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FrightFest Interview: Chris Cronin for THE MOOR

Updated: Feb 4

Ghosts of the past

The development of The Moor is as interesting as director Chris Cronin’s taste in cinema. Inspired as much by classic films of the West than he is by Eastern influences, this is a picturesque mystery full of the dread one would expect from the infamous landscape. The Yorkshire Moors are a perfect setting for horror and, surprisingly, an environment few filmmakers have explored… perhaps due to its horrific history. Chris tips a hat to some major films and how he handled the tone of his debut feature.

What are the origins of Paul Thomas’ script?

The script actually had a really long genesis. It started as a short film script that wasn’t made and barely had a moor in it. It was then developed as part of a horror anthology before becoming a stand-alone treatment for a found footage feature. That’s when I read it and took an interest, connecting with the Yorkshire setting. From there it was written in its current form during lockdown, still retaining some of its found footage elements. Throughout the process, the only part that remained pretty much the same was the ending.

What was the film’s cinematography and atmosphere inspired by? Any particular films?

Sam Cronin was kind enough to shoot this film with me so we already had a nice shorthand of influences to pull from. Don’t Look Now was a heavy inspiration from conception so Sam looked at that for certain visual tones and atmosphere. Even though that film is set in the beautiful location of Venice, it feels cold and bare throughout. The Exorcist also came up a lot, just because it’s one of my favourite movies. There’s a shot of the jeep coming around the corner in our movie that made me think of one of the more classic moments in Friedkin’s film.

Certain modern movies were also used for more specific aspects of filming — such as The Ritual — and how they captured big open vistas and what kind of colour palettes they used to portray danger. We also looked at films that used the found footage format as a way of executing tense sequences or scares, Rec, Lake Mungo and The Blair Witch Project definitive examples.

Strangely enough, Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners was used frequently as a reference when shooting the first half of The Moor. We kept in mind that the film would be slowly shifting genres, starting out more like a very grounded thriller/murder mystery and eventually descending into horror. Prisoners served as a launchpad for us when shooting tense or intimate scenes between characters, helping create soft and bleak visuals.

Director Chris Cronin

The use of camerawork is an interesting decision. Why the decision to keep the POV camera from the original short among the more controlled elements?

Yes, as I said, the original treatment that I read was entirely about Claire documenting Bill on the moors through found footage… and so it was my involvement that adjusted it into the format it is today. I just instinctually respond to more classic cinema traditions of filmmaking and it’s how the cinematographer and I communicate the most effectively. We also believed that having this hybrid shooting style would help create an extra level of immediacy and claustrophobia during the ending sequence.

There’s a lot of freedom in found footage but also a lot of restrictions too. I wanted to tip my hat to the format but lean toward more classical horror films like those 'Greats' from the ’70s and ’80s. Although saying that — now that I’ve dipped my toes into found footage — I feel I could devilishly dive a little deeper into it in the future.

What are your influences as a filmmaker?

I grew up with a perfect mix of classic Hollywood and Asian Cinema, bouncing between horror and thriller frequently. I’ve already mentioned the classics of the — from Rosemary's Baby to The Exorcist and The Entity — but I caught the early boom of South Korean thrillers in the early noughties and was mesmerised by the likes of Oldboy, Tale of Two Sisters, The Chaser and Memories of Murder. There’s also a great Korean horror called R-Point which we made a nod to in The Moor.

This is a film that holds back and drip feeds throughout. What were the decisions made in handling the horror and supernatural elements?

This was something the writer Paul Thomas was really interested in. With so much emphasis on the character's journey in the story, I think it helped the film by staying grounded and then slowly increasing the supernatural. As the characters go slightly mad, the events that take place grow slowly more unnatural. For Don’t Look Now Nicolas Roeg really held back until those final (unforgettable) moments where you just want answers… and that’s when the rug is pulled from under you. For me, it echoed The Wicker Man, which was a dark mystery until that chilling conclusion. That traumatised me as a child.

This could have so easily been a heavy-handed reference to the Moors Murders. How conscious was it that the folklore and mythology were there to pull away from something that is still in the public conscience?

We intentionally didn’t want to lean too hard on the true crime aspect but it’s hard to completely ignore its influence on the moor’s history. It’s this looming dark shadow over that place and the people who grew up around it. We were also adamant not to glorify the fictional killer in our story even though it’s quite a popular trend at the moment. Our aim was to focus on the victims when something like this happens and how it can affect a town, a place, a parent. We took from the entire history of the moors from ancient sacrifices, the peat body from Cheshire to the unusual standing stones in Ilkley.

For many young people from the North, the starting place is that the moors themselves are a bad place. And this has precedent in folklore and history. So, the story is about the moor in the first instance. The writer and I grew up in Huddersfield and saw the moors as a creepy place for kids not to go. For us, we just knew something was off about the moor and we didn’t get a full explanation until we were older, so we just filled in the blanks, creating our own bogeyman. I think we tried to capture that feeling. I’m told often after we shot the film, that people feel weird just driving past them. It’s a shame really as it can be a beautiful landscape.

The Moor has its world premiere at FrightFest on Saturday 26th August as part of the ‘First Blood’ strand. Book your tickets now.


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