‘The Hills Have Eyes meets The Hangover‘ might sound like a rather odd pitch for a feature film – particularly a distinctly British project. However, that’s the exact way in which horror-comedy Bachelor Games, which is available in the UK through video-on-demand services, sells itself. The film is the debut feature from director Edward McGown, who has previously worked on a number of David Attenborough TV documentaries.
I got the chance to ask Edward a few questions about the film, the juggling of tone between horror and comedy and the future of streaming services as a platform for low-budget releases.
Tell me about what drew you to Bachelor Games as a project.
In the first place, I was hugely excited by the possibility of working in the Andes. I loved the idea of this very British set of characters being airdropped into this extraordinary, alien wilderness with the possibility for an epic sense of scale.
On a story level, the script was also immediately exciting because all the characters are carrying secrets. The film deliberately lures the viewer into thinking they are watching a certain kind of film – in the vein of The Hangover or even Deliverance – and then gradually turns that assumption on its head. As a director, this was hugely exciting, as there’s nothing so thrilling as directing a scene where everyone is lying.
The concept of fusing horror with The Hangover is interesting. How did you manage that tone?
The challenge was to guide the audience gently from a world of comedy to horror, but without the switch feeling jarring. One approach I used was to gradually alter the shooting style. If you look at the shots at the beginning of the film, you’ll notice that the boys very often appear together in group shots, often with relatively little cutting. These kind of shots work very well for comedy, lending an improvisational style and cementing the sense of the boys as a group.
As the film goes on, however, I increasingly shot the characters in isolation, using tighter shots that create a much more sinister, suspenseful feel. It’s the kind of thing that you actively hope as a director that no one will notice, but that’s intended to subliminally create a sense of tension, without the audience quite knowing why.
The central cast of this film is a talented mix. How did they come together?
Jack Doolan, who plays Terence, and Mike Noble, who plays Roy, were attached to the project for a long time, and are both highly skilled actors who were perfect for their roles. The other actors we cast closer to shooting, and it was a delicate balance to get the chemistry just right.
Myself and producer Georgie Edwards had seen Charlie Bewley in Like Crazy opposite Felicity Jones and Jennifer Lawrence, and immediately thought he would make a perfect Leon. On the outside, he has a tough, jock-ish quality that’s needed for his alpha male character, yet he combines this with a hugely likeable vulnerability that’s magnetic to watch.
For the main character, Henry, we had originally intended a more introverted portrayal, yet when we auditioned Jack Gordon, we immediately saw there was a more interesting alternative. Alongside a great sense of humour, Jack has a hint of something wild, even dangerous, about him that makes perfect sense for Henry’s journey.
There are hardly any female characters in the film. How important is that to the film’s storytelling?
It’s true that Bachelor Games is unlikely to pass the Bechdel Test. The lack of female characters was in the first place simply decided by the film’s premise – it’s about a group of men on a stag weekend in the wilderness. That said, while we deliberately limited the number of female characters, the main characters’ relationships with women are in fact integral to the story.
Because we never see these women on-screen, however, the audience is forced to piece together the nature of these relationships through conflicting testimonies. It’s a dramatic device that turns out to be central to the film’s plot.
The setting of this film is almost a character in itself. Tell me about the shoot and the atmosphere created by the setting.
The setting was one of the things that drew me to the film in the first place. The landscape in the Andes, where we shot, is just extraordinary – a huge, rolling wilderness of blood red rocks that looks more like the surface of Mars than anywhere on Earth. I used extreme wide shots to capture its sheer scale and create the sense that the boys are genuinely isolated and way out of their depth.
We also lucked out with some of the oddities of the local area where we shot. For example, the ‘ghost town’ that the boys encounter was a genuine abandoned settlement – Alemania. It was deserted in the early 20th century when work on the railway that ran through it was cancelled. It is an incredibly eerie place – almost like something from the Wild West – and is the subject of numerous local myths and spooky stories.
Shooting in such a remote environment was hugely exciting, but also presented practical challenges. More than one shoot day began with a forty minute hike involving rather flimsy-looking rope ladders.
Without spoiling anything, there’s a big twist right in the middle of the movie. How tough is that to manage as a director? Is it a challenge or an opportunity?
It was both. The challenge was to make the audience feel that the twist was both surprising and entirely logical. Much of this had to do with performance. Without giving anything away, there are certain characters who aren’t telling the whole truth at the beginning of the movie, and the way the actors deliver these lines has to be quite finely calibrated.
When I was at film school at Columbia University in New York, a great teacher once said that you only had to look at Anthony Perkins in Hitchcock’s Psycho to see that lying on screen is one of the hardest things for an actor to get right – the delivery should be ‘95% truth, with just 5% lie thrown in’. It’s great advice that definitely helped me steer the performances in the first half of the film so that the twist is never signalled. But all the same there’s a small, nagging sense that all is not quite as it seems.
Do you think VOD is the best way for this film to find its audience
VOD has opened up fantastic opportunities for smaller budget films. Watching a film in a cinema is a fantastic experience, but the enormous marketing budget required for a full scale theatrical release means that for smaller films it’s often a loss-making enterprise designed solely to drum up publicity for a VOD release.
Most of us now already watch the vast majority of our screen stories via digital platforms – be it iTunes or Netflix – so it’s actually by far the most logical way to connect with an audience.
What’s next for you as a filmmaker?
In terms of fiction, I’m developing a second feature and I am also writing a TV comedy with an old screenwriter friend. I also work in TV documentaries, and have recently finished a series of projects with David Attenborough that’s taken me to some amazing places around the world – from a cave complex in the jungles of Borneo to the Great Barrier Reef.
Thank you, Edward McGown! Bachelor Games is available on VOD platforms now in the UK and will be reviewed on The Popcorn Muncher soon.