Thriller: Intoxicating Experience

An unsettling look at the ritualistic nature of dinner. Four children hope to make it through one family meal by adhering to their intimidating mother. But what’s being served? Recurrent themes for thriller at ASFF 2016 included psychological introspection, idyllic days turned menacing, and macabre role-reversals of the everyday. Featuring curious and darkly imaginative storylines, each piece evokes a state of disturbance with flair and subtlety. Carl Shanahan, director of Eat, discusses inspiration taken from daily routines.

ASFF: Eat screened at ASFF 2016 as part of the thriller strand, after screening at London Short Film Festival. It then went on to The Portland Horror Film Festival. How do you think these events have helped to further your career, in terms of showcasing this film and introducing you to a wider network?

CS: It was great to receive feedback from audience members at the festivals and also have people connecting online afterwards. This has definitely helped me create a network of filmmakers, producers and contacts for the future. I also think screenings legitimise your film in some people’s view. I see eyes light up when I mention Eat has screened at ASFF.

ASFF: Where did the idea for the film come from?
CS: My son was a very fussy eater when he was younger and mealtimes were becoming a nightly battle. I couldn’t help but feel a bit of a monster trying to coerce and force my little boy into eating something he really, really didn’t want, but at the same time I was aware we had to make him eat something. We couldn’t just let him starve. In his defence, I was trying to get him to eat things like butternut squash.

ASFF: How important is genre to you in terms of categorising your work or attributing to a sense of identity as a filmmaker?
CS: I love genre films and I think genre is incredibly important with regards to a sense of identity. For example, I would love to write a sit-com or a really beautiful romance, but I have to be honest with myself – it’s not going to happen, I don’t have that in me. Recently, I saw Manchester by the Sea and thought “God, I really should be telling important stories like that” and for a second I wondered if my love of horror/thriller and my default desire to write/direct in that genre was potentially a stumbling block. But then I saw Get Out and thought “Ah, THAT’S how you do it, I’m Okay.”

ASFF: What encompasses a successful thriller to you?
CS: Lots of slow-boiling tension and mood, lots of time with characters and a payoff at the end for your patience. I’m a sucker for a good twist too.

ASFF: How do you think that the film accesses viewers’ emotions?
CS: I hope the audience adopts a somewhat parental attachment to the kids in the film.  From the start, the odds are stacked against them with Mother’s killer stare and the awkward atmosphere, long before the food is even an issue. After seeing the film, lots of people have told me their own nightmare stories of being force-fed grim school dinners or even as adults having to adhere to dining etiquette and manners in intimidating settings, so I think people can identify with what’s going on.

ASFF: How do you think that the short creates lasting impressions on audiences as a condensed art form?
CS: I think it’s a real treat to attend a curated screening of shorts, especially when done in the way ASFF presents its screenings. Within the Thriller strand, I know going in that I’m getting a huge selection of second acts, plot twists, music cues etc. that I can come out and discuss with friends and other audience members. The best ones really do leave a lasting impression. I remember seeing Absence by Rob Savage at the LSFF and it floored me, it was incredible. I came out of that screening really wanting to up my game.

ASFF: Your next film, Crave, premieres this year. Is this film linked conceptually or stylistically to Eat? In what ways does it chart a sense of progression?
CS: Stylistically it may be similar as I shot both, but other than the fact it’s another horror / thriller there’s not much to connect the two. In terms of progression, I think I just tried to learn from what proved hard on Eat and not make the same mistakes again. Actually “mistake” is not the right term, we had zero money and everyone was pulling together purely for the love of doing it. I’m very proud of what we all achieved, but even with our incredible cast and crew we were stretched a little thin. I think with Crave I scaled back a bit in terms of logistics but hopefully upped the drama.

ASFF: What else do you have planned for this year?
Directing another thriller/horror short and then hopefully DP’ing my friend John Panton’s first feature Sparks. I may also take my son to McDonalds.

ASFF is an important outlet for moving image and digital culture; make sure your film is included. Deadline: 31 May. For more information:

1. Trailer for Eat. Courtesy of Vimeo.