The Gatehouse Synopsis: Eternity (aged 10) lives in a haunted gatehouse at the edge of an ancient forest. She likes to dig for buried treasure in the woods, but one day she digs up something she shouldn’t and the forest want it back.
Release Date: 10/01/2016 (UK), 12/05/2017 (VOD, USA)
Runtime: 1h 37 min , Coolthulhus Earned: 5 out of 5
The Gatehouse Review
I can’t even begin to say how much I loved this movie. It was beautifully shot, lighting was perfect and the effects were breathtaking. The cinematography was gorgeous. Even if I didn’t like the story I would have loved to look at it. Fortunately the story was amazing. It was very different than what I was expecting. I didn’t know it had won awards because, quite honestly, I don’t pay attention. I know, horrible to do as a reviewer that’s trying to be professional but awards don’t always indicate the quality of a movie. I am happy it did, though, if only to get it some recognition and push toward the public eye.
The acting was superb and spot-on. I haven’t seen any of the actors before but I was so impressed. Simeon Willis was excellent in his role as the somewhat frazzled dad. The real stand-out however, is Scarlett Rayner. In my opinion this was a tricky role to play well, especially as a younger actress. It would have been very easy to have the character of Eternity slip into a bratty ten-year old if played not as well as Scarlett Rayner pulls it off. She was funny, interesting, at times infuriating and all around awesome. As far as her character is written it’s an excellent mix. she’s basically a kid. Smarter than most and I’m so glad they didn’t go for the “Smart Kids Must Be Emotionless Robots” trope. Also, the character of Daisy (played by Vanessa Mayfield) turned out to be a solidly likable character, which kind of surprised me.
I really hope it doesn’t get hit with the Crimson Peak effect. People went in expecting a ghostly horror story but weren’t expecting a dramatic ghost story (which really shouldn’t come as a surprise when you look at del Toro’s other movies). This is labeled as horror/adventure/drama/fantasy and a bit of a mystery as well for a while but it does not fall into any of those categories easily and yet fulfills all of them. So, keep an open mind going in because if you go in expecting it to fall firmly into one of those genres you will be surprised. The relationship between the father and daughter is one of the better ones that I’ve seen portrayed in movies in a long time and it’s very refreshing. Some might quibble with that because of one scene but, honestly (and Cthulhu knows I’ll probably get some comments for this) but I don’t know if I would have reacted much differently. The story establishes their relationship quite well.
There were some truly surprising twists to it and things that are fore-shadowed are done very subtly and don’t clobber you over the head with them. There was one part that actually surprised an out loud (very loud) laugh from me because it was so funny and unexpected. Trust me. You’ll know it when you see it. That is another thing I loved about it. There was humour in it, as well. Mainly more quiet humour but (and I never use this word) it was charming and fit the tone of the movie so well. There is also one very unexpected brutal moment that truly surprised me because the movie keeps you so off-balance for a while (in a good way) that it’s unexpected and you’re not really sure what’s going on, what’s real, what’s not.
My only two quibbles with it are pretty minor. There’s one scene that, in regards to the end, doesn’t really make sense. The other is the scoring. In some places I didn’t think that it really went with the scene or the feeling that it seemed like the scene was trying to convey. There was one moment though where it was a perfect synchronicity of music, scene and everything and used so effectively for humour that it was perfect. And I can actually mention the scene (yay!) it was a “horror movie music” note complete with a lightning strike and asylum = perfect.
So please, please watch this movie, give it a chance, don’t go in with preconceived genre expectations.
Interview with Director Martin Gooch
Sci-Fi and Scary: The story in The Gatehouse is very rich in mythology. Did you have to do a lot of research on the background of the lore you used?
Martin Gooch: Growing up in England I think mythology and history is all around – you learn some of it by osmosis. My dad is really into history and there were lots of books in the house so I would avidly read those books as a kid. I’ve always loved a bit of ancient history and lore. I didn’t do much actual research for the film as I had already done 30 years of research thinking about it…
Sci-Fi and Scary: Where did you get the idea for the story in The Gatehouse?
Martin Gooch: I just made it up. It didn’t really come from anywhere. It’s two stories , really. The story of Jack the dad and Eternity, the daughter. Both are on a sort of a quest and the film has a classic three act structure so once I had the story in my head I plotted it out to fit the structure. There was a subplot which we actually filmed but it didn’t really add to the pacing of the movie, s it went in the edit, I hope it’ll be on the DVD extras.
Sci-Fi and Scary: The Gatehouse is a superb blending of several genres. Was it a conscious effort to make it cross genres the way it did or was it just the natural result of the story?
Martin Gooch: Thank you. Yes – I didn’t want to do a straight horror as there are so many horror films with no individual voice so I wrote a Gothic Horror – or fantasy. My original pitch was “it’s like Pan’s Labyrinth, only without the Labyriinth…or Pan”. I feel it is closer to Time Bandits by Terry Gilliam than it is to a straight horror film.
Sci-Fi and Scary: The effects and creations in the movie were very creative and unique. How closely did you work with the effects technicians to create them?
Martin Gooch: Extremely closely. I had a strong idea of what the Horned God looked like based on legends of Herne the Hunter who used to live in ancient forests (and maybe still does). I imagined him just standing there in a clearing in the woods watching you – a silhouette with his horns making him over 7 feet tall. Quite a sight! And this is the image we have in the film when they meet the Horned God in the middle of the forest at the end of the movie. I drew some pictures and found a lot of reference images to show our art department. We were lucky to have the immensely talented Inma Cooke and Charlotte Ball as our monster makers and they just worked incredibly hard and made us a monster!
Sci-Fi and Scary: You had originally interviewed Scarlett Rayner for your film The Search for Simon. When you were writing The Gatehouse, did you have her in mind from the beginning for the role of Eternity?
Martin Gooch: Yes. I totally wrote The Gatehouse with Scarlett in mind – we never interviewed any other actresses for the role. It was written for her and a lot of the dialogue was because I had listened to how Scarlett spoke and used that as a template for how Eternity would speak. I also went through the script with Scarlett and got her to make the dialogue fit how she would actually speak. For example: In the scene where she meets the police woman (Sarine Sofair) in the forest and waves her stick at her – Eternity says, “I’m not alone, I’ve got this stick which, FyI could have your eyeball out!” That was one of Scarlett’s lines.
Sci-Fi and Scary: Speaking again of Scarlett, she was nominated two times (and won once) for Best Child Actress for her role as Eternity. Her screen presence is quite potent considering how new she is to film. Do you think there was any specific scene that won over the judges or just her performance in general?
Martin Gooch: I think she is a very natural actress and she has just ‘got it’. She learnt the whole script back to front and inside out. For the whole shoot I never actually saw her looking at the scripts, she had learnt it so well (a lot of actors could take a lesson here) and this gave her the confidence to work n the performance and not be worried about remembering the lines. She knew the script so well she could even help the other actors when they stumbled over a line or two…
Sci-Fi and Scary: What were your main influences for The Gatehouse?
Martin Gooch: I read a lot and I find that images are the greatest influence rather than stealing from other films. My influences include 20000AD the comic, and stories like Summer Magic and Pat Mills fantasy stories. It’s also loosely based on the Herne the Hunter legends and Gothic literature. The films it is closest to are, as I said, Time Bandits, but also The Watcher in the Woods and things like that.
Sci-Fi and Scary: You’ve also served as writer/director for The Search for Simon, After Death, and quite a few shorts, not to mention your upcoming sci-fi Black Flowers. Beyond more involvement in the beginning with the script, obviously, does the process change much for you as opposed to when you are just serving as director or producer?
Martin Gooch: The main difference is that when you’re ‘just a director’ you don’t have much control over the script on set, if something isn’t working or an actor wants to change something, you can’t just do that, you have to use what is written on the page, even if it doesn’t work. so, it can be frustrating, but on the other side of the coin, you just have to get on with directing and if the script is bad then you just have to work extra-hard to bring that script up through camera and performance and then the scriptwriter will jut think they wee brilliant and they did all the work! But if the script is good it’s always just a pleasure to be directing it regardless of who wrote it.
Sci-Fi and Scary: The Gatehouse received four awards and five nominations across several film festivals including, Best Film (Iowa Independent) and Best Sci-Fi/Horror Feature (London Independent). Is there one in particular that you’re most proud of?
Martin Gooch: It’s always fantastic to win any award and I’m grateful to the festival not only for selecting our movie but also realizing its worth and honoring the work with an award! It was particularly exciting to win at the London Independent Film Festival as we had no idea if we were even in with a chance and it was the first film festival we were in competition with so it was particularly magical to win. Actors Simeon Willis and Vanessa Mayfield were with me so all three of us could go and collec he award. It was a great event.
Sci-Fi and Scary: Has there been any particular reactions from the audiences at various screenings that impacted you?
Martin Gooch: We had a screening at Sci-Fi London Film Festival And afterwards a young lady came up to me with tears in her eyes and told me it was the most beautiful film and she absolutely loved it. She asked me lots of questions and was very excited to meet some of the cast and crew. I felt that she had really “got it” and connected with the movie, which was a wonderful thing. I’m glad I could make someone so happy.
Sci-Fi and Scary: What was the best experience you had in the creation of The Gatehouse?
Martin Gooch: It was a great shoot on the whole. We had a really wonderful crew – particularly Mark Hammond the DOP who I have been working with off and on for twenty years since we were both camera assistants together at Shepparton Studios, England. One of the best days was shooting the night scenes with the two girls (Vanessa Mayfield and Samantha White) being attacked by the Horned God on the path through the woods at night. There was just a great atmosphere on set and I think the Horned God (played by Tom Green) looked particularly good that night, thanks to our awesome art department and brilliant lighting from Mark. It was one of the last days of filming and we were excited to bring the film to a close.
I enjoyed shooting the opening scene on the Quantock Hills in Somerset. That was real fog, nothing to do with a smoke machine and as Dad and Eternity appear out of the fog that’s actually how it was, we didn’t do anything. It was very weird as we were on top of a hill, inside a cloud and all the water in the air absorbs the sound so it all sounded like we were inside a big ball of cotton wool. No one could hear anyone shout directions! But it was good fun and we were blessed by perfect weather. It was a good day.
We want to thank Martin Gooch again for taking the time to answer our questions and giving us such a great interview! As always, thanks to October Coast for setting us up with such an amazing movie and opportunity!