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Q&A: Director Brian O’Malley and Star Pollyanna McIntosh on “LET US PREY”

LET US PREY begins with water and ends with fire, presenting a visually stunning and narratively compelling horror/mystery in between. FANGORIA got a chance to speak with director Brian O’Malley and star Pollyanna McIntosh about the movie, now on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD from Dark Sky Films.

In LET US PREY (reviewed here), McIntosh plays a police officer with a dark past, relocated to a local station in small-town Scotland where they like to keep things quiet. Coinciding with her arrival is that of Liam Cunningham’s mysterious and charismatic drifter, who can see into everyone’s thoughts and begins to manipulate a long, dark night of the soul from within his cell. The film has made its way to U.S. release following a long and successful festival tour…

FANGORIA: What have the festival screenings been like?

POLLYANNA McINTOSH: We did Edinburgh and Dublin and Sitges together, and Fantastic Fest—that was great fun!

BRIAN O’MALLEY: Yeah, that was brilliant. It’s gone down well everywhere we’ve been that has played it. For me, the best one was Edinburgh. I think the humor played very well with the Scots. All the little subtleties…I mean, everybody gets them, because even colloquialisms translate in a sort of vague way to most audiences, and people get what they mean on some level. But the Scots really loved it.

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McINTOSH: There was quite a lot of alcohol consumed, I seem to remember. That probably helped.

O’MALLEY: A friend of mine was at a screening, I believe at Fantasia in Canada, in some massive 700-seater cinema, and apparently it was mental and everyone was whooping at the screen and stuff. But in the scene where Douglas [Russell] pulls the gun out of the box in his room, he said the guy sitting next to him was just rubbing his knees and going, “Oh God, no! Oh God, no!” I’d like to have witnessed that!

McINTOSH: Was it Brussels that was the really mental one?

O’MALLEY: Yeah, it opened in Brussels. At that one, people turn up with, like, hatchets in their heads, and they interact with the screen. So if you have smoking in the film, they all start puffing and coughing. And if you have birds, they caw. And we have birds and smoking, so there was a fair bit of coughing and cawing. And every time somebody got killed, they all applauded and cheered. It was quite weird!

FANG: LET US PREY was a Scottish/Irish co-production. How did that break down? It feels like a very Scottish film.

O’MALLEY: I would say it’s more Scottish than Irish. There’s Irish money in it, and of our four-week shoot, we did three weeks in Ireland and one in Scotland, but it’s set in Scotland, with Scottish actors, apart from Liam. I enjoyed the idea of an Irish actor in that role, but it could equally have been a Scot. I liked that it made him an outsider, but at the same time there’s a little connection with the Scots, so he’s not completely removed. He’s still a Celt. That worked well. I don’t think you’d ever ask why he’s there, which you might if he was American or Australian.

McINTOSH: The wonderful thing about that is that it was the Irish who brought Christianity to Scotland. That’s nicely ironic.

O’MALLEY: Really? I didn’t know that. Oh wait, I mean I did know that and it was completely deliberate!

FANG: Cunningham is so charismatic in that role.

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O’MALLEY: Yes, he is, and I can’t imagine anyone else playing it now. He’s brilliant, and I love the way he underplays the whole thing. That character was originally written as more of a rock star: quite cocky and loud and liking to talk. He’d go off on all these diatribes, and once we had Liam, we realized he isn’t like that: he’s much better at just staring at you.

McINTOSH: And yet in real life, he is a talker!

O’MALLEY: Yeah, you can’t shut him up! But we rewrote the character and deleted loads of dialogue. It was very much sculpted for Liam, and he’s a great foil to Pollyanna.

McINTOSH: Ah, but I’m just an emotional whore. Whoever the actor is, I’ll find a way to fall in love with them or be scared of them or whatever the need is! I’m very susceptible to suggestion. But with Liam, I couldn’t have asked for anyone better. Not just as an actor; we had a real laugh as well. He’s serious and professional and quiet when it’s required, but he’s sort of a cross between a bulldog of an actor and a playful, naughty child. He doesn’t get all Daniel Day-Lewis on you; he has a lot of fun. It was dancing and eating good food, and then on set he was very focused.

O’MALLEY: He’s actually a big horror fan, so he takes it quite seriously. He told me he feels it’s one of the most important sides of cinema, and if you get the opportunity to do a good horror, you should embrace it. He did it with DOG SOLDIERS, and I think in this, he relished playing a well-known horror character in his own way. That’s why I pushed for him to play it as Irish, too. I’m a fan of actors using their own accents, and I liked the idea of an Irish version of that particular role. He pulled it off beautifully.

FANG: He’s called Six in the credits, but not named that on screen. Is that a reference to 666?

McINTOSH: It’s because he’s in cell number six! The characters refer to him as the guy in Cell Six.

FANG: Duhhhhh…

O’MALLEY: [Laughs] Yeah, you’re not the only one. There’s this notion that Six represents 666 and the devil and the Number of the Beast, but to me that’s 660 numbers away! I don’t think you need that to figure out what he might be, but it’s fine if it works for you!

FANG: Pollyanna, it’s obviously not all you do, but horror is something you keep returning to as well. Were you always a fan, or did it find you?

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McINTOSH: I think it’s partly that having done some, you then get offered more. And it’s partly having done THE WOMAN, because people who love that film really love it. That has been great for me. My first horror audition was for HEADSPACE, which then led to OFFSPRING, and then THE WOMAN was born from that. I was supposed to die in OFFSPRING, but they thought I was having too much fun and wanted to keep me alive!

When I auditioned for HEADSPACE, it was for the sort of girlfriend-of-the-lead’s-best-mate role, the only woman in the piece, and it was quite a traditional part. But there’s this one scene where she turns into a monster in the eyes of the lead, who’s going through this…craziness. That was the thing I auditioned with, and apparently nobody else went for it as crazily as I did! So I believe there’s something in me that’s really fitting for genre. I have that joy in going a bit nuts, and horror allows for that. I’m very grateful. I’d much rather get those offers than romantic leads. There’s a lot more fun and conflict and so on to be explored. Horror is the looked-down-upon genre of cinema, as if it doesn’t have as much art or worth. But it has influenced cinema massively, and working in horror certainly changed my perspective on it.

I wasn’t allowed to watch horror growing up! I don’t have any background in that. I still wouldn’t go and see a studio horror, because I’d just be disappointed after all the weirdness I’ve been exposed to. Going to festivals, I’ve seen so many great, artful things.

O’MALLEY: I didn’t even see her in THE WOMAN to start with. I watched her in a British TV miniseries with Brian Cox called BOB SERVANT INDEPENDENT, where she plays a slightly nasty and irritating politician’s wife. She’s great in it! Then I watched THE WOMAN, and she’s ferocious and terrifying in that, so I knew from the combination of those that she’d be perfect in this role. Thankfully, she agreed to do it. What’s great about her as a horror actress is that, while she’s very beautiful, she also has a true physical presence, and there’s the sense that she can take those knocks.

FANG: I felt sorry for her character in LET US PREY, because she’s constantly being referred to as a bitch, and she seemed perfectly reasonable to me!

O’MALLEY: What I love about that—and Pollyanna brought this to it herself—is that Hanna [Stanbridge]’s character is jealous of her because she’s so beautiful, and Bryan [Larkin] is in love with her.

McINTOSH: And can’t have her, for sure!

O’MALLEY: He’s not good enough for her. That’s what’s going on there for me. That was great. It was a whole other layer.

McINTOSH: My character wants to do things right and by the book, and in this particular precinct that’s not the way things go down. So I think it’s more that they read her as stuck up, and threatening to their way of doing things.

O’MALLEY: They have it easy.

McINTOSH: Plus, they’re not the best judges of character, those people! It clues you into what’s wrong with them. And then you get to find out…

FANG: How did you come to this film, Brian? Did the script (by Fiona Watson and David Cairns) find you, or did you develop it from the beginning?

O’MALLEY: No, the script found me. One of the producers, Brendan McCarthy, had seen a short film [SCREWBACK] I’d made in Ireland with Liam, and I’d worked with another producer, John McDonnell, in commercials over the years. They were putting this together, and in order to access the money in Ireland, they had to have an Irish director. So it was quite fortuitous in that respect!

But they were also adamant that they wanted a director who was into genre as well as being Irish, and because I’d done SCREWBACK and also tried and failed to develop a horror spaghetti Western, they offered me the script. It was quite far along development, and when I read it, I was hooked by about page 15. Then I was lucky to get a very talented director of photography called Piers McGrail—he’s only a young guy—who helped make it look great. The look of something is important to me. I wanted a visual quality that transcended the budgetary limitations. And I wanted, 10 or 15 years from now, people not to be able to tell when we’d made it. We shot it with old ’80s Russian anamorphic lenses to give it a slightly soft texture and take the digital edge off.

We also filled it with things from the past and the present, like old photocopiers and fax machines, and tube monitors and LCD flat panels. There are no smartphones in it either; it’s a mixture of cabled and basic button phones. The doctor’s whole outfit is from the 1950s, and Liam’s coat is 130 years old. It’s a mishmash of times, so in the future, people hopefully won’t be able to place it. We went to quite a length to give it a “look.” Performances and story always come first, obviously, but I figure if you’re going to do something, why not make it beautiful while you’re at it?

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About the author
Owen Williams
Owen Williams read English Literature at university during the '90s, but preferred the company of engineers and physicists because they liked STAR TREK and metal. A regular contributor to Empire magazine, he has also been widely published elsewhere, and lives in the South-East of England with an academic and a cat. He doesn’t really blog and very rarely tweets.
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