Spooky times for Crouch End filmmakers shooting supernatural thriller The Isle
PUBLISHED: 16:35 02 May 2019 | UPDATED: 16:35 02 May 2019
Matthew and Tori Butler-Hart experienced some eerie and challenging moments on a remote Scottish island
Filming a Victorian ghost story on a near deserted island came with its own spooky moments.
Marooned for a month off the west coast of Scotland, the cast and crew of The Isle were a long way from their usual stamping ground in Crouch End.
“The wind always picked up at night-time and people thought they could hear a baby crying,” says Matthew Butler-Hart, who directed and co-wrote the low budget film with wife Tori.
“I don't get scared in the dark, but at night it got very dark there very quickly. A few of us had to walk back from the main house to our cottage through this forest in the pitch black. One night there was a supermoon when every shadow seemed to be moving, and you felt someone watching behind every falling down wall - there was also this weird plague of frogs that came at night....”
The eerie atmosphere may have helped the actors to get into role for the story of three sailors in 1846, who survive a storm and shipwreck only to wash up on an unchartered island where all but four of the inhabitants have died in mysterious circumstances.
As the story unravels, they discover a mass graveyard, a myth of a ghostly siren, and a series of deaths on the same date each year.
“It's a cliche that the location is an extra character but it absolutely was,” says Butler-Hart.
“There was a certain other worldliness about the whole island and I wanted as a director to capture that. The landscape is so important to the film.”
When he heard that the family of a crew member on his previous film Two Down owned the beautiful, remote Eilean Shona, he scoped it out as a location.
“You get a speed boat over to this amazing island which was a thriving community until the 1800s but within a few years was utterly deserted,” he says.
“The kernel of the film was this place which had huge amounts of history and intrigue - there was even a mysterious woman found murdered on the island.
“There were no pylons, and everywhere you turned the camera, there was this stunning scenery, broken down old shacks and wild beaches.”
But although the absence of modern life made it easier to shoot the period drama, Butler-Hart had to contend with the unpredictable Scottish weather.
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“Once you were on the island you were on it. The nearest shop is three hours away, there's no TV no internet, if something breaks you have to adapt and re-write.
“Scottish island weather could go from bright sunshine to a force nine gale in 10 minutes. We had drones falling, actors in sinking rowing boats, one scene couldn't happen because the beach was washed away. There were no roads, only old tracks. Because everything was done for real we had to change a lot.”
Instead of a “jump scare horror” movie, he hopes he's made a “slow burn” unsettling supernatural mystery with flavours of Scottish folklore and Greek myth, and a not do “the appalling ways that women with mental health were treated then”.
“Shakespeare put his battles off stage and with a limited budget you have to get the audience's imagination working. Imagination is far more powerful than anything you can put on film.
“I didn't want to do a jump scare horror film. This is a slow creep. At first the spooky bits are so subtle that some get it and some miss them.
“People aren't sure what's going on, but it ripples through the audience as we drip feed things and they start to work it out.
“We assume audiences are more intelligent than they are usually given credit for.”
Perhaps that's why a tiny independent film made on a sub £1m budget is doing a lot better than expected. Following a US release in Feb, The Isle kicks off a UK tour of Q&A screenings starting at Muswell Hill's Everyman on May 2.
“Cinephiles have compared it to films of the 70s like Wicker Man. It's finding a nice interested audience,” adds Butler-Hart.
The Isle is the third feature by Matthew and Tori's Fizz and Ginger Films. Their low budget thriller Two Down also starred Conleth Hill (Game of Thrones) and Alex Hassell (The Miniaturist and forthcoming Netflix drama Cowboy Bebop) who lives near the Butler-Harts in Priory Park.
Matthew and Tori (who writes, acts and produces) founded the company in 2009 to make independent British films. They have won awards plus the backing of Stephen Fry, Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Derek Jacobi.
“The budget gets bigger but it doesn't get easier, there's more problems, different problems,” says Butler-Hart
“Shooting the film is the easy bit, its before and after; funding it and getting people to see it when there is so much content these days...that's hard.”
A UK tour of Q&A screenings starts on May 2 in Muswell Hill and includes Crouch End ArtHouse on May 30.