An Interview With Director Chris Smith
Ahead of the European premiere of his psychologically disturbing supernatural thriller CONSECRATION at FrightFest Glasgow 2023, director Chris Smith talks about the supernatural side of religion, filming in Scotland and his encounter with a pregnant sheep.
Hi Chris. Thanks for taking the time to sit down and chat with us.
Another FrightFest, another Chris Smith movie! It seems our fates are intertwined. Why has FrightFest always been a key part of your release strategy?
I feel very lucky to be part of the FrightFest family. I was very lucky to get my first film, Creep, in, and then I was very lucky with the release dates of my next films. Severance was shown the night before the festival started in 2006, and then of course there was the spectacular Premier for Triangle at the Empire Leicester Square. FrightFest also featured Black Death and Detour. They weren’t in the business of getting Santa, but that’s their loss. FrightFest is the best audience for any director.
Yes, it seems like a perfect fit for a festival like FrightFest!
Where did the initial AVOIDANCE concept come from?
For a long time, I tried to come up with a film about the supernatural side of religion. If you look at Christianity, a lot of the story is supernatural – the power of miracles, bringing someone back from the dead, and then Jesus reappearing after his crucifixion. It takes faith, and millions of people do, and my story doesn’t question that. I didn’t want to make a film from an atheist point of view, because for me more interesting questions can be asked from the position of a believer. I wanted to look at the miracles and say, “What would happen if someone were born today with the power of Christ? What happened to that man 300 years ago? What would happen to that person in a modern environment. What if the new Messiah is a woman? Basically, these thoughts were the idea behind Jenna’s story.
You ask some very interesting questions there.
You wrote CONSECRATION together with producer Laurie Cook. Who invented what?
So I was brainstorming with Jason Newmark, who was the producer of Triangle, and Jason said that Laurie, who I worked with on The Banishing, had a treatment that might connect well with my desire to make a religious film. . Laurie made up a story about a priest who came from Rome to consecrate a church where a murder had taken place. I took this basic idea, which I really liked, and just wrote the first draft of the story here. Laurie then came in after the first draft was done and wrote a draft on top of it and we just went back and forth with it until it was done.
You have described CONSECRATION as “a film about the nature of religion and how defining something as divine creates a false opposition that is heretical.” Could you elaborate?
I was interested in the idea that people believe there will be a second coming, and I tried to imagine how that might actually happen. How would these miracles be shown and what would be the church’s position on this? Will the person be defamed? They certainly did in the past. If she were a woman, she would be a witch. I love digging into these things.
But all valid points.
You also called CONSECRATION your scariest film to date. Why do you think?
Personally, I find anything that deals with fundamentalism scary. So in that context alone, it would be the scariest, next to the Black Death. It’s impossible for me to really answer. Creep is the movie that people keep saying is the scariest.
We have to agree, Creep is pretty scary!
You put together a great cast, including Jena Malone and Danny Huston. You must have been happy that they responded so enthusiastically to the material?
I’m absolutely blown away by the cast of the film, but to be honest, I’ve always been very lucky with the actors I’ve worked with. I love working with actors and this passion is recognized. I’ve always been a big fan of Jena Malone, so when she responded so passionately to the material, I was thrilled. Originally the story was going to take place in America, but then we researched Scotland and found this amazing castle on the edge of a cliff in Skye. Jenna was already clingy and there was no way I was going to lose her, so she had to polish her accent and become English. I’ve loved Danny Huston since Ivan XTC, which is still one of the best Hollywood movies ever made, so when he signed on, I was in wonderland. But the whole cast was amazing. Some of them were cast the old fashioned way from audition tapes. Eilidh Fisher, who plays the young nun, Meg, and Thoren Ferguson, who plays the policeman, are both local Scottish actors and both great.
Mother Superior is played by the brilliant Janet Suzman. How did you lure him out of retirement?
I was very fortunate to work with Janet Suzman on a TV show that I shot in South Africa, so as soon as I came up with this Mother Superior character/Sister Ratched type, I immediately thought of Janet. Not because Janet is remotely like Nurse Ratched, but because she isn’t! Delightful. He’s just a brilliant actor from the John Hurt/David Warner school. A true legend.
It sure is. I think we all love Janet!
FrightFest Glasgow is obviously in Scotland, so where did you shoot CONSECRATION here?
All exteriors on the Isle of Skye have been filmed. There is an old castle by the sea, and we used it as the old ruined monastery. The interior of the monastery is located in an old former monastery on the outskirts of London, which fortunately has been consecrated. I have to say that I have come to love Scotland so much because I have been here so much. I’ve been to the highlands twice this year. Going up Ben Nevis with my son once, which almost killed me, and hiking around Fort William once. No wonder the queen loved this place, it’s beautiful.
We totally agree with you there. It’s a wonderful place.
Smooth drive? Do you have a challenge or anecdote to share with the Class of 2023?
Once I was sitting at the monitor and a sheep came bleating to me. The ewe then gave birth to a lamb in front of me. You don’t get that on the King’s Road!
Woah! I didn’t expect you to say that!
Finally, what’s next?
I wrote a war film, which I am trying to locate in Syria. I also have another horror movie that I wrote a while back but couldn’t quite finish. It’s old school gory horror with a serial killer, but with a dead serious tone.
You seem to be very busy, which is always a good thing in this business.
Well, good luck with your upcoming projects. We look forward to learning more about them. Thank you for your time.
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