With The Ritual having proved at this year’s Toronto Film Festival that horror is still well and truly on the map, we took the opportunity to pose some questions to Director of Photography, Andrew Shulkind, as he talked the horror genre, working on the film and much more…
Horror is often a genre where people tend to tarnish it with a label that often leads to words such as ‘unoriginal’; when you approached The Ritual how did you look to help bring to audiences something truly different?
I couldn’t agree more. this movie has just about every classic horror element that you can imagine: a scary forest at night, grotesque violence, a witch, mummies, a giant creature-beast, and jump scares. But I found the script to be so human and the relationships so authentic that we decided to approach the lighting and camera work as more of a drama, using naturalistic lighting and soft tones.
One of the things that I wanted to do from the beginning, was to employ the latest advances in camera sensors, lenses, and lighting technology to shoot an authentic feeling of night. so often “night” in a movie feels quite artificial and it takes me right out of the story. And for a scary horror movie that demands this level of realism, it was all the more important. So I deliberately used extremely low light levels but still using the whole range of the sensor so we could crush the image down to the sweet spot that we wanted, retaining all the little magic subtleties of the shadow detail.
I have to say that so much of the original voice is David and his direction. His unique attention to story beats, nuance, and detail is unparalleled and we are always able to have very high level creative conversations that I think are largely uncommon in horror. There seems to be a growing appetite for horror that winks at the classic tropes and takes it a step further for more sophisticated audiences and I put David at the front of that movement.
Having watched the trailer, The Ritual looks like it could have some parallels to films such as The Blair Witch Project, was there any influence from such a film?
Not really. I saw Blair Witch in the theatre and loved the perfectly creepy way that it ended, but that movie wasn’t one of our references and we were going for a much more deliberate, subtle look.
There is clearly a real attention to some haunting and intriguing visuals in the film, especially when the characters are in the forest, did you have any specific ideas of ‘visions’ that didn’t make the final cut?
There are a couple of scenes that didn’t make the final cut, but all the fun visual styles are in the movie as it lives. We experimented with a variety of different ways to move the camera. With all the unstable ground of those mountains, I was particularly keen to have a stabilized version of handheld, while still having the camera control that I get from wheels. So we settled on using a combination of steadicam, handheld, and the mini libra, which is one my favorite 3 axis stabilized heads.
Director David Bruckner created a brilliant segment for V/H/S in the past and clearly has a keen eye for impressive horror; how was it working with him?
David is super collaborative with an extremely clear sense of what he wants, so our communication is very natural. At this point, we have a clear shorthand and know each other’s likes and dislikes intuitively, so it’s rather easy to move quickly even when we’re doing complicated moves or heavy dialogue. The crew definitely has to keep up with us!
Finally, what other projects do you have in the pipeline that we can look forward to?
I’m reading scripts for my next movie. but also I’ve been shooting quite a bit of high resolution immersive content, helping studios, brands, and advertisers achieve the same kind of high-quality premium experiences in the vr/ar/mixed reality space for clients like Facebook, Google, and Samsung.
The Ritual is out in UK cinemas on 13th October.