Students brave elements to film slasher

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“Cannibal of the Night” is an upcoming short film co-written and directed by Webster senior Jake Ward. The cast and crew spent the weekend of Jan. 13-15 filming in freezing temperatures in southern Illinois. 

Ashley Schwach, a junior conservatory major who plays a character named Catherine, said that the elements helped her get into character for the horror film. 

Cast and crew during a chase scene through the woods. Photo By John Farish.

“The cold definitely added something,” Schwach said of a chase scene through the woods. “And I’m really scared of the dark, but that worked out because I was supposed to be scared.” 

The cast and crew of “Cannibal of the Night” demonstrated their passion and creativity on set, from the cramped interior shots to the freezing cold exterior shots.

The story follows Henry, played by junior conservatory major Jacob Farmer, who has set out to find his older brother, a therapist who has gone missing. When Henry arrives at the remote home of one of his brother’s patients, he is greeted by a sallow older man named Jerome, played by Kurt Aubuchon. Henry’s situation quickly goes from bad to worse in this gruesome slasher. 

The work of the people on the movie set was closely linked to their surroundings. This could be seen in the script changes made to adapt to developments in shooting locations, or by Schwach’s seeming to tap into primordial survival instincts when running from the killer. The physical space of the set presented obstacles, forced quick adjustments and was drawn on for inspiration. 

Because the location was an Airbnb chosen a couple of weeks before shooting, it worried some of the production team at first, but producer Charles Roberts said that adapting to the location encouraged the film’s creativity.  

“Everyone on the production team who read the script had a different view of how this would look, and directors are really specific with how they want it to feel,” Roberts said. “For a while, it was kind of up in the air the exact aesthetic we would use until we got here and felt it out.”

Much of this creativity originated in the set design department, which built a kitchen and bedroom suitable for Jerome almost entirely out of parts found on location. 

Contributed photo from Jake Ward.
“The work of a good set designer often goes unnoticed,” Amira Brooks, one of the film’s set designers, said. “But location and environment always have an effect on a film.”

The limited resources of the set design department means their influence on the film has to be subtle. This makes the film unique in the genre of horror, which often relies heavily on visual effects.

“We want to break the stereotype of the serial killer being in a broken-down house,” Ryan Budd, co-writer and director of “Cannibal of the Night,” said. “I think it’s more interesting that he has a nice house. It’s what’s buried in the closet that’s scary.”

For these filmmakers, the less overtly horrifying set is not a shortcoming, but a creative choice that will affect how audiences watch the movie. Being on location allowed the film crew to approach their old material in a new way. It started a process of adjusting the script that brought it from the idealized vision of a film to something that could be acted out, shot, edited and shown to audiences. 

Director Jake Ward poses with actor Kurt Aubuchon. Photo by John Farish.

Ward, a senior film major and co-writer and director for “Cannibal of the Night,” spoke on the process of adjusting and rewriting.

“I believe this is one of the best things about filmmaking,” Jake said. “You know how you want your film to look, and overcoming obstacles to that goal is a testament to the crew. It’s a testament to everyone coming together and making something we can all be proud of.”

“Cannibal of the Night” will be shown at the senior overview showcase in the week of May 7.

 

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John Farish
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