Thank you so much Ciarán for taking off the time to speak with me today. Big fan of Citadel, there are a lot of hidden layers and meanings to it that make it more than your average horror. Can we expect multiple layers in Sinister 2 also?
Yes. Scott Derrickson, who directed the first Sinister and co-wrote it with Robert Cargill, was a big fan of Citadel and that’s how I got the gig. He’s a smart writer and for him, horror is always about something else. The first Sinister was all about ambition. If you can marry the thematic with credible performances and then have the horror not quite secondary but kind of bubbling under the surface, then you’ll end up with something twice as powerful as something that is basically a roller coaster ride.
Sinister 2 includes themes and issues like jealousy, sibling rivalry and bullying. The two boys at the centre of this movie are twins played by ten year old brothers [Robert Daniel Sloan and Dartanian Sloan] and they really form the heart and soul of the movie. I think what worked with Citadel, and this can really apply to all genres, was finding a personal way in. I identified a lot with the main character in Sinister 2 and what he was going through with the bullying and other traumas he was experiencing. So I think that if you make a film personal then that will ring true to an audience.
Did you find there was a big change going from a project like Citadel compared to Sinister 2, which would be considered a bigger feat?
Not really. The budget on this film was $5m while the first was $3.5m. We had 30 days to shoot with that budget compared to 23 days on Citadel. So it was still an incredible challenge, particularly when you’re working with a cast of predominantly kids – five ghost children and two protagonists. The schedule with kids is different than with adults as you can only work with them for half a day at a time. So the scheduling was incredibly tough. You’re shooting 3-4 pages a day and you still have to make it visually interesting. You can’t afford to shoot it from five or six different angles, you need to commit and be confident that what you’re shooting is going to work. In a way you have to cut the movie in your head before you shoot it, and that can be hard especially given things can change organically on the day, if the storyboard doesn’t match the location and you have to change it for example.
It ended up being equally as challenging as Citadel and I really felt that film was the perfect training ground for a project like this. I think if I had come off a bigger movie, or commercials where you have the luxury of shooting a scene a few different ways, then shooting Sinister 2 would have been almost impossible.
It’s interesting that you mention the production process as I would imagine that directing horror would be quite intense. Would your process as a director be more inclined towards maintaining that intensity between takes or keeping things light?
For me, the funniest thing about making a horror is how light things seem on set, there’s a lot of laughing had by both cast and crew. I think that it is almost a requirement because in between the shots, it gets a bit intense to take.
We had kids on set and they would giggle at the fake blood on the ground or at the guy in the demon costume, knowing that it’s their friend underneath all the effects make-up. I think especially with kids, you have to keep things light and then make sure that when you’re rolling, their emotion rings true. Sometimes just before we go for a take, I’ll play a little bit of music, a piece of soundtrack from a creepy movie or whatever I feel is appropriate to get into the mood of that scene, but it’s important to ease off on that between takes, otherwise it would be unbearable. There’s enough dread in the real world of filmmaking without having to create more!
What do you think of the current state of the Irish horror film industry? Particularly with Citadel having travelled widely via the festival circuit, but also through working on Sinister 2, you’d have a good idea of what is going on globally in the genre. How does Irish horror fit into the international field?
I think we’re doing remarkably well. The thing that stood out to me in the years that I travelled with Citadel, is that you’d flick through these festival programmes in different countries whether it was South Korea or somewhere in Europe or in the US, there would be one or two Irish horrors where there would be none from the UK or France. I think that’s due to a combination of the Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland (FÉ/SI) is the national development agency for Irish filmmaking and the Irish film, television and animation industry. becoming friendly to genre, taking more chances on projects like Let Us Prey and The Hallow, and then we also have such a rich sense of folklore to draw on. We invented Halloween; there are a plethora of ghost stories; it’s the birthplace of Bram Stoker who wrote Dracula; so we’re uniquely positioned to make more of those kinds of things. I think as long as the financiers stay open to the genre, things will just keep getting better. It’s really quite heartening to see Irish horrors on the international circuit as well as on demand through Netflix and Amazon.
With Sinister 2 being only your second feature film, in terms of future projects, do you think you’ll remain in horror or diverge into other genres or work elsewhere?
I think I’ll definitely stay within genre because those are my favourite kinds of movies. I was raised on a diet of Spielberg and Cameron, they’re the kinds of movies that inspired me when I was younger and they’re the kind of movies that I want to continue to make. I’d love to find a science fiction film to do and I’m writing one at the moment, but I’m going to see what offers come on the table after Sinister 2 and then make a decision from there. I’m also writing another horror which will be set in Ireland so that might bring me back home at some stage. But I think certainly sci fi and horror are the kinds of movies I want to do. I am interested in all forms of genre, but you’ll never find me making a romantic comedy or something that’s straight forward and ordinary! I always want a sense of the extraordinary in whatever I do. I love seeing things and places that are impossible to see in the real world be realised on screen, that’s what keeps me ticking.
I think sequels, and particularly horror sequels, can be done very wrong or very right. How has Sinister 2 worked through this to get it right?
Scott Derrickson and Robert Cargill, who wrote both Sinister films, are huge horror fans and work almost exclusively in horror. They know the pitfalls of what makes a bad sequel and the fact is this wasn’t being written by two writers who were hired for some gig and just scribbled something down to make a quick cash sequel. They are real fans of the genre and are committed to and invested in the Sinister story. The script always comes first and once that works, then you as the director can add things to that script and make sure you have a crew and the best craftspeople who can bring it to life in a respectful manner. There can be snobbery towards horror but I think that when it’s treated with a level of intelligence and respect, you get classics and you get the horrors that we remember. You need to get the right crew and a cast who can bring credible performances, treating the script almost like a drama so that it feels real and emotionally potent, not just a wink to the audience kind of thing. Making a good sequel is about having the right people on board who have a deep love and respect for the genre. When it’s money-driven, about a quick grab sequel where no thought has been given to the director or writer and the movie is just a product, that’s when you get weightless, surface level, crappy sequels.
I think in the case of Sinister 2, the mythology not only expands on the previous film, it also takes the story to new places. It’s a movie I’m very proud of. It is what it is, a popcorn horror that everyone can enjoy but there’s also, like you elated to at the start, a lot of stuff going on beneath the surface and different layers. I hope that people will connect with that.
Sinister 2 is out in cinemas now.