“In the House of Flies”: Night Flight goes down into the basement with director Gabriel Carrer

By on August 31, 2016

Indie filmmakers do everything themselves: directing, writing, setting lights … bricklaying? In this exclusive interview with Night Flight contributor Richard Whittaker, In the House of Flies director Gabriel Carrer talks about making his stomach-churning kidnap horror, available on Night Flight Plus.

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There are no easy moments, no glib exchanges providing relief In the House of Flies.

The 2011 horror shows young lovers Heather (Lindsay Smith) and Steven (Ryan Kotack) in a brief moment of happiness before they are kidnapped, dumped in a basement of a seemingly abandoned home, and left to rot, all while being taunted by their unseen abductor (Henry Rollins).

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Gabriel Carrer

Director Gabriel Carrer says, “It’s not a film that maybe you go and watch and have a good time. It’s not a movie you go and escape to. That’s why it’s a harder movie to digest.”

Scripter Angus McLellan wrote the original draft in 2001, “before the Saw franchise even existed,” says Carrer. “Ten years later he and I got close, and I was itching to do a project, but I didn’t have any investors or funders at the time. So I said, I just want to dive into something, do you a script?”

McLellan had originally written the story –- then called The Hole — to direct himself, but Carrer saw its potential.

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“I read the script in one night, and just went, ‘This is great. We can totally do this for no money. We change a few things, we make it into a basement,’ and he was like, ‘Sure.'”

The first change was the title to In the House of Flies, an unabashed reference to The Deftones’ 2000 single “Change (In the House of Flies).”

That was reflected in the revised script, so rather than being thrown in a hole in a basement, the kidnapped couple are trapped in a seamless, grey-walled subterranean prison. Yet the basics of the script remained the same, and presented Carrer with a challenge, or rather, a learning opportunity.

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“I think as a director you need to practice all kinds of mediums,” Carrer says, and this gave him his first shot at a relationship drama – albeit of an extreme kind. He saw the story as “exercising that muscle of just two people in a room, talking. … That was what drew me to it, that there are two people in a room, and how you can make that interesting for 85 minutes.”

The pieces for the film came together quickly.

Carrer was won over by Smith and Kotack after seeing them in several short films and sought them out: they already knew each other, and signed on after one read-through.

Then there was the all-important basement: luckily, producer Dave McLeod owned a house in Guelph, Canada that Carrer called “the perfect shoot house.” It was vacant at the time, and it had two working bathrooms and a kitchen, so the cast and crew (many of whom were working for free) could at least be fed and watered – a big deal on a zero budget set.

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Most importantly, it had a basement. The problem was that it looked wrong, too clean and filled with regular basement fittings. Moreover, they couldn’t control the lighting, and there was no trap door (an essential part of the script) and they couldn’t fit one without cutting a hole in McLeod’s kitchen floor.

So Carrer, production designer Vincent Moskowec, and producer Chad Archibald bought a truck load of cinder blocks and cement, and built a basement within the basement.

“We made a fake brick wall that you could move, a fake window, we have our own roof so we can get camera angles from above, [but] outside those brick walls there’s maybe two feet of space and it’s the actual basement wall.”

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The cramped quarters gave the film the fetid intimacy he wanted, and building the room gave them more control, but it was still a tight squeeze, far too small for a regular film camera. Now every budding filmmaker that can’t afford a Red digital camera uses their prosumer camera, but in 2011 Carrer and crew were ahead of the curve, shooting on a pair of Canon Rebel p2i.

“That allowed us to get into the nooks and crannies of the room,” says Carrer. “We didn’t have a big rig. You just hold the DSLR and point and shoot.”

The month long production (including three days of brick laying) was emotionally brutal, so he rewarded the cast and crew before wrapping. The opening scene shows Heather and Steve before the kidnapping, on a day trip to Niagara Falls.

Carrer says, “We spent the day and the evening there, just to have fun and wrap up the shoot on a good note. The actors were happy that they were outside, and you could see that on camera.”

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There was one important cast member not there: punk icon turned professional world traveler Henry Rollins, playing the unseen abductor.

It seems unlikely that such a legendary figure would lend his talents to a tiny indie production, shot in a small university town in Ontario, but Carrer knew who he wanted for his voice of evil.

“I grew up listening to Black Flag, and I have all the spoken word LPs, and some of his books. When I read the script I went, oh man, this is Henry Rollins’ voice right now.”

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Knowing Rollins’ legendary work ethic of never saying no to anything, he reached out to the musician’s agent, and flew down to Los Angeles for a one-day recording session at the Margarita Mix studio in Santa Monica.

“I just sat back behind the console, watching Henry Rollins do the voice. There were a few little things to change here and there, but the guy was a wizard. The guy’s a machine. When he’s going to do it, he’s going to do it. Time was running out at the studio and he went, ‘whatever you need. Let’s get it done.’”

Not only did he get to meet his high school hero, but that day of recording meant he flew back with the completed audio, and a stack of signed scripts to hand out.

Carrer says, “It pumped up the cast and the crew that we had Henry Rollins’ voice.”

Go down into the basement with In the House of Flies over on Night Flight Plus.

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About Richard Whittaker

Richard Whittaker is an Englishman who somehow ended up in Texas, and still isn’t quite sure how. A reporter for the Austin Chronicle, his work has appeared in Fortean Times, Hub Fiction, Inked, and Disarmament Diplomacy, among others. He’s a member of the Austin Film Critics Association, and part of the One of Us network of film reviewers, appearing regularly on the Highly Suspect Reviews and Digital Noise podcasts, and once made William Shatner laugh. In his spare time (what there is of it), he is a professional wrestling announcer, and performs recitations of ghost stories.