Skin deep

Joy Harrison on a tale of tattoos and fractured friendships in Where The Skin Lies

by Jennie Kermode

Behind the scenes
Behind the scenes Photo: Kim Ayers

A group of traumatised people. A strange-looking house in the middle of nowhere. A mysterious tattoo. It's a scenario that horror fans will know points to trouble.

It's the scenario behind new horror film Where The Skin Lies, which is screening at this year's Frightfest. I arranged to chat with producer Joy Harrison to find out more about it, and the first thing she noticed was my accent. I explained that live in Paisley.

"We shot in a place called Kippford, near Castle Douglas on the Solway Firth," she says. "It was just magnificent! Of course, we were inside a house most of the time."

Nathan at the window
Nathan at the window Photo: Kim Ayers

The story, she explains, "follows a group of six people who go off to lowland Scotland in order to complete a year of therapy all had together. The backstory is that they've all been in a bank when it's been robbed. One person was killed and one of them got a bullet in his spine, so he's in a in wheelchair. Their therapist decides that it will be great if they all go away to the Scottish lowlands to complete their journey.

"It's a film that's very true to the genre, it follows along the lines of the true horror thing." She laughs. "So they get to the spooky house and they say 'This looks weird. It doesn't look like it did in the brochure.' The GPS has been going mad and they're a bit concerned but they still go into the house.

"Meanwhile all of their phones have suddenly died. If it were me, by the way, I'd have been in the car and gone by then!"

So how did she originally become involved with the project?

"My director - a man called Michael Boucherie, who's a first time feature director - was doing an MA in Screen Directing last year and he was really commited to the idea that he wanted to direct his first feature before the end last year. I thought it showed enormous chutzpah, and that was one of the things that got me interested. Edmund Curtis, who had been his OoP on a short he made for his degree project had talked about this house he'd visited in Scotland that he thought would be a fantastic place to base a horror story, so it was around that that Michael and his brother [David Boucherie] devised a story.

Joy and Michael watching the monitor
Joy and Michael watching the monitor Photo: Kim Ayers

"We got to the house and it felt like it had been frozen in time, like nothing had changed since about 1974. There's a really odd feeling to it."

She was intrigued by Michael and his approach to filmmaking.

"He's fascinating. As a more mature graduating student he's had a interesting journey to this point in time. He worked professionally as a ballet dancer. I think his Laban training was what attracted him to the Drama Centre Methodology. He's fascinated with the methodology of working and improvisation. He wanted to rehearse for three weeks, he workshopped and did a lot of in-depth character work, another reason I was interested in getting involved. I don't think it's been done before on this kind of genre film.

"I've got quite a lot of contacts in the industry. We held auditions in London and I brought quite a lot of people to the party. We got six lovely actors who all had interssting work to contribute.

Because we were living and working in the same location we had to get the right group of people. We had two houses in end, the main house from the film and then I had another holiday house because I had to feed everyone and you can't cook and shoot in the same house - that doesn't work at all. They all worked very hard. It was 21 of us altogether."

Simon and Louise
Simon and Louise

Michael joked that she was down on the film, she said, because of the way she described it to potential cast and crew members, but it was important to her that they know what they were getting into, especially as they were going to have to share bedrooms.

"It was a very close working environment and people needed be conscious about that and clear about what they were getting into. It was great, but we worked very intensely for three weeks and if had been another week I think life would have started to reflect art and we probably all would have been at each other's throats."

The weather was wonderful throughout, she says, which made things a lot easier, but at the last minute an unexpected problem arose that was the stuff of producers' nightmares.

"My job is to make sure everything's planned. When we recce'd three weeks before we were due to shoot the film, we noticed that on what had been the empty patch of land next to the house, there were some portaloos. They were building a house there! so all of a sudden our very quiet area was right next doot to a construction site. It all worked out, though. We got to know our builders very well over endless cups of tea, and a lot of digestive biscuits were consumed. We'd just radio over when we were ready to start a scene and say 'Please can you stop hammering for ten minutes?'"

Where The Skin Lies is screening at Frightfest on Saturday 26 August.

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