In “The Morrigan,” a short horror flick, one couple’s holiday turns tragic when they encounter the ire of an ancient Irish monster. RIIFF got the chance to speak with Colum Eastwood, writer and director of the film.
RIIFF: Where did you get the idea for the film? What drew you to this topic and genre?
Colum Eastwood: I was actually working with another more established writer on a feature project based on Irish mythology when the Morrigan was brought to my attention. Of the many characters and players within Irish mythology she was the one that always stood out to me as the most interesting and one that I wanted to explore further. I had been writing feature length horror for a while and always wanted to do a horror short, so the two came together quite nicely. I was pretty surprised that we were the first to do a Morrigan film!
RIIFF: The Morrigan is a figure in Irish mythology. Can you explain the myth as you understand it? How did you alter the traditional story to create an antagonist for this film?
CE: It’s quite hard to explain Irish mythology in general as there is no one definitive text and much of the canon was destroyed or altered when Christianity came to Ireland. It very much depends on what source you want to take it from. Essentially, the Morrigan is a war goddess/deity/trickster type figure who can shape shift, taking the form of different people and animals. In our story the Morrigan is thrust upon our characters with devastating consequences.
RIIFF: This film is set very concretely in the geography of Ireland—you open with a shot of the countryside, the actors have thick accents, and you feature a poster complete with a picture of of the country. Why was it important to have the setting play such a large part in the film?
CE: Absolutely, landscapes are very much a feature in all my films. Not just for the purpose of instilling a sense of isolation (clearly important in the majority of horror films) but also in quickly establishing an old world, a mythic world where ancient things can come to the fore. Ireland is a country that’s very nature feels old and mythic to me. You can’t help but feel connected to the ancient world when you shoot landscapes here. It all helps when you are trying to build a mood and a tone in a short period of time.
RIIFF: Who are your cinematic inspirations?
CE: In general I think I have pretty wide cinematic inspirations, and feel I’m still trying to find my voice as a filmmaker. The big influences for me are John Ford, Ridley Scott, David Lean, John Carpenter, and Steven Spielberg. They all shoot pretty classically and that’s the style I like, just telling the story. I don’t feel they’re too flashy or make themselves the star of the show.
RIIFF: The monsters in horror films are often used as allegories for large ideas, such as the dangers of capitalism or weaponized femininity. What, if anything, do you think your Morrigan symbolizes?
CE: I certainly do not claim authorship of the Morrigan character from Irish mythology, but for me and our story she represents female vengeance. At a base level the lead character Richard is taking both women in his life for a ride and the Morrigan comes in to punish him, but there is also collateral damage involved—vengeance is never clean.
RIIFF: What do you think the short format brings to the horror genre in particular? What would you say are the strengths and weakness of making a horror film a short rather than a feature?
CE: I think it’s difficult to make an effective horror short and the pratfalls are pretty extreme. If it doesn’t properly work, it’s going to be totally lame. You don’t really get that jeopardy with a drama. You do with comedy—which is why I’m afraid of that genre! The problem with doing a short horror is that you need all the set up of a feature condensed into a really short period of time, then roll in with the scares without much of the creepy, foreboding build up you’d normally get with a longer form film. If you have a kind of punch line horror short that builds for a few minutes then pays off with a great scare then I think that’s brilliant, but it often doesn’t say how capable you are longer format. My overall goal is to prove myself as a filmmaker so that I can make a feature and be a professional director working in the industry, so I’m aiming for that all the time.
RIIFF: What’s next for you? Are you working on anything now?
CE: I have a few different projects in development, two of which are supernatural horrors, one of which is the feature version of “The Morrigan.” Hopefully I should have a first draft of that sooner rather than later. I’m optimistic we will get it off the ground, provided I keep the price tag down—which is a different conversation altogether. Hopefully RIIFF will accept it when we hit the festival circuit!