‘Sacrilege’: The Debut Folk Slasher Rooted in Horror History

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After hearing how highly his actors revere him, I confess I was intimidated at the prospect of interviewing David Creed. The independent filmmaker co-founded the production company Bad Blood Films with his creative partner Mark Kenna, intending to revolutionise the horror side of British cinema. Marketed “for fans of ‘The Ritual’, ‘The Descent’, and ‘The Wicker Man’, folk horror ‘Sacrilege’, which drops on the Sky Store and Amazon Prime on the 27th of September, is their first feature from this exciting venture. But as we connect over Zoom, the man himself sits amicably in front of an enviable collection of movie memorabilia and readily engages in some small talk about the works of Clive Barker before the interview begins. He is an ordinary yet fascinating man, surprisingly relaxing to interview. Above all Creed was energetic, bursting with references to classical horror and a love for his cast and crew during our discussion of his new feature.

‘Sacrilege’ stars Tamaryn Payne as Kayla, a young woman, who, having undergone great physical and mental anguish prior to the film’s events, takes her friends (Emily Wyatt, Sian Abrahams, and Naomi Willow) on a woodland retreat to reconnect. Once they get there, however, the quartet find themselves fighting to survive against a pagan cult, led by the sinister Father Saxon (Ian Champion). Due to supernatural occurrences, the gang must face their deepest fears in a literal sense before the night is over.

If you got a sense of cryptomnesia reading that, then perhaps you saw the film in its original theatrical release nationwide back in the March of 2020. For most filmmakers, the global pandemic would be a sore spot, but Creed takes a positive spin on the affair, “I guess, though we didn’t have the amount of time in the cinema that we’d have liked, the exposure that it gave us meant that a lot of people got in touch with us and elevated us onto where we are now,” he candidly tells me. This sense of relief and pride in one’s work is echoed by his actors. “It’s lovely and really exciting to share it widely- something to look forward to,” Tamaryn Payne tells me in our midday interview. Likewise, her demeanour is friendly and enthusiastic, though by her own admission “not exactly a fan of horror.”

But despite her lack of affinity with the genre as an audience member, her commitment to the role and the film as a whole shines forth in her account. As a lead in the cast, she was active in shaping the direction of her character’s arc, a development that further speaks to David Creed’s collaborative nature. “He was happy to let us come up with and rework little bits of the script and incorporate our own ideas as well which was really special”, Tamaryn explains, “you don’t always get to do that.” Another testimony of her and the cast’s commitment came during the challenging night shoots, particularly during one fight scene where “because of scheduling the fight didn’t begin until 3am. Obviously, you go into performance mode, and the adrenaline starts flowing, and it was really fun to do. But evenings like that were the toughest.”

Ian Champion, on the other hand, revels in the genre of the macabre. His reasoning for choosing the role of Father Saxon aptly summarises the imaginative potential of the film. Drawn to the production team’s lofty ambitions for British horror, Champion is galvanised to talk about his reasoning for signing on: “what they [Bad Blood Films] wanted to do was reactivate horror movies in the tradition of the British studios like Hammer, but also you look at Blumhouse which have had such massive success with their different franchises that they have, including Jordan Peele’s work, and so they wanted to do their version of it.” Champion’s role is an archetypal horror staple, the tactile, human evil that aids the greater esoteric threat; he plays it with relish and injects gravitas that works wonders for the rest of the feature, but it is this desire to connect with a long cinematic lineage that gives his presence onscreen a tactile weight.

As the interview progresses, Creed recounts how he assembled the team at Bad Blood Films, providing lots of advice for any aspiring creatives. Using his experience working from the ground up, “I worked many crew jobs,” he tells me, “started as a runner and worked my way up to camera assistant as a runner to camera assistant.” Making connections along the way, he eventually created short films as a proof of concept until ‘Sacrilege’ could attract enough British talent. “I basically wrote ‘who wants to produce the movie with me? Let’s go make a horror movie,’” he tells me earnestly. “I did it on so many sites like Raindance, Shooting People, and Facebook.”, and so Bad Blood Films, from simple origins to present heights was born – a true underdog story.

Creed’s approach to directing actors is fascinating to hear, and thoroughly meritocratic, “I don’t often, if at all really, describe what a character should look like because I like to see if someone offers me an actor that wouldn’t necessarily feel like they could go for that part.” As the credited writer on ‘Sacrilege’, this decision to leave characterisation initially so bare has mixed effects on the picture – though the level of faith he places in his cast is refreshing. This “absolute freedom”, in the words of Champion is certainly popular too, yielding what Payne refers to as an “atmosphere of collaboration” that from her tone of voice you can tell is steeped in respectful acclaim for her director. Viewing the film through this lens elevates the film, and keeping a mental note of when a character feels lively or lifeless – knowing the cause of both states – is a worthwhile exercise for any prospective film student.

Regardless of my stance on his film, my respect for Creed is boundless. He frankly discusses a therapeutic aspect of his film, a meaningful examination of the topic of domestic abuse. This is an issue that not only the character of Kayla has to overcome, but a struggle her creator thankfully overcame. “I wanted the main fear to be something we could all relate to,” he explains after this heartfelt disclosure, “I personally overcame it because of friends and family and people that supported me, that was the crux of that story. The mental health side of things was the main throughline of the film.” It would seem that Creed is trying to start a necessary conversation relating to mental health in an era where it is still stigmatised – this isn’t just a guy trying to make a movie, but a man trying to help others through his art.

The importance of this theme, in conjunction with his laidback directorial approach (and the production team’s horror ambitions) regrettably don’t fuse together in the finished project as well as I was hoping. The film, while enjoyable, is a dichotomy: a battle between intent and execution that ultimately fizzles out.

One aspect of the movie which I feel is immune to any cynicism whatsoever is its cinematography. ‘Sacrilege’ is far from a blockbuster movie, but it looks on par with many of them. Much of this credit deservedly goes to Sarah Edwards whose keen eye makes every sequence fresh, informative, and sleek. The feature’s presentation is impressive, doubly so because of its humble origins, and on a technical level, ‘Sacrilege’ stands tall. It is within the bones of the story, its characters and screenplay, that the film falters.

The cast are enjoyable to watch, but Creed’s inattentive directing results in frequent bouts where, the central quartet, in particular, wander around the film aimlessly; and though recreational drug use is depicted in the film, the rate at which characters respond to obvious peril with childish ignorance as they move from one set piece to another soon grates. The actors approach their parts with great gusto, but a pertinent question arises: can you build a stable house without any concrete foundations? The blankness of the leads in certain sequences seems to suggest you cannot. The performers seem to be struggling more with deepening their roles than their characters’ struggle for survival; the subsequent effect on the viewer is apathy. The formulaic nature of the screenplay compounds this issue, leading to the central threat of the film feeling anticlimactic and meagre – it feels like the film only lasts as long as it does because the main characters are so clueless.

This glassy aspect of stringy characterisation also handicaps the director’s progressive intentions. The abuser that haunts Kayla throughout is more of a comical presence than anything else. The actor playing him seems lost, resulting in a performance that appears to be Andrew Scott’s Moriarty but dialled up to 11. Subsequently, despite the commendable camerawork, the scenes depicting abuse are jarring. This aspect, unfortunately, plays into the film’s romantic elements too; above all else the intent behind Creed’s LGBTQ relationship is praiseworthy, but in execution, Tamaryn Payne and Emily Wyatt’s characters display no prior hints of attraction to one another until suddenly the duo are engaged in a clunkily blocked – thoroughly awkward – love scene, while their friends are brutally murdered outside. While I’m sure this was not deliberate, this aspect seems like a voyeuristic objectification of the two women, more than anything else it feels farcical.

I want to like ‘Sacrilege’ more than I do, it is my sincere hope that its creators will redefine the landscape of British genre fiction, but their debut lacks a distinct identity. I loved its cast of characters, and unreserved praise must go to its cinematography, yet the film as a whole feels a little toothless. For a cast and crew so genre-savvy, its screenplay feels like it was assembled in a ‘Slasher Film by Numbers’ kit, and its characters seem so innocent and ignorant that a feeling of absurdity seeps into sequences that should feel packed with dread-inducing tension.

Despite my qualms with the picture, it has stuck with me: David Creed wears his heart on his sleeve, the underdog passion of his team is infectious. While I can’t say ‘Sacrilege’ was particularly enthralling, the story of its creation moved and inspired me. As a first title in the Bad Blood Films stable, it is transitional: an exciting production team coalescing, finding out what works best for them. Keep an eye on Bad Blood Films, we may just look back on ‘Sacrilege’ and see the foundations of something beautiful bursting onto the UK scene.

Sacrilege will be available on digital download from 27th September and can be pre-ordered on iTunes here and Apple TV here

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