The Dark - Press Archive - Western Mail

 

Baah! Nightmare Wales set for the movies
Apr 8 2006
David James, Western Mail
 
You can forget Hitchcock's The Birds - it's flocks of beady-eyed sheep that will give you nightmares in cinema's latest horror outing. Rob Driscoll uncovers the spooky evidence for a Wales-set chiller whose cast and crew never once set foot in the country
 
SPOOKY sheep, windswept Welsh moors and creepy Celtic myths are the chilling ingredients of a major new supernatural horror film released in cinemas this weekend.
 
The Dark features Hollywood stars Sean Bean and Maria Bello as an estranged couple trying to patch their lives back together in an old cliff-top farmhouse in Wales.
 
And that's the place where their young daughter is swept out to sea, and the ghosts of a terrifying local pagan cult come to haunt them.
 
Perhaps most disturbingly of all, however, is that not one single frame of The Dark was shot in Wales at all.
 
Instead, location filming took place on the Isle of Man, followed by interiors at London's Ealing Studios.
 
Further location work was completed in Devon.
 
'We shot on the Isle of Man because it looks so like Wales,' explains the film's producer, Jeremy Bolt. 'It's just as creepy and their tax breaks made it much more affordable.'
 
Based on the novel Sheep by Simon Maginn, The Dark is, nevertheless, most undeniably set in Wales, with much of its eerie back-story focusing on the classic myth of Annwyn, named after the Celtic legend of 'a realm where all things are possible and not bound by the constraints of time or space'.
 
The film also offers a crucial supporting role to Welsh schoolgirl Abigail Stone, who makes her professional acting debut as the ghostly, scarred little runaway named Ebrill, whom the central couple find after their own daughter dies when being swept out to sea.
 
Producer Bolt was first sent the script, loosely based on the 1994 novel Sheep, three years ago.
 
'The story was located in remote Wales and I was rather taken with it, because I felt we hadn't seen supernatural horror in a rural setting for quite some time,' says Bolt.
 
'I'm a huge fan of The Wicker Man and Straw Dogs and, like those thriller classics, Paul Tamasy's screenplay tapped into an atmospheric fish-out-water element with great characters.
 
'The script also included an interesting look at the old religious beliefs for some unique plot twists.'
 
In The Dark, the cliff-top farmhouse into which the central family move was once owned by shepherd Rowan, head of the flock of worshippers who believed in the legend of Annywn (pronounced Anoon). Annwyn was the pagan version of heaven or hell, depending on whether you think you are a good or bad person.
 
'In our story, Rowan forced a mass suicide in the 1950s to bring his daughter Ebrill back from the dead,' explains Bolt. 'Unfortunately she returns with a dark gift he tries to remove by trepanning (a medical process of drilling or cutting a hole into the skull to relieve pressure on the brain).
 
'There were such cults in Wales that existed but they never went as far as the fatal events commemorated by the Stumblehead Monument prop we prominently feature in The Dark.'
 
Aside from these highly-affecting supernatural elements, The Dark features numerous, chilling scenes with sheep. 'When I started telling people I was directing a movie featuring spooky sheep, everyone would start laughing,' says director John Fawcett.
 
'But frankly, I'm going to have the last laugh, because when you see the movie you are never going to think about sheep in the same way ever again.
 
'They are really scary creatures and literally our only extras in the five-character ensemble.
'Rowan, the Shepherd, uses the same abattoir he trepans his flock as the church for his cult acolytes. So the topic is raised in many sly ways.
 
'We added a scene where Ebrill sees her father's face turn sheep-like because of our confidence in the creatures' nightmarish qualities.
 
'It's their eyes, all black, beady and demonic-looking. And when they get mangy and dirty and group around you... ugh!'
 
For the film's German-born cinematographer Christian Sebalt, his biggest challenge was without question filming the sheep.
 
'I only had to look at them and they gave me chills,' recalls Sebalt. 'Especially when they had to be bloodied up by the make-up department to look super-mangy.
 
'It was so difficult to get our flock of 200 to do anything at first. We had dogs, poles, fences, wires and people hidden everywhere to direct the sheep to where we needed them.
 
'They were skittish and most unreliable to begin with, not even wanting to get close to us or near the equipment.
 
'But by the time we had left, they had turned into Hollywood sheep, not afraid to mingle with the crew.
 
'Any more time with them and they would have worn sunglasses and wanted trailers!
 
'We all took huge sighs of relief when they did eventually get used to us.'
 
Welsh schoolgirl Abigail Stone is too young to see the chilling, 15-certificate supernatural thriller The Dark.
 
Yet she provides some of the spookiest moments of the movie herself, playing the strange, scarred little girl named Ebrill, who may be a runaway, or who may be a ghost.
 
Two years ago Abigail was plucked from her school, Cynffig Comprehensive in Bridgend, and chosen to play the crucial character, at the tender age of 11.
 
'They came to my school wanting someone with a certain look,' says Abigail, who's now 13.
 
'Seven of us auditioned, six of us went on to the next stage and so on, until they chose me.
'I'd only acted in school plays before, nothing major, so it's wicked to be in such a big movie with famous movie stars.'
 
Nevertheless, some of Abigail's scenes as the eerie, other-wordly Ebrill must have been quite disturbing to film.
 
At several points in the film, her head is in bandages, her face covered in blood, stitches and scars.
 
Abigail's biggest challenge turns out to have been mastering the handful of Welsh phrases her character utters. 'That was the most difficult, but I had a voice coach who spoke fluent Welsh, and Richard Elwyn, who plays my father, is Welsh too, and he gave me a lot of help.'
She has since watched The Dark twice - once at the Edinburgh Film Festival, and again at last autumn's Films Festival in Cardiff.
 
'It made me jump - it was scary,' confesses Abigail, who's officially too young to watch the 15-certificate horror. 'But at lot of the time I knew what was coming, so I wasn't too bothered. The weirdest thing is watching myself on the big screen, and the way I sound.'
John Fawcett, The Dark's director, says he chose Abigail to play Ebrill because of her 'awkward Welshness.'
 
He said, 'I wanted someone Welsh for maximum authenticity, so we held auditions in schools all over Wales to look for exactly the right girl.
 
'I wanted someone awkward whom the audience would believe had been reborn from another world.
 
'Abigail was totally fresh with a strange ethereal look you didn't feel was acting. She was a risky choice in many ways, to go with someone so amateur, but it has worked out uncannily well.'
 
Since her taste of movie stardom, Abigail admits she wouldn't mind trying a bit more film acting; indeed, she's already been to one or two auditions.
 
And the question most asked about Abigail's thrilling film debut by her intrigued fellow pupils at school is, How much money did you make?
 
'I don't know the answer to that - my Mum won't let me know yet!'

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