When the film industry fell victim to Covid-19, it wasn’t long before filmmakers started adapting and honing their skills to turn the tables on the pandemic as best they could. One such example is Jon Wright (Grabbers, “Brassic”), who recently wrapped production on his latest endeavour, Unwelcome, “an hour and forty minutes of pure escapism” that was shot in its entirety during lockdown.
Penned by Wright and Mark Stay as an antidote to the formula of big studio films, Unwelcome stars Hannah John-Kamen and Douglas Booth as a couple who escape their urban nightmare to the tranquillity of rural Ireland only to discover malevolent, murderous goblins lurking in the gnarled, ancient wood at the foot of their new garden. Additional cast include Golden Globe nominee Colm Meaney, Jamie-Lee O’Donnell, Chris Walley and Kristian Nairn.
To celebrate today’s release of the first official trailer for the film, SCREAM caught up with Wright who revealed how his pacifism was the genesis for the film, filming during lockdown and updating creature feature and home invasion tropes from a more contemporary, psychological angle.
SCREAM: The seed for the film was planted during a friendly conversation with your co-writer, Mark [Stay] when you recalled having revealed to your father, much to his chagrin, that you were a pacifist.
Jon Wright: That’s absolutely right. We were having a conversation about violence, and essentially saying that we were both terrible cowards; we loved violence on screen, but we hated it in real life. Mark told me how he used to get uncontrollable shakes when people confronted him. But then, as the conversation went on, we realised that if someone were to put our children in threat for example, we would be violent, and we could probably be violent in a very different way; in a dishonourable way in that we would do whatever we had to. We’d grab whatever tools are to hand and be very violent. That was weird paradox. On the one hand, we quite famously say we’re pacifists, yet we would be able to commit extreme violence under certain circumstances. We found that to be a really interesting idea and it evolved into this story about a very liberal, progressive couple who move to the middle of nowhere and discover some very dark, violent goblins.
The trailer looks terrifying and violent yet it doesn’t come across as having as much comic relief as your previous films? You have said that it’s funny too but I’m guessing it’s much more restrained that say Grabbers or “Brassic”?
It’s got its funny moments as quite funny situations occur. I don’t really like po-faced movies because I don’t think life is like that. This film definitely has moments of light relief but I guess it depends on your personality. I think there’s a lot of humour in the way the goblins are. But, as we all know, it’s so easy for you to be sat in the cinema and laughing at something whilst the people say next to you are absolutely horrified.
I’ve read that as release dates get closer for you, you become more anxious as you see your films as being a big part of you and your personality and sharing it is quite nerve-racking, at least at first.
Yes, exactly. Essentially, here, it’s just the general perspective when you put a lot of yourself into film. I got to make this film in a very free way. Warner Brothers and all the other producers were extremely supportive in the way we wanted to go with the twists and turns. Things start with a bang with a very violent, scary incident. And then it’s kind of a slow burn before it ramps up again. It’s a ski jump plot and it ramps up into a crazy, intense, harrowing and violent madness towards the end before really taking off at the end when we take things to an even crazier place.
In terms of direction, what I really did was to imagine myself in the cinema, as a film fan, watching the film, and what I wanted to see; how I wanted this to look and how I wanted it to end. I just really committed myself to that as strongly as I could. And I think that’s something I’ve learned from the different things I’ve directed – whether it’s “Brassic”, or Grabbers or whatever it might be – is to really commit as strongly as you can to your chosen point of view. And I do expect that it will divide audiences but I guess that’s sort of what you hope for, in a way.
You filmed Unwelcome during lockdown, but you really went out of your way to make sure that it was impossible to tell when it was made.
We obviously had a set of protocols and rules and regulations but, in terms of the movie, I just didn’t really want any mention of pandemics or viruses or masks or anything like that after everything people have been through. This is a film for a Friday or a Saturday night. It’s a roller coaster ride; a popcorn film; a thrill ride. It goes into dark territory, but it never touches on anything bleak or depressing. It always stays this side of the line where it’s funny and entertaining, even in its most intense, harrowing and dark moments.
You pitched the film as Gremlins by way of Straw Dogs. Grabbers was a fantastic creature feature and we can’t wait to see what kind of creatures you’ve come up with this time. How much of the creature design is actually on the page when you’re in the writing stages?
We’ve got some fantastic concept artists and a genius effects supervisor. Obviously, there’s some words on the page that describe the way something looks but then a picture’s worth a thousand words. We got into paintings and model making and developing the look of these goblins and it had to be the antithesis of leprechauns and garden gnomes. They’re kind of part of the woods so we wanted to sort of reflect that in the look as well. There’s a whole bunch of them, as you’ll see, and they all have very distinct personalities.
The way we went about creating the goblins was quite unusual. I don’t really want to talk too much about that now, and I may never talk about it actually. The reason why I might never talk about it is because a few filmmaker friends of mine have seen the finished film and they thought they knew how the goblins were created but they got it wrong. They are quite experienced filmmakers and know how visual effects work and they just couldn’t understand really how it was done. So I’m really pleased with the look and feel we created and I think we’ve gotten away from the thing that I was struggling with in some films. CG creatures can look really great but then sometimes, when they move, run, jump or interact with things, they don’t look quite right. I think we’ve gotten away from that but at the same time, the film is a creative vision and it’s not really as much about monsters as you might think. It’s really about home invasion. It’s about what happens when you don’t feel safe in your own home when you close the door.
Thank you so much, Jon. We can’t wait to see the film.
My pleasure, Howard. Thanks very much for the support.
Unwelcome will release in cinemas in 2022 and for now, we’ll leave you with the aforementioned first official trailer via Warner Bros…
Words: Howard Gorman