgarian in November we shot Nightworld with Robert Englund.
NB: Which I co-produced. So we’ve made three movies together.
BK: Maybe we should start a company?
NB: We’re like the Tarantino…
PV: Tarantino? No Takashi! (all laugh)
NB: They’re similar (laughs) Ah tomatoe / tomato.
Downhill is available to own on DVD now.