8 Questions to Die For: ‘Prowl’ Director Patrik Syversen

In cooperation with Syfy and Lionsgate, on January 28th After Dark Films is releasing eight “After Dark Originals” in theaters, in a bid to take the “horror festival concept to a higher level”. Instead of acquiring the films after the fact, as with “8 Films to Die For”, these Originals were developed from the ground up at the famed genre distributor in an effort to create “high quality horror films” with full input from the After Dark team. Now, in anticipation of their release, B-D reporter Chris Eggertsen put eight questions to the directors of each of the upcoming films, in a series we’re calling “8 Questions to Die For: Interviews with the Directors of the After Dark Originals”. In this final installment we interviewed Prowl director Patrik Syversen, who last directed the grisly horror film Manhunt. The villains this time around are described as “bloodthirsty creatures” who hunt down a group of unlucky friends inside a warehouse. See inside for the full interview.

While initially reading the premise one could be forgiven for assuming After Dark Originals’ Prowl was about vampires, according to Norwegian director Patrik Syversen (who helmed the brutal 2008 film Manhunt) the word is never actually uttered in the film. Rather, he describes it as a “survival horror” film in which he attempted to balance the gory elements (of which there are plenty) with the journey taken by the young characters fighting for their lives. In our interview he also discussed the look of the creatures (somewhat similar to the vamps in 30 Days of Night), the “harrowing” experience of shooting the film in only 19 days, and being part of a new wave of Scandinavian horror directors.

Bloody-Disgusting: From the few stills I’ve seen, the “bloodthirsty creatures” described in the “Prowl” synopsis look quite a bit like the vampires featured in “30 Days of Night”. Were you at all inspired by the look of the vamps in that film?

Patrick Syversen: Finding the look of the creatures was actually quite a process. In the script, they were written as bird-like creatures. Initially, we followed this up, and did some pretty different designs. But given time restraints, budget, and other factors, we were forced to think differently. The movie was shot in 19 days, and it was pretty harrowing. There are several creatures in the film, so the first thing i did was to think of ways to tell the story, but simplify certain elements. To me PROWL is a survival horror film, and the core of the story is the journey the characters go through, not the look of the creatures. So i decided to go in the other direction and make them primal, simple and in your face. No fancy things, just sharp fangs, dark eyes and clawed fingernails. In hindsight, I see why people compare them to the vampires in 30 DAYS, but that was never my intention. The intention was to go to the core of the creatures: they prey on humans and they are aggressive, and that is reflected in their look.

BD:Based on your IMDB page, you’ve written or co-written every other film you’ve directed. Were you at all wary of directing another person’s script (Tim Tori) in the beginning?

PS: I liked Tim’s script, and found a thematic link between his script and the things I write. So directing something I hadn’t written didn’t bother me in that respect. It was actually quite liberating. Tim is very talented. I loved the central character’s journey, and that appealed to me. Working from other people’s scripts forces you to find your own version of the film, to give the story a distinct voice and a suitable look. So it’s always a matter of making it personal, yet honoring what is on the page. I’d never direct a script I couldn’t relate to on a personal level, mainly because it takes so much work, time and effort to actually make a film, so there has to be a reason to make it. We changed some elements and details in the process, as you always do in pre-production, but the core of the story was always there. Plus, getting a chance to do a creature survival horror like this was really cool.

BD:How did the association with After Dark come about?

PS: I got the script from my reps, and really liked it. I read a bunch of different stuff, but this screenplay had an energy and a pace that got me hooked. The project was set up with Dobré, and they took it to After Dark. It went pretty quickly actually. Thankfully, the producers involved liked my previous film MANHUNT so within weeks the project was set up and good to go. I think we got word in May, so casting started right away. Then we shot it in July in Bulgaria. The ADF people have been really supportive throughout the process, so that has been great.

BD:I’ve heard it said that “Prowl” is not “glitzy and overdone” like a typical Hollywood film, but more “European” in style. Was this quality at all present in the script or is this something you brought to the production?

PS: I’d say the central themes in the film lend themselves to my directorial approach, but it was definitely my choice to take the film in that direction. In other hands, the film could’ve been completely different, but to me it’s always been very important to find a distinct voice when telling a story. So the moment the script is handed over to me, it’s my job to tell the story the way I see it and the way I want to convey it. My approach could probably be described as “European”, but it was never a mantra to go out and make something “European”. Then again, I am European so I guess it’s hard to avoid. I wanted the film to have a certain class, yet be harrowing, in your face and horrific. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a straight up horror film with good scares and intense sequences, but hopefully it’s told in a somewhat tasteful way.

BD:Which of the traditional vampire “movie rules” do your vampires follow? Are they repelled by crosses? Allergic to sunlight? Killed with a wooden stake to the heart, etc?

PS: None of those elements are addressed in the film, actually. We never say the word vampire, and they are portrayed as aggressive predators. The mythology is opened up in the third act, and we learn about who they are and why they are that way, but I won’t spoil that here.

BD:Fans of hardcore horror want to know: what’s the level of gore in the film?

It’s pretty violent, but not excessively gory. My first film MANHUNT was brutal and had a sadistic streak. I’ve avoided that sadism in PROWL, even if it is intense and bloody. My focus was to make it scary and exciting. Where MANHUNT lingered on the acts of violence to a certain extent, it kind of explodes in PROWL without too much dwelling on suffering. I found that to be scarier for this film. That said, there is violence, there is blood, (even severed limbs), so gore hounds will get what they want. And there’s an attack sequence in the second act which I’m very proud of. I haven’t pulled any punches, and there were no restrictions on the level of violence. It was always meant to be an R-rated film, and we definitely live up to that. It’s always difficult to find a balance in a horror film when it comes to the depiction of violence, but I think we made the right choices in order to serve this specific story.

BD:You’re just one in a wave of up-and-coming horror directors hailing from Scandinavian countries. Do you feel at all like you’re part of a movement, or a “mini-movement” at least?

PS: There are a lot of Scandinavian horror directors, and it’s pretty cool to be considered a part of that movement. It’s a small community, and we meet at festivals and such. Fellow Norwegian directors, like Tommy Wirkola and those people, are friends of mine, and we read each others things, stick together and exchange ideas. The exciting thing is that there are so many distinct voices and sensibilities, so even though Scandinavian horror has become a thing, I find that most the directors have their niche. Which is great. It gives the industry a certain freshness, and there are so many talented people out there. The best thing about a so called movement is the fact that new directors and filmmakers are given the opportunity to have a go at their projects to a bigger extent than before. In Norway, films like COLD PREY and DEAD SNOW have made it possible to pitch a horror film to a production company without getting the high hat right away, and that has a lot to do with the recognition films like that get abroad and with audiences. So it’s great, and I’m proud to be considered a part of it.

BD:I see you have a couple of non-horror projects in post-production. Will you be returning to the horror genre again any time soon?

PS: Most definitely. Horror holds a dear place in my heart. I’m currently in post on a comedy, and before that I did an indie drama, but in the end it’s all about telling a story. It always starts with an idea or an emotion, and based on that, I find the genre best suited to convey the story. I never start the other way around. MANHUNT came from a pretty aggressive place, and PROWL too, to a certain extent. Now, having done a comedy, I’m more than ready to do a horror film again. There are horror projects I’m dying to do, and my writing partner and I have a couple of horror scripts we’re working on that are really exciting.