15 March: Taking Cues From The Masters

FilmInk speaks to the creators and cast behind the buzzed about local noir thriller ‘Crawl’, which is set to play as part of the upcoming Fantastic Planet Film Festival.

“Roman Polanski and Alfred Hitchcock were not only vastly aware of the story being told, but howthat story is being told. These two directors were – or in Polanski’s case continue to be – in complete control of their craft,” explains writer/director Paul China on lessons learnt from these two masters of suspense.

Taking a hat off to both Hitchcock and Polanski, China’s debut feature Crawl is a sharp, smart, spine-tingling thriller that recalls the Coen brothers’ equally suspenseful debut Blood Simple, and is surely a calling card for both the British born Australian based director and his producing brother Ben. Together these twin filmmakers have crafted a chilling double-crossing story concerning a shady Croatian hired to commit murder by a seedy bar owner and the young waitress who becomes unintentionally involved when she is taken hostage at her home. In short, it fits perfectly on the bill of the rebranded Fantastic Planet Horror, Sci-Fi & Fantasy Film Festival, set to thrill Sydney audiences when it rolls out March 22.

Crawl evolved from an earlier draft called Howl and was to be a black comedy thriller set in east Texas and filmed in Canada before financing fell through. Twisting the script to work on a lower budget, production moved to Coomera in Queensland where a smaller, much tighter cast and crew were assembled. “I reworked the script into something far more suspenseful,” Paul admits, “a character-driven thriller aiming for both intelligence and entertainment.”

That intelligence helped secure impressive veteran Australian names to the project – The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and The Hard Word cinematographer Brian J. Breheny, Daybreakers and Mao’s Last Dancer composer Christopher Gordon, and long term Phillip Noyce editor John Scott, were a handful of the talent who believed in the twins’ unique vision.
The cast were made up of unconventional but equally distinguished Australian talents too. In his acting debut, Queensland local ‘Hot Tomato’ radio personality, Paul Holmes, encapsulates the darkly humorous role of slimy bar owner Slim, whilst character actor George Shevtsov, most recognised on the big screen for his portrayal of an idiosyncratic DJ in the Cannes acclaimed comedy Love Serenade, is a truly threatening presence as the nameless and ambiguous ‘Stranger’.

“Everything about my role is shrouded in mystery,” admits Shevtsov on his decidedly reticent role. “There are wonderful moments in the film where you wonder at the significance and meaning of a gesture or an action – all possibilities are there in that moment.”

Not that the actor didn’t have his own take on what ultimately helped shape the stranger. “I had a couple of scenarios for what he’d been through,” he explains. “Paul was not interested in spoon feeding the audience but allowing them the space to create their own interpretation of what happens on the screen.

“I looked at the role from the perspective of his job: no moral judgements, cold and efficient, professional and intelligent at what he does. This is what forms him,” the actor says before pointing out that it would be a misconception to assume that the character conforms to any antagonistic stereotype. “He’s still a human being,” Shevtsov adds. “I didn’t want to create an evil character. I consciously strove to find the humanity in the most outrageous behaviour.”

Nabbing the lead role of Marilyn Burns, the small town waitress who is at the receiving end when the stranger calls, was rising Wasted On The Young actress, Georgina Haig (pictured). “She’s sweet, innocent and in love,” Haig says about her character. “I really saw my job as making her relatable and real, vulnerable but still strong.”

Spending the majority of the film alone might have been a challenge, but was one the formerUnderbelly star embraced strategically. “I went over the script and plotted out her emotional journey,” she explains. “She spends a lot of the film frightened and I needed to make decisions about where that peaked and how to differentiate between the different stages of fear she goes through.”

Crawl is a suspenseful journey with many scenes notable for their absence of dialogue, where characters are left alone onscreen to piece together clues. “We really wanted to show how much drama, mystery and tension can be achieved with well crafted camera work and minimal settings,” Paul China explains.

That included working closely with cinematographer Brian J. Breheny to ensure Crawl had the specific tone and stylistic quality they had envisioned. “We were very much in tune with each other,” explains Paul. “Our visual references, be it Blood Simple, Rear Window or Let The Right One In, were discussed and we had a clear indication of the style we wanted to achieve.”

And as for the response to the film, with sell out screenings at both the Brisbane International and Gold Coast film festivals last year, the Chinas needn’t be worried. “It’s been just incredible,” gleams Ben. “We screened throughout the world and the reception each time has just been fantastic. To have our World Premiere at the prestigious Screamfest in LA was an absolute honour and to come away with multiple awards didn’t hurt either.”

Those awards, including gongs for best director, cinematographer and actress, were given added value by the surprise revelation that the judging panel included such maestros of genre cinema as Wes Craven, Sam Raimi and Eli Roth. “We were simply star struck because these are filmmakers we really admire, so it was just incredible and we were over the moon by their response,” recalls Paul.

Crawl is set to play at the Fantastic Planet Horror, Sci-Fi & Fantasy Film Festival on March 31. The festival runs March 22 to April 1 at the Dendy Cinemas in Newtown. For more information or to buy tickets, go here. And for more about Crawl, head to the film’s website.

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