||Lee Cronin is a promising Irish director who has released his first feature, The Hole in the Ground, to acclaim around the world. It tells the story of a young, single mother (Seána Kerslake) who moves to the countryside only to be confronted by the possibility that the old folk tales of changelings may be true - or is she going mad? It is one of a number of successful Irish horror movies from this century, and Lee took the time to tell us of the inspirations and thinking behind his work.
Have you always been a fan of horror movies? Which are your favourites?
Horror movies have been in my blood from a very tender age indeed. I am the youngest sibling in my family by the guts of a decade, so I was exposed to so many movies I likely shouldn't have seen at a very impressionable moment in my life. Jaws, The Shining, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Poltergeist were all in my locker before I was 10 years old. And... The Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2. I saw them back to back around 8 or 9 years old and they blew my mind.
How did you get into directing? What inspired you?
I was always obsessed by movies and TV, I was a huge Ghostbusters fan and was always drawing my own cartoons and comics. I don’t think there was a specific point of inspiration, but I do remember when I was about 14 I started to write little screenplays andiron after sold my beautiful drum kit to buy a camcorder. (I kind of still regret it!) I was definitely developing a taste for certain filmmakers, Spielberg, Raimi, Jackson, and I thought "I wanna try do what those guys do".
Do you think the Irish film industry is in a healthy state right now?
I think there is no doubt the Irish Industry is in a really buoyant place right now. It's been this way for quite a few years now, and it's extraordinary to see how almost every year, there is an Irish presence at the Academy Awards. I think the success of the business is two fold, the long term support and development shown by Screen Ireland, and then a bunch of hard working grafters across the business who really want to elevate Irish filmmaking.
How did Seána Kerslake's performance help your film? Was her grounded style a bonus in contrast to the weirdness around her?
Seána was an outstanding presence and gave a performance with great nuance and subtlety. Once I met with her, saw her work and got a sense of who she was as a performer I knew that we could do something really unique with her portrayal of Sarah. The grounded nature of her style worked perfectly for what I was trying to achieve, and I really think it helped balance the real psychological aspects in the story with the more heightened genre notes.
Kati Outinen plays a supporting role - were you aware of her Aki Kaurismaki films and was that why you cast her?
I was indeed aware of Kati's body of work, and my Finnish producer (The film was a European co-production) mentioned her name to me. It clicked right away that she would be perfect for Noreen. And she was our one and only choice. It was something very different for her to do, and she really embraced the weirdness of the role.
How did you go about using the visual effects? Were you conscious of not wanting to use too much CGI, or was it a real help to achieving your goals?
I think with any visual effect, whether practical or digital, it's all about how you use it. Personally, I will fight to do everything as practically as possible until it's just not viable anymore, and quite often digital work can help step in and finesse or finish something off. Equally, there is a time and a place where you need to lean heavy into CGI, and I look to try and use those tools for their strengths. Overall I like to use CGI to expand a world rather than define it.
Are you interested in Irish folklore and how you can apply that for horror movie purposes?
I think most Irish people love a good tall tale, and we'll all know a story or two about some local creepy house or white lady that roams the roads. Going deeper into lore, I've always been attracted to deep dark stories from the forest and the like, yet I'm not interested in telling these tales in broad and obvious ways. A little like how I feel about CGI, I like lore to use as a seasoning rather than it being the main course.
Do you feel you and your work are part of a new wave of Irish horror films?
I always find this a difficult question to answer, as I'm not sure what defines a wave. It's certainly true that there are more and more Irish genre works making international impact. I think this is partly because of a number of filmmakers like me who are up through a certain era of movie making, and now our versions and voices and impressions are coming to the fore.
Do you like the rural locations? How did you use the countryside to its best advantage for the film?
I've always been a fan of the forest, and find its atmosphere to be really intriguing, as it can be beautiful and unsettling all at the same time. I tried to use the Irish landscape to create a sense of foreboding isolation, and in shooting the film with anamorphic lenses it allowed me to create some real cinematic width to the countryside that you don't always see in an Irish movie.
Would you like to share any future plans, filmwise? Do you plan to stay in the horror genre?
I'm a fan of mysteries and tense stories, so I will certainly be making more horror movies, but equally digging hard into the thriller space. Not too much I can let out of the bag right now on future projects, but I'm hopeful to be in production on something before the end of 2020. Which project that is, still to be decided!
Many thanks to Lee for answering these questions. THE HOLE IN THE GROUND is available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital now, and well worth checking out for horror fans wanting something offbeat and atmospheric.