Tom Shankland • Director
British director Tom Shankland’s second film The Children [+see also:
film profile] has been selected for the Karlovy Vary Film Festival as part of the Variety Critics’ Choice/European Film Promotion programme.
Cineuropa: What was the genesis of The Children?
Tom Shankland: The Children started life as a script entitled Miria by Paul Andrew Williams (true horror geeks should be able to guess which great master of terror ‘Miria’ is an anagram of.) James Richardson, one of the producers at Vertigo, loved the project when he read it (they were distributing Paul’s film London To Brighton [+see also:
film profile] at the time). However, Paul was keener to do The Cottage [+see also:
film profile] at that point, so James set out to find another director for Miria.
This was right around the time I was in post on my first film WAZ and James and I were looking for another project to do together so Miria seemed like the perfect fit. I loved the basic concept of kids turning on their parents and Paul liked my ideas about how I wanted to develop the script so he gave me and James his blessing and then it was full steam ahead after that. I did about a hundred drafts of the script and James went off to raise the rest of money. Unlike my first film, everything came together very quickly – Screen West Midlands, Aramid and Ingenious came on board with Vertigo, and we were filming just about a year after that first meeting with Paul. This is very fast for film production in my experience.
What attracted you to children as a subject?
I’ve always loved films like Don’t Look Now, The Innocents and The Omen. There is something so terrifying about the idea that an innocent child might actually be evil. Our culture seems to depend on the idea that kids are innocent so when you turn that belief on its head, the audience are automatically unsettled. I loved the idea of a film which took this fear to an extreme place and had children exploit their parents love for them in order to manipulate and then kill them. This just goes against all the laws of civilization and I think its great when horror films break taboos like that.
On a personal level, I was actually more interested in the parents’ reactions than in the monstrous identities of the kids themselves. I don’t have kids myself but I’ve always loved watching the power struggles between my friends and their kids. It fascinates me how something so small and seemingly defenceless as a tiny child can wield such awesome power over its parents. I think there is also a bit of a crisis of confidence in middle-class parenting right now too. Obviously, harsh disciplining of kids is out of the question so as a modern parent how do you solve the problem of coping with these powerful, determined little beings that are now ruling your life? I loved the idea of a film that could use the horror of lethal children to dig deep into this territory.
What does the Variety/EFP/Karlovy Vary selection mean to you?
Being included in the Variety Critics’ Choice at Karlovy Vary is a huge honour for me. I’ve never really branded myself as a ‘horror director’. At one level, I approached The Children in the same way that I would approach a psychological drama - just trying to mine the emotional truth of that terrifying situation. Being included with such a great and diverse list of new European films is just fantastic and gives me hope that The Children will just be seen simply as a good film, whatever genre it happens to be. Also, I’ve never been to Karlovy Vary and everyone says it’s amazing! I can’t wait to get there, meet some other film obsessives and watch lots of great films. Who knows, maybe I’ll have a beer too...
What’s your next project about?
There are a few projects floating around – not all of them are horror movies but one most certainly is. It is a great project called Hell Train (imagine if Sam Raimi was transported back in time to the mid-sixties to make a classic Hammer movie, set on a train bound for hell...). I might just have given away the vital clue about what Miria is an anagram of....
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