Later this week Grimmfest returns for its first physical event since 2019. The festival will take place at Manchester’s Odeon Great Northern from 7th to 10th October. There will then be a second, virtual event running from 14th to 17th October. This edition will screen many of the same films as the physical version, with the added bonus of hosting two online exclusives: For Roger and Father of Flies.
Directed by Ben Charles Edwards, Father of Flies is an atmospheric and chilling story of one family’s breakdown. In the wake of their parents divorce, a brother and sister find themselves at odds with their new stepmother. After she moves in, each sibling tackles the new circumstances in different ways, with the youngest beginning to suspect that she might be hiding a very sinister secret.
Outside of filmmaking, Edwards works for film company Goldfinch, meaning that Edwards is a very busy person. We were fortunate enough though to steal some time with him to discuss this fascinating slice of genre cinema.
Father of Flies is screening at Grimmfest, Raindance and Screamfest, how are you feeling about finally releasing it out into the world?
I’m glad it’s out. It’s a film that I wrote years ago that was based on my childhood growing up in what I believe was a haunted house, and still do believe that it was. I lived in a home with five other children, five teenagers at one point, and there was a lot of emotion there. There’s a lot of hormones there. We kind of just ran amok. Sometimes I wonder whether the house and the energy within the house starts to feed off of the people that are inside of it. I think that was the case in this situation. A lot of strange things happened to me as a child. Some of them were particularly unfortunate and other things are just left unexplained. Father of Flies is kind of a cathartic process really after I’d made a couple of other movies. It was the editor of Time Out at the time, Dominic Well, he said to me you should always write about what you truly know. I love horror as a genre, especially when we’re not talking about silly slashers and so on. I love the idea that we can move somebody so deeply that we can make them shit themselves on a chair (laughs), that’s quite a brilliant thing to aim for in cinema. I love all sorts of films and genres, but I’d say horror is my favourite, so combining that genre with a story of my childhood seems a bit too easy as it worked quite well.
At the start of the pandemic, if people had asked which genre of film would do so well, I imagine most people would have said comedy or similar, and yet it’s actually horror that has done well.
What would you rather do, live in your own nightmare that’s reality, or experience someone else’s through a TV screen? I’d much rather for it to be somebody else’s and then come back to reality and say, “fuck, it’s not that bad actually, because I’ve just watched a load of zombies rip people apart”. That’s a fundamental part of being human. We monitor our own happiness on our own surroundings and sometimes other people’s, which is never a good place to be at. But the same works with movies. If I’m in a chirpy mood, I certainly wouldn’t watch a comedy because the last thing I want to see is something that’s funnier and more idealistic than my own life because then you’re “oh shit, I’m not happy anymore.” The same goes on the other side, when stuff is quite tough, it’s quite nice to see a horror and realise stuff isn’t that bad.
It’s moving, it’s escapism, we’re not living in the eighties with naff movies anymore. Horror now is an entirely different genre. When it’s done correctly, psychological horror especially, is just incredibly moving stories and cinema. This argument of, well is it a thriller? Is it horror? Is it a monster in the house? Horror is defined by something that humankind finds horrific and that could be a dreadful abortion, it could watching…it doesn’t have to be demon chasing you around the house. I personally think they’re fun, but horror now as a genre is very exciting. I can’t ever recall a point in my life when I was more excited by horror than I am now.
It’s something that we all need to explore within ourselves. We’re so easy to vilalianise people, and so quick to say I’m a good guy, I’m a bad guy. This is a good or a bad part of my character, of course we have both within us. We’re quite quick to judge that. I had written a statement for one festival and they were asking about a similar idea, and I remember being a child at the time when things were not great at home. There were truly horrific things that happened in my childhood and I used to think the darkness in my room became amplified. Everything seems far more scary to me. But when you can’t run anywhere because you’re a child, when there’s nowhere else to look or go, you start to make comfort and friends with the darkness, silly as that sounds. You get comfortable with it. You realise that there isn’t anything in the darkness. At the same time, the darkness and night has become a far more interesting place for someone’s mind. It’s full of mystery and possibility. The answers can lie somewhere in the darkness. In the daylight you see everything, I don’t want to see everything, I want to imagine. I want to scare myself.
For those that haven’t read up on the film, what is Father of Flies about in a nutshell?
It’s a haunting tale of family life. It’s about a young family that is going through a divorce and a strange new woman moves in. This other woman that we’re so quick to villainise is the evil stepmother, and I guess it makes us question that when she moves in. Do strange malevolent things move in with her, or is it a result of something that was already within the family.
There’s this great sequence set to The Cure’s Lullaby, the song works so well in the context of the story. Did you always have that song in mind?
They were songs I used to love as a child, I used to listen to The Cure and The Smiths non-stop. When I was writing Father of Flies with a friend of mine, Nadia [Doherty], we had it playing a lot, as well as Daniel Johnson, which is obviously the song that repeats at the end of the film. There’s a lot of little nuances in the film from the music to particular items of clothing that were taken from my childhood. They were always there in my mind.
One of your cast members, Nicholas Tucci, sadly passed away, Father of Flies being one of his last projects to be released. What legacy do you think he leaves behind?
Nick’s passing was the reason why the film was finished. The only reason that the film was finished. I really adored Nick. I thought the world of him. I thought he was such a talented and kind man. I know everyone always says that about the dead, but he really was a special guy. We shared so much fun together pre-shooting, when we were shooting, and then afterwards for a long time. Then the film kind of fell into hard times for many reasons and some of them were emotional reasons, and the film wasn’t finished. It sat on a hard drive for a year. I had just parked it and decided I wouldn’t finish it ever. Then I got a call from LA one day telling me that Nick had passed. He was very private and he had kept his illness hidden. When that happened I just thought, “shit, I’ve got to finish the film”. I felt that this was selfish, something he had put so much time and talent into that he was so proud of, had just sat there for so long. I sat thinking about it over the weekend and I just thought I needed to get this finished for Nick. That was the reason why we finished it and the film is obviously dedicated to his memory.
He has a lot of close people to him in the States and I’m over here, but what I can do is honour his memory. What I can do is honour his talent. Try to get it finished and put it together. I’m really happy we got it finished. I’m really happy it has come together as well as it has. I’m really happy it has had so far a good reception. Even if only ten people had seen it, if only a couple of people had seen it, that’s more than enough. The longer it goes, the further it goes, the better. We make stuff that we want to be seen, I know Nick wanted people to see it and he was proud of it.
There’s a lovely, well sinister, atmosphere created, the walls feel like they are closing in around you at times. How did you go about constructing this?
We built some of the rooms as doubles in a studio because we needed the boys room to operate in a certain way. There was that delicate line of trying to marry it up. Horrors are scary because they feel genuine. So I wanted a real set. I wanted to shoot it in a real house, and I thought we can just replicate some of the rooms in the studio when we have to. That really helped keep control over the atmosphere. It has got a claustrophobic feel to it, but at the same time you’ve got these quite large, barren, snowy scape’s at points. You’re either very tight within the house, feeling claustrophobic, like the child stuck inside, and outside is an entire new world that you get a flavour of, but you don’t ever experience it for him. The closest he gets is the end of the garden. His whole life in his house.
What are you working on next?
I’m shooting a movie next spring called The Wheels of Heaven. It’s a story that explores the ambiguity of good and evil, light and dark, and how we as people sit in the middle somewhere and we shouldn’t be so quick to assume we’re one or the other.
Why should people add Father of Flies to their Grimmfest viewing, what are they going to get from your film that they might not get from others?
I think that this film, as you said, has a strong atmosphere, and I think it is chilling. I think that it gives you as much of an emotional punch as you can take in horror. If you want horror with something a little bit extra, I imagine this will be for those kinds of fans.
Father of Flies screens at Grimmfest 2021 on 10th October 2021. Tickets for the festival can be purchased here.