March 15, 2017 Interview – Erlingur Thoroddsen
Originally hailing from Reykjavik, Iceland and graduated from Columbia’s MFA Film Directing program, Erlingur Óttar Thoroddsen is an aspiring young filmmaker. Based on his short film, premiered as the Closing Night film of the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival in 2016, Child Eater is one of the first works from Thoroddsen, and it certainly shows the skills of a promising writer/director. With a unique mix of Body Horror and character-based storytelling, Child Eater is bound to make it on many Horror fans’ must watch list for 2017. Recently we caught up with Thoroddsen, who had some interesting things to say about the film’s composition and production, plus much more.
CrypticRock.com – You are a relatively fresh director. Do you have anything in particular you would like to achieve in filmmaking?
Erlingur Thoroddsen – Very true! I’m definitely a newbie when it comes to feature films, but I’ve been doing shorts for quite a few years now. I think the dream for me would simply be to keep working, make films people see and like, hopefully make a living from it, and maybe eventually move upwards in terms of scales and budgets.
CrypticRock.com – Makes a lot of sense. Tell us, what do you think the strengths of working within the Horror genre are?
Erlingur Thoroddsen – For me, the Horror genre has always been interesting because it allows you to do certain things both thematically and visually that you can’t really do in any other genre. A lot of times, Horror is able to talk about or comment on things underneath the surface, and do it in a way that feels fresh and exciting and gives the audience something to digest — if they want to digest it. I love how layered it can be. On the visual side of things, Horror allows filmmakers to try out so many things that would perhaps feel out of place in any other genre. That makes it a constantly exciting genre to work within, for sure.
CrypticRock.com – That is true. That having been said, is Horror something you are intending to come back to, or are you more interested in switching it up a little?
Erlingur Thoroddsen – Horror is definitely my go-to genre both as an audience member as well as a filmmaker. I would love to try my hand at different types of films in the future (I’m pretty much an omnivore when it comes to watching movies), but right now most of the stuff I write or am drawn to seems to be dark, gloomy, and bloody. I made a second feature in Iceland last year (called RIFT, we just started our festival circuit), which is maybe more a “Psychological Thriller” than straight up Horror, even though it definitely has plenty of scary moments. I like the idea of merging genres, keeping things unexpected and fresh if possible.
CrypticRock.com – It is a nice way to keep things interesting, that is for sure. Are there any films you can directly point to as a cinematic influence for Child Eater?
Erlingur Thoroddsen – There were several films that directly or indirectly influenced Child Eater. The two main ones were Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978). We really wanted to try to capture that very specific, almost dreamlike, mood and atmosphere of those films.
The idea was to make a movie that had one foot in reality, and the other in a more surreal world. There were a lot of other films that I discussed with my director of photography (John Wakayama Carey), like The Night of the Hunter (1955), Neil Jordan’s In Dreams (1999), and certain stylistic traits by directors like Dario Argento or Brian De Palma. The other big visual inspirations came from painters like Francis Bacon and Zdzislaw Beksinski.
CrypticRock.com – Speaking of big visual inspiration – the spinning nightlight acts as something of a visual coda throughout the film. What is it about that particular image that you thought was worth repeatedly coming back to?
Erlingur Thoroddsen – The nightlight is actually a visual element that carried over from the short film version of Child Eater, that we did a few years ago. To me it represents both innocence, in that it is a child’s lamp that is supposed to be a calming and familiar thing. But there is also something sinister about it — it never stops spinning, it casts weird shadows, it doesn’t really provide much light, so there’s false security connected to it. Our production designer carved little birds into the light, and birds and feathers are a recurring theme in the film that speak to the more Fairy-Tale-like aspects of the story. So the nightlight definitely brought with it several connotations to conflicting elements, which is why we return to it so often.
CrypticRock.com – Right. It is clear from that answer that this is a very visually oriented film – so what came first? Were elements of the story derived from particularly strong visual you wanted to get on screen, or were the visuals arrived at naturally as a response to story elements that already existed? Or was it a combination?
Erlingur Thoroddsen – It was definitely a combination, but it started with the visuals. Before I even had a story or a script, the two images that kept coming back to me were white feathers floating around in the woods, and Robert Bowery’s pale face emerging from the dark.
So the story more or less sprung from those visual elements and they set the ground for what was going to follow. The feathers had a surreal, Fairy-Tale quality to it, and allowed us to create a world where a “witch in the woods” type character lives, for example. And the pale face emerging from the shadows is a more nightmarish, horrific image, so out of that was born a lot of the silhouette imagery, and the hide-and-seek sequences within the large concrete building at the end.
CrypticRock.com – You mention nightmarish imagery, well let’s zero right in on that. Child Eater is a strong film because it particularly focuses in on Body Horror of the eyeball. Rather than take a scattershot approach, it really felt like you were wringing out all the permutations of what horrific things could happen to specifically your eyeballs – how much do you think the audience can read into that, in relation to the film’s themes?
Erlingur Thoroddsen – There is definitely a lot going on with the idea of a Horror film villain attacking people’s eyes. You could say that on some basic level, that’s exactly the function of a horror film personified. We’re obviously not the first movie to say or do this (Dario Argento’s Opera is a fun example of a film that really goes for the kill with that theme) and I won’t pretend that we are necessarily doing a very deep commentary on that theme, but it definitely wasn’t an accident that Robert Bowery goes for eyes of innocents.
CrypticRock.com – And it would not have been anywhere near as effective without the great make-up work at play throughout Child Eater. How challenging an aspect of production did you find that?
Erlingur Thoroddsen – Thank you! It was definitely a big challenge — this was a very low budget production. We filmed for 19 days, most of the times in the middle of the night out in the woods, with no electricity. Our make up department was only one person: Fiona Tyson, who is a complete hero and genius. She did everything on her own, from designing the effects to applying them. There was a lot of pressure on her, but she constantly delivered the highest quality effects.
She had also worked with me on the short film, and so we already had a bit of experience with making eyeballs. This time around, Fiona wanted to make them taste better (because there is some eyeball-eating involved), and I think that may have been my favorite thing about the whole process: sweet eyeballs!
CrypticRock.com – Sounds like a tough shoot. The final scene does a little more than just imply that things are not at peace in the universe of this film; do you consider this to be a standalone piece, or could you imagine further trips into this world?
Erlingur Thoroddsen – I would definitely not be opposed to creating more mayhem within the same world. We talked a lot about a sequel while we were shooting, throwing around ideas about what could happen and where we could take the story. I definitely have a few ideas that could be very exciting to explore. If there’s an audience out there that wants more, then I think the whole team would love to reunite and make it happen.
CrypticRock.com – Very interesting. What are some of your personal artistic inspirations?
Erlingur Thoroddsen – I feel like I get inspired from all sorts of things — the people around me, other movies, books or articles that I read, world news, visual arts, music … There was an album by Marina and The Diamonds that came out in 2015 called FROOT, that was just as much an inspiration to my last film as the movie references I discussed with my DP.
The best thing about cinema is that it can combine a multitude of visual and aural arts, so every filmmaker has a whole lot of material to work with. Although I have a lot of directors and artists I look up to, I think every one of them had different paths they took to get to where they are, so I’m happy to follow my own weird path and see where it takes me!
CrypticRock.com – It will be exciting to see where your future films go. Since you clearly are a fan of genre films, what are some of your favorite Horror/Sci-Fi films?
Erlingur Thoroddsen – Absolutely, big big fan of Horror and Sci-Fi, especially when the two genres collide – Alien (1979), The Thing (1982), Event Horizon (1997). It’s always hard to pick favorites, but I think I can safely say that A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), The Innocents (1961), Suspiria (1977), Dressed to Kill (1980) and Don’t Look Now (1973) are movies that I love to death and have watched way too many times. As for Sci-Fi, those three I mentioned first, and I also feel like I watch Sunshine (2007) all the time. In general, I love Space movies about small crews facing the unknown … I could go on and on, and I haven’t even mentioned a single Paul Verhoeven film, so let’s just leave it at that!