In this series I will aim to discuss some of our key influences in greater depth and explain just what it is about these movies that have served as an inspiration on ONUS. Be that style, substance or just a general feeling, there’s something in these movies that has, in one way or another, served as a key inspiration on the film.
THE WICKER MAN (1973) Dir. Robin Hardy
This one should go without saying really; if you’re going to make a “Folk Horror” you can’t really claim to have not been inspired in some way by The Wicker Man. Possibly the most iconic British Horror not based on the works of Bram Stoker, The Wicker Man is every bit as unsettling and strange as it was way back in 1973.
Released as the B-Movie to Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, The Wicker Man was not received as the classic it is today, but rather as a movie unsure of what it wants to be. It isn’t hard to see why; the film jumps from upbeat musical numbers complete with dancing children and sunny summer skies to strangely seductive and sinister moments involving Britt Eckland and a body double dancing naked against a wall.
And those aren’t the only tonally “inconsistencies” in the film. We get poignant character moments like Howie making a cross to place inside an old abandoned church juxtaposed with unsettlingly confusing and strange sequences like the moment he discovers a hare inside the coffin and supposedly missing child Rowan Morrison.
But the discomfort and frighteningly weird (or should that be wyrd?) nature of The Wicker Man is born out of these strange and confusing tonal shifts. The film somehow manages to balance it all together, creating a whole so bleakly fascinating that it becomes impossible not to look away.
Of course, surface elements of The Wicker Man have played a large part in my own “Folk Horror”. It would be silly to say they hadn’t, given that The Wicker Man is the film that likely spawned the look and feel that people conjure up when they consider folk horror as a sub-genre.
We have the typical staples one might expect. British country landscapes, a stranger wandering into a world he or she doesn’t understand, the new ways being overcome by the old. It’s all present in ONUS, but that isn’t necessarily what I deliberately wanted to capture from this film.
The Wicker Man is a film that feels hopeless. For all its jaunty imagery, pub patrons singing upbeat folk songs, children dancing around the maypole and so on, there’s a definite sense of total hopelessness lingering throughout.
The knowledge that Howie will not escape this place, and that everyone is an enemy. The fact that there are no real supernatural elements at play, only people with a belief in what they’re doing. It’s a frightening and altogether dark feeling that permeates through The Wicker Man, and that’s what I wanted to capture, above all else, in my own movie.
Sergeant Howie is lead on a long and pointless journey through Summerisle, toyed with by the locals for reasons unrevealed until the closing moments. He’s a mouse in a trap. That’s how I wanted Anna, our protagonist, to feel when writing ONUS.
And then, of course, there’s the ending.
The Wicker Man is infamous for its bleak ending. It’s a final blow to the audience. The bad guys win, the good guys loose and there is no Calvary waiting just around the corner. ONUS, I hope, has a similar hopelessness to its conclusion, albeit one slightly different. But, when the credits roll on The Wicker Man you can’t help but feel lost, doomed even, and hopefully ONUS will have the same effect.