By David Hennessy
Well known for playing Tom Branson in ITV’s incredibly successful period drama Downton Abbey, viewers will get to see a very different side of Killiney actor Allen Leech in his new psychological horror film, In Fear. Leech plays chilling Max, an unhinged psychopath who preys on two strangers who have done nothing to him and for no reason other than his sick fun.
Allen tells The Irish World what attracted him to the role: “I sat down with Jeremy (Lovering, director) and Jeremy pitched the idea to me and it was just something so different compared to anything I had done and the idea of trying to capture this raw feeling in relation to fear and tension and dealing with the unknown was something that I thought was quite original and that’s really what grabbed me.
“I always thought it was going to be a really interesting project and the fact that people have taken it to their hearts. It was at Frightfest which is for hardcore horror fans and they absolutely loved it, embraced it in a big way so I think if we can get them onside, we’ve obviously done something right.”
The film follows courting couple Tom and Lucy who travel over to Ireland from the UK to attend a music festival but while their little trip is memorable, it is not for the reasons they had hoped. When Tom reveals he has booked a hotel for the pair to stay at before heading to the festival the next day, they follow an anonymous land rover deep into the countryside. Abandoned by the leading vehicle, they can find no hotel and no way back. Night falls and petrol drains with the couple stranded. They can find no way out and no one to help them but things take an even more sinister turn when they find Lucy’s clothes mysteriously scattered all over the road and Lucy glimpses a masked man lurking in the shadows.
The protagonists are excellently played by Iain De Caestecker who can be seen in with Saoirse Ronan in Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut, How to Catch a Monster and Alice Englert of Ginger & Rosa and Beautiful Creatures.
Most of us live in towns or cities and feel a certain safety from having other people nearby but what if no one can hear you scream? Did Allen like how it played to certain fears that come from the complete isolation? “Exactly and also this idea of disorientation and being lost in a foreign place and then suddenly, this other element comes in. I think what I also loved about it was it wasn’t going to be like a gorefest, it played on the old idea of psychological thrillers which I’ve always found fascinating and always much more terrifying because the human nature and the malevolence that exists within us, I think, is much more interesting than any kind of boogieman or poltergeist. Because I think it’s more terrifying when it can actually genuinely happen.”
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Wicker Man are two films that show people stumbling into an evil society and this appears to be the case for Tom and Lucy also at first: “I also like that idea of a group outside just playing with ya and playing tricks because what can start very innocently like turning the signposts for tourists around suddenly becomes something much greater and then playing on their own fear and inhibitions inside that car: They don’t know each other that well, do they trust each other? I think all of that works very well.”
This film was a unique experience in that its director Jeremy didn’t approach Allen with a script, there was no script. Instead there was Jeremy’s vision and the actors’ ability to improvise. Drip fed information as the story progressed, many of the reactions you see from Iain and Alice are the actors’ own genuine reflexes. The actors also do very well to keep the audience engaged although the story mostly involves two people in a car: “It’s a character driven plot rather than anything to do with action and big scenes. It’s very much about the relationships that exist within that car. I think it puts a lot more onus on the acting because the location element is taken out of it so to keep a car interesting, you have to work quite hard as an actor to make that interesting and keep the audience engaged and also it shifts focus on to characters. I think that’s what I loved about the idea as well, it’s based around the characters.”
The actors were told so little that Alice only met a bloodied Allen when he crawled into his first scene with her. After the director had shouted “cut”, she asked if he was a stuntman. This is something he has never let her forget: “Obviously my performance was so epic!”
With the couple severely spooked by terrifying episodes, they come across Max. He says he has also been attacked and that the three of them have to get out of there and quickly. They agree to give him a lift but are soon wondering if they have been wise to trust this stranger in the back seat.
Some people who may not be keen on the film’s storyline involving a foreign couple terrorised in the Irish countryside (especially in this year of The Gathering) are Tourism Ireland but reminded of this Allen laughs: “I don’t think the real Ireland would be that inhospitable. We filmed Cornwall for Ireland because mainly those hedges that were around made it feel very claustrophobic, they were on one farm that we were able to use so it was more ease of location than the actual design of the stuff that worked so well for it.”
Allen came to prominence with Cowboys & Angels, the 2003 Irish film in which he played a gay fashion student. The next year, he took the lead in Man About Dog, a comedy with a fantastic supporting cast that included Sean McGinley, Fionnuala Flanagan and Pat Shortt. Then he went on to roles in popular RTE series Legend and BBC and HBO’s Rome. Is it good for Allen to get back to something like In Fear which is closer to where he started out? “Absolutely, it genuinely is. My roots in so far as where I began my career are in movies like Cowboys and Angels and Man About Dog and indies. I love getting back to something like that. It’s very exciting when you have the freedom. Okay the budgets may be low but you have the freedom to try something new and very different and that’s really what appealed to me: It’s where my roots are so I love doing something like this.”
For the full interview, see the November 9 Irish World.
In Fear is in cinemas from November 15. For more information, go to: www.infearmovie.com. You can watch the trailer here.