With IFC Midnight’s The Devil’s Doorway (read our review – here) having its premiere Friday, July 13th, Abigail had the pleasure of sitting down with writer/director Aislinn Clarke, discussing elements that played key roles in the fruition of this dark tale of possession and Catholicism.
PopHorror – Hey Aislinn, thanks for sitting down with me today! What inspired you to touch base on this type of subject matter for your story?
Aislinn Clarke – You’re very welcome. I’m Irish, so I have been aware of Magdalene Laundries for probably most of my life. It’s something that I’ve always found to be a natural source of horror. My mom actually had a friend who, when she was about thirteen or so, was dragged away and put into the back of some priest’s car and had been taken away. I remember hearing about that in my childhood and remember being very disturbed by it- that you could be playing with your friend one day, and the next day you’d be dragged into a car and taken away. But that is not a kidnapping- that is something that was supported by the state and all of the adults around. I just found that to be so horrifying. And then my dad was what we’d call a bread man, not sure what you’d call them in the states, but essentially he delivered bread for a bakery, which he did his whole life. He delivered to several convents that had Magdalene Laundries, and I remember him telling me about what they were like: everything was bright white, kind of like a white, hot hell with steam rolling down the walls. He said he had never seen anyone who was so overworked and red in the face as these girls.
Those images just stuck with me I guess, and the producers had this idea of wanting to make a found footage film in an abandoned Magdalene Laundry. I’ve always been interested in this, so when they approached me with this idea, I mentioned how I think it should take place in the 1960s, which was a peak time for the operation of these places. And I myself had my son when I was seventeen, which was the year after the last Laundry had closed in Ireland, which was 1996. So, we’re not talking about ancient history- I felt like I could have been one of these girls. So, that was the wayward process for which this came to be.
PopHorror – Wow, that is indeed disturbing. I feel the film has a really beautiful aesthetic to it. What type of camera did you use to shoot The Devil’s Doorway?
Aislinn Clarke – It was shot on a 16mm camera, but not for all of it. Producers tend to get nervous nowadays when you tell them you want to shoot on film, but my director of photographer Ryan Kernaghan and I had shot a couple of shorts on 35mm, and I had made quite a few 8mm films and we were able to convince them that it was the right thing to do for the film. We talked about shots that were done in very low lighting and shots containing special effects would be shot digitally.
PopHorror – I definitely think it gives it a really great look and works well for this type of film.
Aislinn Clarke – Yeah, I really felt that shooting it this way would pay off, and I think that it has, because there’s so much found footage already out there, and some of it is good, while some of it is not so good. Not much of it out there has that type of aesthetic or texture, you know? It definitely made sense for the time period, because that’s what they would have shot on, most likely.
PopHorror – Where in Ireland was this filmed?
Aislinn Clarke – There was a couple of different locations and one of them was in the greater Belfast area, and the other was in Valley Clare, which isn’t very far from Belfast. One of the things that I liked about these areas for shooting was that they aren’t very touristy, but they are gorgeous.
PopHorror – Definitely. I thought the special effects were done really well, like when you see things levitate and having the eyes transition to white, etc. Was it challenging at all to pull these off?
Aislinn Clarke – Yeah, I mean this film was very low budget to begin with and we didn’t have a lot for post production, but we were really lucky in that we have an excellent post production facility called YellowMoon in Northern Ireland, so they played a major role in being able to pull that off. Particularly when you have very little money and very little time, you have to have a very delicate hand if you shoot too far for the effects in that kind of context, it can end up looking a bit hammy, because it’s just really hard to pull them off.
PopHorror – Were there any movies that inspired you? At times it felt remnant, to me, of The Exorcist, and even a little bit of The Wicker Man.
Aislinn Clarke – That’s interesting, because I love The Wicker Man and The Exorcist is an obvious one, and I think every possession movie ever made has some kind of connection there. In terms of The Exorcist– the thing that I think makes The Exorcist so wonderful beyond anything else is the effects, and the characters and their struggles. It’s the human drama, and it always is in the really good horror films. So I think that was the main inspiration that I was taking from The Exorcist, is that I wanted the priests to be very human, and have human motivations outside of what’s happening in terms of the horror-drama in the film. I think we did a reasonably good job of that, and I think because we had such a great cast as well. They were really behind what we were trying to do in the film, and I think that came off pretty well.
In terms of aesthetic, the inspirations came more from visual art, as in paintings. There was a particular artist that I referenced when I was putting together mood boards in the beginning. The artist was Odilon Redon, and gothic paintings that really portray shadow and light really well. I wanted the film to feel gothic, and we initially talked about making the film black and white.
PopHorror – I can definitely see that. It also reminds me a lot of Caravaggio paintings, where there’s a lot of tenebrism and extreme lights and darks.
Aislinn Clarke – Exactly, that was very much the kind of thing I was going for and thinking about in terms of the visuals. And then in terms of the kind of tone of the film was classic, gothic works like Ken Russell’s The Devils – I love that film. It was something that I watched when I was developing things for The Devil’s Doorway.
PopHorror – Do you have any other upcoming projects in the works that you’re allowed to discuss with us?
Aislinn Clarke – I’m working on a number of projects, and it’s one of those things where you never know which one is going to happen first. I’ve been writing a television series, which is actually a crime-lead series, but has small elements of horror. I’m working with a company called Fantastic Films in Dublin on a number of projects, and then I work as a writer and a director, so I have scripts that are right there that other people will direct. I’m always unsure about which one will be the next one, but mostly it’s always- if it’s not horror, there’s definitely a dead body somewhere. I tend to lean towards the darker side of storytelling.
Be sure to check out The Devil’s Doorway in select theaters and VOD today!