Out of the shadows

Leroy Kincaide on sleep paralysis, his past as a wrestler, and The Last Rite

by Jennie Kermode

The Last Rite
The Last Rite Photo: courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films

Leroy Kincaide does not come from the usual filmmaking background. He enjoyed a success as a wrestler and was a heavyweight champion before opting for a career change, getting into the film industry through acting and then making his own short works. His first feature, The Last Rite, will be released On Demand and on Digital on Friday 26 November. It’s the story of Lucy (Bethan Waller), a young woman who suffers from sleep paralysis and gradually becomes convinced that she’s being stalked by something supernatural, but who struggles to get anyone to listen and help. Set in suburban England and shorn of the trappings we usually associate with exorcism films, it’s a project which Leroy worked hard to keep anchored in reality. It’s also a very personal project, as he revealed when we sat down to talk about it – but we began by discussing how he got into this position in the first place.

Lucy doesn't feel quite right
Lucy doesn't feel quite right Photo: courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films

“Years ago, when was I was about 15. I started professional wrestling,” he explains. “Back in the day, I did have a nice career. I was able to travel to the ‘States. I wrestled with some quite highly profile guys out in the ‘States: Chris Benoit and William Regal and a few other ones. I came back to the UK, I pretty much was there from 2003 till 2012, and had a wonderful career, wrestled a lot, all over the place. I held a few titles as well my time. And then just I guess you could say I fell out of love with the sport, and I found myself being drawn much more to acting and being in a character role, rather than just a guy who goes out and throws people around in the ring. Not that wrestling is just that, and I mean no disrespect to anyone that wrestles. I guess you could say I took the reins in my own hands, and here I am today.”

It’s a bold thing to move from the top of one career ladder to the bottom of another. I ask him about the short films which helped him to start climbing again.

“The short films were really like an expression tool, and led to what I'm doing now,” he says. “If I look at the first short film that I did, which was a film called Freeman: New World Order, it is a fan film inspired by the manga comics, the Crying Freeman series. What I was frustrated with was the fact that I was getting typecast in very specific type of roles, which didn't really lead to nothing. I’d be a criminal, be a this, be a that, obviously typecast because of how one looks, you know, you naturally fit a bracket on the demographic, right? So knowing that I had the ability to do all the wrestling and everything else, I wanted to do more. I was getting almost to that point where what I walked away from in wrestling, I started to get it in aspects of the acting.

Can faith save her?
Can faith save her? Photo: courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films

“I just thought ‘Right, stuff it! I'm just going to go and make my own films, and just have fun with it and see what happens.’ So the first few short films had a little bit of a buzz, I guess. I went to Cannes short film corner with my first short film, which was awesome, awesome to experience what the film industry is about. The second short film, which is a film based on Max Payne series, which is a computer game, from the early 2000s, that was received very well by the fans of the game. I look back at it now I've changed a little bit and...” He shakes his head, acknowledging that there are things he’d do differently now. “But at the time, it was fabulous. And that was the actual movie, or the short film that got me into the mindset of, you know what, I feel like I could go further into doing filmmaking as an actual career because it speaks to my heart in a certain way that probably nothing else has ever really done. The writing and storytelling aspects of it.”

So why this particular story now?

“The Last Rite is a story that I hold quite close to my heart because I used to suffer from night terrors and sleep paralysis,” he says. “And there were things that affected me right the way through into my teenage years, almost to turning 20. So because of that, I felt that for my début feature, I wanted to tell a story that’s not about just telling the story. It's about the text, it's about the subject. Can I create that piece the way that I see it? It felt so natural to do something where I had some personal experience connected to it. I mean, the story itself looks at three things: demonic possession, sleep paralysis/night terrors, and shadow figures. So the shadow figures and sleep paralysis stuff I've had tiny bit of experience with. I wanted to try and do that area justice and not make it just about jump scares or about this creepy monster in the house. It's more about the dark and foreboding atmosphere and what happens to people in there.”

Lucy discovers others' research
Lucy discovers others' research Photo: courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films

There has been a lot written about sleep paralysis and the kind of figures that people see when they're in that state, and so on, and the film addresses some of that. Leroy explains that he was keen to get people talking openly about the phenomenon.

“When you look at like taboo subjects, taboo subjects become taboo because a lot of people either don't want to acknowledge it, or they’re shy at the fact that they can acknowledge it, and they don't want to accept it. So if you look at sleep paralysis or night terrors, when I have opened up dialogue in random conversation in places, I find usually someone is like, ‘Oh my God, like I've had that experience. Oh, you too?’’ Yeah, me as well. And people relate to the subject a lot more than I think people would like to admit that they relate. So I wanted to not just make a film that, yeah, it's creepy – I wanted to put some truth into the story. It was more about like, if somebody else that had had an experience of sleep paralysis and night terrors, and they watched that film, my ultimate intent was to touch those people with ‘It happened to you, it's happened to me as well.’

“I remember there was this one guy who come to watch the première of the film and he thought it was just like a demonic possession story, typical sort of thing. But when he watched it, he realised that there were a couple of elements that played very close to the heartstrings of him. And at the end of the showing I came up to him and he was like ‘Oh my God, I was so surprised that what I thought this was going to be about, it turned out to be a bit more about this.’ He started asking all these questions and I thought it was fabulous because it created a place where someone else could open up about their experience and feel somewhat connected to part of Lucy's story.”

Lucy seeks support
Lucy seeks support Photo: courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films

I ask him about the figure of Father Roberts, played by Kit Smith, who is very ordinary and down to earth and not at all like what we’re used to seeing in this sort of context.

“Again, I'm going to bring it back to real life,” he says. “I had an episode where I had what would be called a memory relapse. Okay, so think of walking into a bakery and smelling an old doughnut or cinnamon swirl or something that you haven't had since your childhood. You bite into it, you've got memories with that. The memories are of being at home with nan, you’re sat on her lap, enjoying a nice summer's day. You remember everything about that. That sort of happened with my sleep paralysis/night terror episodes. So I was 18. I, one day was watching a documentary based on true life, documented facts about sleep paralysis and night terrors, and literally it was like, I had a whole entire part of my life that I did not remember open up. I have memories of when I slept. I have memories of waking up. I have memories of seeing this figure, these two figures. I had all of this like, call it a brain dump, in my head. And I didn't know how to process it. Because I was a bit like, wow, where is that coming from?

“I literally I remembered so much. And I was a bit disjointed. So what I wanted to do is I wanted to consolidate my thoughts and go, like, ‘Did this happen?’ There were definite things that did happen, because I spoke to my family and stuff about it. So what I did is I went to the church. I just wanted to find out anything, someone maybe to guide me with or help with it. And it literally was like, I might as well have gone to the bus stop and asked somebody there ‘Oh, can you help me with this?’ Because it was very, very weird. It's like that taboo subject I mentioned before. Nobody really knew what to do. No-one wanted to ask me any more. Nobody wanted to talk to me. And I get it, I get it, because people probably think ‘Oh, you're a bit wacky,’ or whatever.

Don't let him in
Don't let him in

“So I wanted to use some of that in this story and actually get it across, like, okay, the priest isn't straightaway going in to save the day, you know, he's a bit standoffish. ‘It could be this,’ you know, ‘Maybe try that.’ And that was really important, because that was some more of my experience. I was just curious and I just wanted somebody to give me an answer to something. And unfortunately, you know, I didn't get that. And what happens to Lucy is a little like that. But as time goes on, you know, without giving too much of the story away, I guess he wakes to the fact could there be more to this than he knows. Because I think we don't always have the answers for every scenario. And I like the fact that there's a little bit of that here.”

A lot of films like this centre on perfect families or perfect couples who have no real problems until they suddenly have to deal with something supernatural. They’re not very relatable, but Lucy has quite a troubled relationship with her partner Ben (Johnny Fleming) and that makes the film more interesting.

“With the relationship with Ben and Lucy, unfortunately, there was a little bit of the story that I had to just cleave away because of pacing issues and stuff. That was the nice parts of their relationship. That didn't make it in. So the story does go a little more on the heavier side of him being a bit more, you know. He’s a man about the world. He knows what he wants, he gets what he wants. So it comes across a little more like that. But for me, it was more about there's this vulnerable lady who is in a relationship with a man who ultimately doesn't listen.

The Last Rite poster
The Last Rite poster

“For some reason us men tend to be a bit too egocentric and we don’t listen as much as we should. We should really sit down and actually take a moment. I wanted to get some of that across in the story because ultimately she's trying to open up, she's trying her best to explain. She's just getting shut down. Ultimately our lives are filled with trying to express how we feel and some people won't see that. It could be a partner, it could be family member or whatever. I wanted to address that in the story because I think that makes it more more of an authentic feeling relationship and somewhat relatable.”

Now that he’s got a feature out there, Leroy has no intention of slowing down.

“I've got two pitches for scripts already done,” he says. “One which is a bit like Aliens meets 28 Days Later, it's in that sort of space. And another one, which is a bit like The Strangers meets I Spit on Your Grave. It's going to be a hard watch, that one. That one's probably going to be the one I do next. I’m just in the process of making things happen and trying to network and communicate with people to start raising the budget for that.”

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