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An Interview with Paul Hyett

Paul: "The first half of the film is almost like a dreamlike fairy tale".

Paul Hyett
Interview conducted by John Townsend
17 June 2013

Paul Hyett is the director of the chilling new British thriller 'The Seasoning House' which hits cinemas this week here in the UK. After 20 years in the film business working in special effects on productions such as 'The Descent' this marks his debut as director.

Paul, The Seasoning House is your new film. Please tell us about it?
Basically itís about a young deaf-mute girl called Angel who is snatched from her village during a campaign of violence by soldiers. She then gets institutionalized in this seasoning house and she survives by shutting down her feelings; she has to look after these girls and keep them in a drug induced stupor and the way she copes is by shutting off. There are clients who come and pay to abuse these girls but one day this girl Vanya arrives who can use sign language. It kind of awakens Angelís feelings again and she strikes back against her captors and the film becomes this revenge thriller.

The film does switch seamlessly between being a claustrophobic, chilling thriller into a more action-driven chase film. Was it difficult to balance these two styles within the same film?
It was always a conscious decision to have that gear change. The first half of the film is almost like a dreamlike fairy tale, making use of lots of slow motion and subdued, muted sound to reflect the girls stupour, very nihilistic, and then Angel stabs Ivan and it suddenly takes a different turn dragging her back to reality and from there we went to hand held cameras and pulled the audience along with her

Paul: "These things are still going on all over the world so it was important to handle it carefully".

This is a difficult and tough subject matter. What was it that drew you to it and given its basis in fact were you conscious of handling it carefully?
Yeah, these things really happened so itís a fine balance. We were always sensitive and wanted to ensure we didnít make an exploitative film with lots of female nudity and one dimensional characters while still making an entertaining thriller. Sometimes basing this type of film in a real life situation makes it all the more intense. These things are still going on all over the world so it was important to handle it carefully.

All the performances are incredibly strong and powerful but Rosie Day really stands out. Was it difficult to find someone who had that ability to switch from innocence to violence within them?
Yeah, we saw around 120 girls in the end before Rosie came in. We needed to find someone who didnít look too much like a victim or too strong. The character arc of Angel shows her developing from someone who is emotionally numb to someone who then starts to feel again and becomes a survivor. Rosie has that ability to just turn it off, itís like her eyes are just dead.

And sheís also playing opposite Sean Pertwee as well who is just a maniacal presence in the film.
(laughs) Yeah, she ended up being thrown around in harnesses and doing her own stunts as well. It was a real physical performance as well as being emotionally draining. We were all stunned how brilliant and professional Rosie was.

When the violence comes it is really brutal and visceral. Were there times when you had to be careful how much to show and how graphic to be?
Firstly I didnít want to make something unwatchable. You show as much as you need to show without lingering, like in the rape scenes. In the cut throat scene at the start, we wanted to make it really horrible so it stood out, and to make every bit of violence as realistic as possible. Sometimes you get horror films where everything is all the same and thereís a huge body count with people you donít care about. Some people in early screenings came out really shaken up so the film did its job really.

Paul: "There isnít actually much violence in The Seasoning House but what is there is strong and realistic but not in a super-graphic way".

Your background is in special effects so this was always going to look realistic. Was it also important to make sure the audience believe that Angel was capable of doing the things she does?
We didnít want Angel to be like super girl. We wanted the audience to believe that at any point she might get hurt or crushed.

Given the plethora of recent ďtorture pornĒ films do you think the boundaries of what you can show on screen and what people now expect to see are being constantly redefined?
There are people who want to watch films with extreme gore but we didnít want to make one like that. There isnít actually much violence in The Seasoning House but what is there is strong and realistic but not in a super-graphic way. I wanted it to be as emotionally striking as possible as opposed to splashy, long lingering scenes. There are some films with minute after minute of scenes of suffering but that was not how I wanted to go.

What are your thoughts as a first time director coming into the horror genre, given the number of remakes and franchises in the market.
To be honest with you I donít mind the remakes or re-imaginings. You have the choice whether to watch them or not. I guess it can be more difficult to get independent films made but I think the genre on the whole is in a good state. The more horror films that make money the better this is as it filters down to the independents. Time will tell but I think that if thereís good writing and a good concept then you can get it made and I think audiences want better films now as opposed to the ďso bad its goodĒ type of thing.

Is directing the future for you now?
Yeah, after 20 years in the business itíll be directing full time for me now.

Which directors have influenced you throughout your career?
Iíve worked on over 70 films in my time so you learn something from every one. Neil Marshall was great, he always knows what heís doing and what he wants. Thing is, as a director you need to use your crew and their skills as theyíre experts in their fields. Every film Iíve learnt good things and bad things.

What is your favourite horror film of all time?
It would be John Carpenterís The Thing. Itís not just the effects but the characters, the music, the concept, everything. Someone asked me once if there was one film where I wouldnít change anything and after I thought about it would definitely be The Thing.

"Thank you ever so much for taking part in this interview Paul.
And we wish you the very best of luck in the future."

You can check out our review of 'The Seasoning House' here.


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