Behind the Curtain

Jaron Henrie-McCrea on things that go bump in the shower.

by Jennie Kermode

Tunnel vision in Curtain
Tunnel vision in Curtain

“It really began in the shower,” says Jaron Henrie-McCrea, talking about the idea behind his new film Curtain. “I come up with a lot of my ideas when I’m taking a shower. Nothing good was coming and I was staring at curtain when I wondered, what if it was gone? What if it suddenly disappeared?”

It’s a simple idea which led to a film that has wowed the festival circuit. Curtain (also known as The Gateway) tells the story of a young woman, Danni (Danni Smith), who moves into a new flat where disappearing shower curtains lead her to fear that someone is breaking in – only to discover something far more sinister. Initially, though, it was a tough idea to sell.

“I got to work on the script and I thought it was so good that I sent it to a writing competition but it was immediately rejected,” says Jaron. “I felt really bad so I put it on the shelf. Later I wanted to write something that could be shot on a low budget and something in the horror genre, and my wife [co-writer Carys Edwards] was like, ‘Why don’t you go back to Curtain?’ So I said ‘Only if you come on board.’ She’s much better at character stuff. I’m good at set piecey visual things. It was nice seeing these characters take shape and become more emotionally deep. So then we had the script and we made it.”

Danni tries to out-stare the offending shower
Danni tries to out-stare the offending shower

Besides Danni, the main character is Tim, a charity worker who has devoted his life to saving whales but takes time out to help her, seeming a bit smitten.

“The main two leads and the bald dude are actually all actors I worked with in university years ago, in 2004, so I’ve known them a while,” says Jaron. “They were fantastic when we were making shorts together so I said ‘I’d really like to make a feature with you guys,’ and they said ‘When you’re ready, we’re ready.’ One thing about it that I’m glad I didn’t make like that was that originally the story was going to be about Tim but we thought, then Danni’s just liking him for no good reason, so why don’t we switch that around and make it about a guy who likes a girl?”

Carys was also helpful when it came to developing the principal antagonists, a group of cultists obsessed with the secret behind the disappearing shower curtains.

“I had a really bad idea,” Jaron admits. “Then Carys was like, ‘Well, maybe actually more like this.’ I was going to have people in cloaks so that we were unable to see their faces, like demonic monks or something, but it sounded too clichéd. So they’re just these guys who are just bothered by fact the portal exists and every time someone awakens it they have it try and deal with the consequences. Plus, of course, it’s far more affordable to dirty up some guys and throw plaid shirts on them.”

What about the whale saving people? Where did they come from?

“I lived in New York City for about ten years and it has really good public transit, not like where we live now in Los Angeles, so I used to do a lot of walking near a university and there would always be some kind of environmental activists on the street trying to get people to sign up for whatever. Danni has to have some kind of profession – she can’t just be moping around in her apartment all day. The specificity of the whale thing comes from the fact that originally the whole movie started with a giant piece of watching Japanese sailors killing a whale. Obviously we couldn’t afford it. I also like the fact that whales are mysterious things underneath the water that we rarely see, just as we don’t really get to see what the shower curtain thing is.”

The apartment in the film is impressively dilapidated in a way that adds to the viewer’s nervousness as we wonder if something might break through one of the oddly patched walls. Wherever did he find it?

Tracking down secrets
Tracking down secrets

“It’s actually the apartment of Tim in the movie,” he says. “It was always written with his apartment in mind. He was really good about us using it and then it turned into us being there for about a month. It was coincidental that the apartment really was falling apart. The landlord kept saying ‘I gotta get in there!’ It literally was falling apart – the ceiling was coming down and the floor itself was starting to sink. The neighbour below was totally nuts and was always shouting at us.”

Much of the city is being modernised now, he says wistfully. It’s robbing it of interesting locations. But when it came to outdoor locations, help was at hand.

“The woods that we used we came by through the New Jersey Film Commission. They have a huge library of places on file because The Sopranos was shot in New Jersey and when that finished they donated all those files to the New Jersey Film Commission. So they said ‘Take a look at this place less than a hour outside New York City.’ It used to be a boy scout camp and now it’s a resort where they have weddings or parties and also paintball on the weekends. That led to some problems for us actually. One night we were shooting in the woods and zombie paintball players started running into so. So we had to deal with things like that but the owner of the camp was very nice and fed us. We just had to put up with poisonous spiders and bears.”

They had a lot of adventures whilst shooting, he says, including one that almost gave them an A-list name to add to the credits.

“During one of the shoots when Danni and Tim were waiting to hear whoever might call them about the shower curtain we were actually outside of a café where there were also people shooting a big time Hollywood film, and as we were doing our shot, in the background coming towards us there was Morgan Freeman. But obviously couldn’t use that. We were tempted but we probably would’ve had to pay some kind of royalty or something...

“Every day was an adventure. When you’re shooting on a low budget like that you just have to beg, borrow and steal.”

Low budget or not, the film has been a big success with critics and audiences alike.

“We’ve played at a lot of festivals all over the globe, from Columbia to Sydney Australia, London England, Paris. People really liked it. We feel really proud that it can transcend culture. All over the planet people can get terrified no matter what their background may be. It was great being part of Frightfest. That’s a tremendous honour.”

Finally, he reveals a bit about his next project...

“The basic premise is about a washed up guy who owns a pizza delivery shop in the mountains of upstate New York, the Adirondacks. He’s a small town guy who had all these plans for how he was going to live his life and now its 30 years later and he’s struggling for money. So he gets this call and the guy offers him a thousand bucks and say he needs a pizza right now. The place is a three hour drive into the mountains before he comes to a cabin in the middle of nowhere, where he meets a young, rich, hip jerk who says ‘Right, thanks, great pizza. Now you can have a thousand dollars or I can give you what’s in this box.’ So it’s a high concept horror movie with supernatural elements.

We’ll look forward to it.

Curtain comes out on 7 March, on Digital HD and VOD from Frightfest Presents.

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