The Zombie Research Society recently spoke with director Matt Beurois regarding his new film The Barn, a wonderful thriller that finds itself at the crossroads of horror and mystery. Starring Guillaume Faure, Ken Samuels, and Piper Lincoln, this interesting new take on the genre provides a gritty and realistic look at a small Virginia town in the grips of a serial killer!
Equal parts police procedural and zombie horror, The Barn follows the investigation of a local reporter that threatens to expose the dark secrets of a small farm town still recovering from a deadly zombie outbreak; now currently available online via iTunes, Amazon, and Target.
Despite the picturesque setting, The Barn manages to create a tense, brooding atmosphere thanks to some beautiful cinematography from Yannig Dumoulin and a wonderful score by songwriter and actress Auregan. However, we were especially interested in the depiction of the zombies themselves! Unlike most cliché zombie films, the infected here are portrayed in a surprisingly subtle manner; allowing the actors to really develop their individual characters.
In fact, the filmmakers even did some real-life zombie research of their own! During the end credits we noticed the reference to a document titled “In The Event of Zombie Attack” from The European Bioinformatics Institute. And those are just a few of the topics we discussed with the writer and director Matt Beurois in our exclusive interview below – so check it out!
Your background includes several short films and documentaries, so what inspired you to write and direct a full-length zombie film?
I discovered cinema watching action and epic movies in the 90’s, then discovering all the 80’s classics on VHS. I was mostly into the fantastic and fantasy genres; “Robocop”, “Alien”, the original Romero trilogy was among them… “Zombie” of course, but also “Day of the Dead”. What’s great in zombie and horror films, as an artist, is that you can talk about our current issues as a society. But the movies remain entertaining because you just transposed ideas and concepts into monsters that you can see and interact with.
To me, THE BARN is set after “Day of the Dead”. The epidemic is behind us, the human race survived, but zombies are still here too. In Romero’s film you discover through the scientists that the zombies are still human inside: listening to music, picking up a phone, and trying to have a conversation. THE BARN follows up on that idea: we are underestimating the zombies, and most of all – we have a wrong understanding of what they are capable of.
Although there are elements of horror, “The Barn” could also be described as a thriller, a mystery, or even a crime drama. How did you approach the script while filming?
You’re right, THE BARN stands at a crossroads, and that was intended. Some horror elements are clearly picking up in the slasher genre, with a classic remote-area set storyline. But what shakes the characters in the film is something pretty human: a serial killer. The everyday life in town includes the kids, the disease, the survival, the secrets. But the challenge the characters face is to keep up with their usual world (which is fantasy), when the menace is very down-to-earth and realist: a killer who rapes and tortures.
To make it work, the approach was to follow the characters. Each one of them has a role to play in the community. But they also have an obsession, or a hidden objective, they will try to reach throughout the movie. Again, it’s a game of masks; relying on characters who act and react in believable ways – which is closer to the drama, I guess, than to the horror genre.
You managed to create a dark and eerie atmosphere despite the otherwise sunny and picturesque setting of a small-town farm. Did you discuss the cinematography and music beforehand, or was this accomplished during the editing and post-production of “The Barn”?
Since the beginning, it was very clear the music was going to play a huge part. But I had a very hard time finding the composer who could make a match between his sound and my images. At first I wanted something acoustic, almost bluegrass … I wanted to hear the wood, the chords. I believed it would add to the organic feel of the movie. It didn’t work out with the first composer. He was very talented, but the music didn’t feel right when on screen. The second one was also good. But again, his style felt out of place with my images. The third one I said “you can do whatever you want”: the sound was indeed different but still, it didn’t match the pace and the atmosphere. With the fourth and final composer, Auregan, I tried to erase my own preconceived ideas regarding the music. And I asked myself “what’s the opposite of what you believed would fit this film?”: and that was going back to the clean, digital, keyboard style of John Carpenter. Not organic at all, just linear sounds with some very clear melodies going in loop, like for the main character: every day is the same. And that worked! It gave the movie something on the edge and at the same time… out of time. That’s what I feel, and the movie wouldn’t be the same without this score.
As for the cinematography, I had an excellent DP; Yannig Dumoulin. He took advantage of the natural lights and managed to make miracles on the night sets. Regarding the style, I choose not to use tripods except for a couple scenes. And I explained to the camera operators the organic feel I was looking for; almost like they were shooting a documentary, following these people in their hometown. But still, the framing remained very cinema-like of course.
All of this was very much prepared and intentional. A lot of work in pre-production!
Your team created some wonderful special effects makeup, but they were surprisingly subtle for a zombie film. Was your depiction of the living dead inspired by any previous zombie movies?
I take the subtle approach as a compliment! THE BARN is not a bloody movie. I consider it like a dark, realistic tale of mixed human behavior. In fact, the word zombie is never said in the film – they refer to “the kids”. My depiction is based on the fact these kids contracted a disease, and that disease evolves in different ways depending on how the kid deals with it. In the movie, April, the leader of the pack, is affected for more than a year: you can see it on her face, her hands, and her eye. But it remains subtle, considering she is the oldest survivor. Because she embraced her new condition, taking advantage of it. On the opposite; Chad, the first kid we see entering the barn, is vigorously fighting his condition, resulting in a disease spreading really fast in him. In just a few days, you can see his wound going through different phases until complete blindness of one eye.
I didn’t refer to any specific movies to make mine, but you can find common points with “Warm Bodies”, “World War Z”, and “Maggie” – which is the only one with “Day of Dead” that I used as a reference with my cast and crew.
Considering the modern interpretation of zombies as violent, mindless, flesh-eating ghouls; did you have to workshop or explain the restrained behavior of your zombies to the actors prior to filming?
The kids in THE BARN are not flesh eating. The farmer feeds them with raw meat. And there’s even a scene where you can see one of the kids, Chad, who’s trying his best to eat it because he’s hungry. But he’s clearly not attracted to that meal. Give him a hamburger and fries, he’ll devour it!
The main actors – I didn’t have to explain it to them because they focused more on their performances, and let’s say the storytelling side. When it came to the scenes inside the barn, they hit their mark, followed my vision and the choreography.
For the kids; Auregan played April, and she was well prepared, as we wrote the script together: she knew the character and all we wanted to show through her. She just needed specifics on the camera placement, and we worked on the way she moved too. I also used some tricks in post-production, some details you don’t notice bare-eyes, but your brain does, making her look even weirder.
The only actor I had to restrain in some ways was Hadrien, who portrays Chad. But it’s because he’s so full of energy! Very often I was directing him saying “less, less!” He’s a stage actor, used to moving wide and speaking loud. I had to direct him so he gave just what I needed for the camera. But I picked him for that very reason. I knew he would bring his energy to the role, and at some point in the film, we unleash the beast!
We noticed that you cited the The European Bioinformatics Institute (@emblebi) during the credits of “The Barn” by referencing a document called “In The Event of Zombie Attack.” What is this document, and how does it relate to your film?
It’s a document under creative commons that explains how to deal with a zombie attack, the same way the airplane companies print colorful sketches on how to react in the event of a plane crash. I discovered this document in pre-production, and I liked the fact it was quite serious and believable! The opening of the film sets up this reality after a global epidemic, you can see scientists, Obama talking of the CDC, experiments, archive and news footage. It was a question of finding the right balance for an entertaining opening but still, it is already quite like everything you see on TV nowadays.
Finally, and without providing any spoilers, your film appears to end on a positive note… although there are hints that something sinister awaits. Can you see yourself revisiting the story, or following up with a sequel for “The Barn”?
I feel I would prefer THE BARN to remain a film on its own. The ending leaves it open to the audience’s interpretation. Just think of it when you watch the film: what can happen next, what would logically happen now? Who made it turn out this way? Is this really gonna be so peaceful? Hey, the farmer just opened Pandora’s box… It usually doesn’t end well after that.
But hey, never say never! The characters that died in the film could raise from the dead and come back in a sequel. And the playground is so much wider now…
The Zombie Research Society would like to thank both the Talent Factory and Matt Beurois for taking the time to answer our questions! To learn more about The Barn, please visit the official website where you can view trailers, photos, and much more! You can also check out Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram or purchase the film online via iTunes, Amazon, or Target.