Scream Horror Magazine

Ursula Dabrowsky & Sarah Jeavons Release Their Inner Demons

Posted on: November 17th, 2015

12141510_932476240176604_7616756205969388443_nFurther to 2009’s Family Demons, South Australia’s writer/director/producer Ursula Dabrowsky is all set to release the second part of her Demon Trilogy, Inner Demon, through Enzo Tedeschi’s recently founded Deadhouse Films.

Boasting a predominantly female crew and a leading lady who was all of 16 years young when the film was shot, Inner Demon relates the foreboding tale of a teenage girl Sam (Sarah Jeavons) who is abducted along with her younger sister by a serial killer and left with no option but to fight to survive, pushing her to the limits not only physically and emotionally, but spiritually.

Assisted by the South Australian Film Corporation’s FilmLab Initiative, which provides support and encourages filmmakers to push boundaries and think outside the box, after a four-year uphill struggle, Dabrowsky has come up with the goods providing a remarkable slice of cinema, with the film already having taken home ‘Best Australian Feature’, ‘Best Australian Director’ and ‘Best Female Performance’ at A Night of Horror International Film Festival in 2014.

Ursula and SarahWe caught up with Dabrowsky along with the film’s leading lady, Sarah Jeavons at this year’s Sitges International Film Festival to find out all about the imminent release of their Inner Demons…

Ursula Dabrowsky: You haven’t asked me about my accent yet, which is strange. I’m originally from Canada and went to film school in Montreal. I’m actually really now an Australian filmmaker and don’t really know the Canadian scene that much. I do know a little bit more about women directors over there like the Soska twins and Karen Lam, who is in Vancouver. I haven’t even been to a Canadian horror fest yet either.

Moving to Australia and staying on there has been weird as a cultural worker but at the same time I landed in Adelaide which is a city that has had some very dark and weird things happen with murders and things like that. Justin Kurzel, who just did Macbeth, is actually from Adelaide and he did a feature film called Snowtown and that was one of the many stories from Adelaide. There was also a paedophile ring in the ‘80s where a lot of young boys were abducted and killed so that’s why, when you start off in Inner Demon, there’s a reference to the abductions. My film also references the Truro murders which was these two guys. One was straight and one was gay and the gay guy was madly in love with the straight guy and the straight guy was abducting all these girls and killing them and buried them in a small country town called Truro so Snowtown is where all the bodies and the barrels were but everything actually happened in the north of Adelaide.

Also Salman Rushdie came to the Adelaide Writers’ Festival and in the mid ‘80s and he basically made a statement that was along the lines of “Adelaide is the perfect setting for a horror film. It’s a conservative town,” and it is ultra conservative, which is why I struggle there but it feeds into my work. It’s this conservative town but it’s a place where these bizarre murders have taken place. If you’re a horror filmmaker in Adelaide we coin it ‘The City of Corpses.’

The one person that makes me feel not that strange is a guy called Ted Kotcheff. He filmed a movie in the early ‘70s that’s considered a classic called Wake in Fright. He was actually a Canadian who was working for the BBC and doing documentaries and he came out to Australia to make this film which was lost for about 20 years but they found it and restored it and it played at Cannes about 3 or 4 years ago and it’s a really creepy film. But he was also somebody who came to that country and was able to see things from the outside so I kind of think of him when I think, “What am I doing here?”

1511206_882204105165559_184865571639856965_nSCREAM: So first you shot Family Demon, now you’ve got Inner Demon and I understand this is the second part of a trilogy. Was that always your intention?

UD: Well Jeez, I don’t even remember! I think when we started doing Inner Demon I was thinking to myself of coming of age stories and I was brainstorming and I’d come up with the child abuse idea for the first one and then I just started thinking along the same lines. I thought that the demon has always been a metaphor not for real demons but kind of the demons inside yourself. So when I was work-shopping Inner Demon I just basically thought, “Oh my God, I have another teenage girl and I have a lot of similar themes and I’m looking at family and loss of innocence and transformation of that main character, who is innocent and naive, into something else.” I have a draft for the third one but I’m still working on it. I don’t mean to sound arrogant but I really would like to work with a decent budget and have a little more time to get the coverage I need and I’d like to work with people who have had a little more experience in the industry. I think I’ve paid my dues so I think I’d like to approach Screen Australia with the next one, or do a co-pro, because I am Canadian, and see if I can get something going there.

1669743_809184585800845_6369081075961086973_oSCREAM: So is Inner Demon heavily based on events that took place in Australia or does it come from more of a personal space?

UD: Yeah it’s coming more from a personal space. These are personal experiences that I just take and raise the stakes and make them more extreme. With Inner Demon it was very much the story about sisters. With me leaving my sisters behind I thought about the responsibility of the elder sister to look after her siblings and that was the thing motivating Sam’s character. That was the heart of it and then everything around it is just horror tropes and trying to not make a predictable thing.

My whole intention with this film was to show the audience how someone can transform into a revengeful spirit. Usually you get a little bit of whatever has made something haunted so I just wanted to show this young girl go from being ordinary and innocent, get put onto an awful situation, and just this anger and frustration building and the shit hitting the fan. That was my intention but, because of the budget limitations, I was really surprised by the execution. I think I needed more time and more coverage for audiences to get it. I think they’ve really struggled with it. Certainly most of the FrightFest reviewers were pissed off. I think that the thing with FrightFest was partly the fact that we didn’t go. By not getting the funding we just couldn’t go and because of that I think it really sucked. It affected the outcome of people’s understanding of what I was trying to do.

Sarah Jeavons: It’s always going to be frustrating. With that budget we had it’s incredible what we’ve produced. If you go from Family Demons to Inner Demon it’s tenfold. If a reviewer is going to look at it they should look at it from the whole story where you’ve come from.

UD: And look at Sarah! She was 15 when I met her. My God! This is how long it’s taken, as she’s just turned 20. It took so long because I had to work around people in post. Sarah had done nothing. NADA. No short films and no theatre. She just walked up and said I’d like to take some acting lessons.

SJ: Yeah, it just sort of happened after I finished the school that they do with SA Casting at Ann Peters and I met Ursula. I just sent off a couple of scenes that Ursula wanted me to do and then she came and met and we talked and we did a test shoot. Then we shot it and it was just a whirlwind. Four weeks with every emotion you could possibly put into a first film. I had bad dreams for like three weeks after working on it because you just get in the zone and I got mentally fatigued.

UD: I don’t know how she did it. I was blown away pretty much every day.

10688210_809184979134139_6772902125949455401_oSCREAM: You were only 15 or 16 when you read the script so what was it that grabbed your attention at such a tender young age?

SJ: Well I’m a bit strange like that in that I like things that are a little bit different or challenging emotionally. I was really excited about it even though when I first read it there were a few scenes which were taken out that were even heavier. But I loved it. I loved the survival aspect of it. I knew it would be a challenge I would enjoy.

UD: I was never as confident as Sarah was as a teenager. I was more introverted and a bookworm and a kind of geek so it’s taken me a while to get to the point where I’m like, “Just bring it! Bring it!” I wasn’t like that when I decided to do horror. You’ve gotta be kidding. I didn’t want to tell my mother. She has come round though. I’ve been working with the same music composer and I come from a very musical background. Michael Taylor is the guy that’s being doing the music for me and my mum really likes his stuff so that’s good and that brought her round.

SCREAM: There are some pretty gruesome scenes in the film, particularly one where Sarah has to stitch herself up. Can you walk us through working with the blood and prosthetics?

SJ: It was a little nerve-wracking having that gash there because it wasn’t very thick so I was thinking, “Oh shit, I don’t want to go too deep with the needle.”

UD: We had Beverley Freeman and she doesn’t usually do that kind of stuff.

SJ: That scene you mention was really good. We had a pump attached with the blood coming out while I was stitching and it was tough and it felt like I was actually stitching myself up. Some of the effects were really brutal even though you knew they weren’t real.

10329214_764615913591046_259814850219483256_nSCREAM: What about the CGI effects as those must have been tough to pull off on such a modest budget?

UD: What ended up happening there was that I had somebody I had never worked with before and it was my first time doing CGI on set. It took an enormous amount of time and I don’t think this person had enough experience so we were on set and finding out things that were not working. That’s why I personally think that part of the film is the weaker part. Also, four years ago I hadn’t learned about green screen and harnessing people up. At the time I looked at the remake of Evil Dead and all the gear they had on set. I watched the behind the scenes for that and was astonished. So I am only as good as the people around me so if I’m dealing with people who don’t know then I’m not going to know either. For me it was all the mechanics and the execution of it that I knew right away it wasn’t happening. Then in the end you’re in the edit suite and you’re going, “That’s what I’ve got. That’s all I’ve got to work with.” But, with what we’ve got and what makes the film just get over the line is the actual performance and the emotion. At the end it ends up with something quite unique. It’s a very emotional ending and I’m very proud of it because people are still engaged in terms of what this person is going through.

SCREAM: Without exploring spoiler territory, it must have been a tough little role for Scarlett Hocking, who plays the younger sister, Maddy.

SJ: She loved it! She loved it! I’m not sure if she’s been allowed to see the film yet.

UD: I don’t think she knew what was going on really.

SJ: No, I don’t think she understood the context of it but she did really well.

SCREAM: So you’ve said that this is part of a trilogy but what else do you hope to get to grips with in the near future?

UD: I’ve got this demon trilogy now and I’ve got a monster trilogy after this. I also love stunts and I love action a lot and I really want to start nailing that as a director and I really want to be known as someone that does action and stunts. I just love that stuff but again, I’m more interested in the monster that’s in us, the serial killer.

The supernatural is just a metaphor and I like that as well as that is the one horror that I can’t watch on my own. If I know that there’s going to be a film that’s going to be really creepy about the supernatural I can’t watch it because I actually had an experience happen to me when I was working in a haunted jail in Adelaide. I’ve actually written a script about it but I’m not sure about doing anything with it. I’ve had arguments with people that don’t believe in that stuff and I’ve never been one to believe in it but then when something happens you kind of go, “Hang on a minute. There are all these paranormal investigators all over the world. There is all kinds of stuff going on in our culture that we haven’t been able to scientifically prove.” It’s not like they’re are actually going to do anything to you but it’s that other side. It’s the afterlife, the great unknown and it just scares the bejeezus out of me. So that one thing has made me hyper interested in it and yet I’m repelled by it as well so we’ll see.

We’d like to thank both Ursula and Sarah for sitting down with us at Sitges and we’ll leave you with the trailer and an exclusive behind the scenes look video to whet your appetite:

Inner Demon comes out this Thursday November 19, 2015 and can be pre-ordered and downloaded from www.deadhousefilms.com

Words: Howard Gorman (@HowardGorman)

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