Mention the phrase “found footage” and someone is bound to groan. The sub-genre defined by shaky cams is often regarded as trite and overdone.
But, films such as They’re Outside, premiering as part of FrightFest, prove those assumptions wrong.
Directors Airell Anthony Hayles and Sam Casserly dive into the world of folk horror through the lens of contemporary technology, creating horror through the clash of old versus new.
They’re Outside follows YouTube personality Max (Tom Wheatley) who makes videos about “curing” people of their mental illnesses.
For this episode, he’s working with Sarah (Chrissy Randall), a woman with agoraphobia who hasn’t left her house in five years. As he tries to help her go outside, Max discovers that perhaps they’re better off staying inside.
Zavvi chatted with both directors about what it takes to create found footage and how to build a myth, while sharing some of their favorites of the sub-genre.
Zavvi: So, found footage. I am a found footage aficionado. I’m obsessed with it. That’s why I was so excited for this. So, why did you guys want to create a found footage film? What was the reasoning behind it?
Airell Anthony Hayles: Let’s begin with the script, because what happened was it got written as a drama about a lady who was agoraphobic and her cabin burned down. She was forced, a bit like when the girl crosses the woods in The Village, to cross the woods to the safety of the next cabin along.
But the fire was really difficult and there are a couple of things that weren’t quite working. And when it was rewritten as agoraphobia and a celebrity psychologist working with her, it really came alive. The whole story just really worked so much better. And I love those [found footage films]. Have you got a favourite one?
Zavvi: It’s hard to choose! One of my favorites right now is As Above, So Below. I gravitated towards [They’re Outside] because I love folk horror, and I’ve only seen one other found footage film that deals with the sub-genre. Can you tell me more about the folklore and the creature of Green Eyes, and how you created that creature?
Sam Casserly: I mean, you grew up in Hastings.
AAH: I did. Hastings where it’s set, Emily Booth [an actor in the film] and myself grew up there. The Green May Day Festival happens every year, where they got all these giants walking around. But Green Eyes, our monster, isn’t part of folklore.
So, we made Green Eyes up completely to sound like it had been a story that had been part of Hastings forever. It was great, one day when I was telling somebody about this film and they said, ‘oh, I heard that story.’ They told me that they’d heard about the Green Eyes story when they were kids.
SC: When you visit his hometown, it’s a bit like going somewhere else, stepping off a plane and there’s a lot of pagans there.
AAH: It’s so great.
SC: And easy to get yourself thrown into trouble.
AAH: Yeah, you could, if you upset the wrong people, I guess. But growing up around that kind of pagan atmosphere, we wanted to create a legend where it could feel like it was part of the town and that festival.
Sadly the day with all the giants was canceled this year because of the virus, bt we very luckily filmed that last year and captured all those wonderful drummers and Morris dancing, all that kind of magical greenery stuff that you see happens every year.
Zavvi: So, when making a found footage film, were there particular movies that you looked to to draw inspiration from for They’re Outside? Which ones did you look at specifically?
SC: Ghostwatch was a big template for the film. We deliberately made the story justify the use of found footage.
In a lot of the found footage films you see, they would say, why are you filming? Why are they still filming? But [Max] is obviously making a documentary. So, he’s just filming what he’s doing.
And we wanted to make sure we weren’t doing a shaky cam. We wanted to shoot it as nicely as possible.
Zavvi: Okay, so you’ve watched found footage. You want to make a found footage film. But what is it like actually creating that and wanting to create that air of authenticity, that this is a documentary being made by this YouTube personality? How is the process in creating that onscreen connection with the characters?
AH: It’s mainly the actors. So, when you meet Sarah and Tom, I really believe in them. I thought Tom was so professional. I thought all the cast were really good. Same with Host [a recent found footage horror]. I really believe in these people and I think you got to. Sarah has a vulnerability that I believed.
SC: I think it’s important that you have characters that you can believe in and great performances. Our lead actor, Tom, definitely does have a lot of charisma.
AH: Yeah, I know you probably don’t like him too much in the film, because you’re meant to not really like him. But I quite like that he’s so despicable at times as well. He has character traits, which I’d say Green Eyes preys on and wants to bring out the worst.
Zavvi: It’s so fascinating to me how performers can make you feel really connected, like they’re real people. It’s impressive when they can portray, and then you guys can capture that authenticity, and make that emotional connection with the performer. It’s just a really interesting process. And I’m always fascinated to hear about and how you achieve that, because it feels hard!
AH: It’s a weird thing. I think you can over direct things to where we would let them roll with it and just see what they bring naturally to it. And see where the steering wheel could be adjusted a little bit. You keep it quite casual. I think that it’s a case of again, when you cast really good people like Tom Clayton-Wheatley and Chrissy Randall and all our guys. They were so close to catch and so nearly there that you step back rather than interfere with it too much. And if it isn’t quite working, you tweak little bits.
SC: Yeah, and we made sure to film in different locations and different places in the house, to change things up as much as possible and keep it interesting throughout the entire film. I know there’s some criticism of some found footage films that you only see one location with the same characters, going from the same angles.
Zavvi: It was hard to get a layout of the house, which was, I thought, was even scarier. Because it’s like you know where the living room is, but then it was, oh, there’s other bedrooms. And where are the bedrooms and the doors? And that’s a found footage thing. I love when you can get disoriented in a domestic space and you guys did a really good job about establishing it, but then changing up the angles.
AH: We really wanted to mess with people’s heads. If you watch it again, there’s even more stuff that you might pick up. But there’s a few things that we do that are just there subliminally. Beyond that, there’s some sound stuff that goes on that shouldn’t be there. It’s there to just disrupt your mental process of watching it.
Zavvi: Why did you choose a YouTube personality? It feels like a very interesting kind of interrogation of this click bait, and the way that YouTube personalities and influencer culture is very much about being in your face and getting attention.
AH: The fun in They’re Outside is the internet and modern being dragged back to the old school pagan vibe. That’s where the fun is.
SC: It’s kind of the new world meets the old.
Zavvi: I will say the reason I wanted to watch this movie was because you were the only found footage film at the festival. Found footage deserves more recognition, because of the creativity necessary for these films. You guys are probably operating on a pretty small team and had a small budget.
AH: I love the freedom of found footage, because you can just go to those places and capture some stuff that you wouldn’t.
Imagine that scene at the Green Man Day with coverage and cranes, and I love all that. But we’re not there yet. So, we have to do what we can with what we’ve got.
Zavvi: I just have one more question. Would you ever want to make a found footage film again?
AH: Yeah, we’re doing one right now. So, we’re filming on the 15th of September with Nicholas Vince and Emily Booth. Mark Arnold, who was in Teen Wolf with Michael J. Fox, in his first comedy since being in that film, which is my favourite 80’s film. So, it’s a found footage werewolf Santa Claus movie.
Santa turns into a werewolf on Christmas Eve in Hastings. He tears up the town and it’s mad. It’s obviously wildly different to They’re Outside and it’s going to be so much fun.
Zavvi: Oh, I’m so excited. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk about this movie with me and letting me nerd out about found footage. I really appreciate talking to found footage directors, and about my love of the genre, and picking your brains.
AH: Thank you so much for watching it and we’re happy you liked it.
They’re Outside will premiere at FrightFest and will play on Saturday 29th August at 7pm on the virtual Horror Channel Screen.
For all things pop culture and the latest news, follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.