FilmInk arrives onto the set of Aussie supernatural thriller Out of the Shadows with a little trepidation. The drive was a long and winding one, up a somewhat remote rural hideaway (in Duranabah, within the Tweed Shire of New South Wales) with staggering hinterland views to behold. Turning off a dirt track and parking adjacent to a vast open field, it was all too easy to feel alone and isolated… until the glimpse of production trailers parked a little further up offered reassurance that we hadn’t literally been led astray off the beaten track.
This is the third week of a tightly efficient six-week shoot on the independent production, directed by filmmaker Dee McLachlan (The Jammed). Actor and first-time producer Blake Northfield, (along with producing partner Jim Robison), first shopped the spooky supernatural-hinged story around Cannes last year, when the buzz was all about Mad Max: Fury Road and more relevantly, The Babadook.
“Every other country’s distributor was saying ‘ Do you guys know the people from The Babadook? Have you seen The Babadook? Is your film like The Babadook?’ That’s what the questions were,” reveals Northfield, the former Home and Away bad boy who also takes the male lead in Out of the Shadows. “With The Babadook they had a bigger opening weekend in Thailand than their entire release in Australia. So what we have learned from The Babadook is to start getting behind genre films.”
Out of the Shadows revolves around young, hard-up couple Eric (Northfield) and Katrina Hughes (Kendal Rae, The Shannara Chronicles). After obtaining the rights to be caretakers on an old council-owned midwifery, their luck appears to have changed. However, when Katrina begins to experience strange daily supernatural occurrences at their new home it puts considerable strain on the couple’s relationship.
“For a lot of the movie Kat is being haunted and you don’t know if it’s happening in her mind or if it’s actually happening – so it’s quite psychological,” Rae tells FilmInk during a break from filming. “She’s eight-months pregnant and going through some financial strife with her detective husband and they’re worried how they’re going to bring a child into the world with such limited finances. This beautiful old midwifery comes up, we move in as caretakers and basically it all starts going downhill from there.”
After being turned away by the church, the couple ultimately enlists the services of renegade demonologist Linda Dee, (Lisa Chappell, McLeod’s Daughters) who attempts to assist them with their predicament.
“We did a little exorcism here and there’s been some creepy stuff in every room,” Chappell reveals to a now slightly unnerved FilmInk as we sit quietly inside the rustic, seemingly picture-perfect house setting. “She’s a real complex, damaged character who is this walking dichotomy. She’s a tornado chaser and an adrenaline junky as well,” the actress continues. “She had this religious experience, became a warrior of the light and made it her mission to help people deal with the dark side of light but not under the umbrella of the church. She basically does what they won’t do because they have protocols. But because she can see the spirits she knows if someone is far dinkum or not.”
FilmInk later witnesses the shooting of a chillingly effective scene involving a character [unnamed to prevent spoilers] seemingly spooked by the presence of ‘shadow people’ who are seen lurking outside the home through windows before all matter of mayhem ensues. The scene wouldn’t look out of place in a James Wan horror flick and indeed genre production company Blumhouse (responsible for such genuinely unnerving shockers as Insidious and The Conjuring) is a strategic reference point, as Northfield elaborates.
“What we are essentially doing is basing our model on a smaller version of Blumhouse, with their $5 million cap and how they do everything from their cast and post production internally,” he reveals.
“I have great respect for the genre from my early days as a child watching The Exorcist and Poltergeist and all those classics and seeing where people are taking the genre now with The Babadook, The Conjuring and Annabelle,” says co-producer Tim Maddocks (Terminus) who saw great potential in the story. “It keeps you on the edge of your seat and that’s what you’ve got to do: keep the audience interested and give them characters they can relate to in a situation they wouldn’t want to be in themselves so they can get that fright going but know they’re going to be safe sitting in the cinema.”
With the 2007 AFI-nominated hard-hitting social drama The Jammed and comedy 10Terrorists (which also featured Kendal Rae) behind her, Dee McLachlan isn’t exactly an obvious choice to direct such a supernaturally charged chiller.
“I love trying different things. I think the process of filmmaking is understanding how the medium manipulates the audience in different ways with a different genre. I have always been intrigued by this particular genre, as it is often more when you show less,” the filmmaker enthuses. “I think this story appealed to me as it has a strong female lead that is challenged and tested about her sanity: is she really witnessing these strange events in the house they have moved into?”
That appears to be the underlying key question in Out of the Shadows, a darkly brooding psychological thriller that knows its demographic all too well and, judging by the eerie proceedings we have witnessed, will offer a gratifyingly bumpy ride for thrill-seeking audiences.
Out of the Shadows screens on Saturday 29 April, 8.30pm at The Arts Centre Gold Coast as part of the Gold Coast Film Festival. It’s in contention for the inaugural FilmInk Best Australian Indie Film Award.