Exclusive: DETOUR, Loving Film Noir and Hating Reality TV: A Conversation with Chris Smith ahead of FrightFest Premiere
Law student and all round good guy, Harper, suspects that his scheming step-father, Vincent, is responsible for the car crash that sent his mother into a coma. Drowning his sorrows one evening in a seedy L.A whiskey bar, Harper is interrupted by a tough looking redneck called Johnny Ray who offers to 'take care' of his step-dad for the cool sum of US$20,000. Angry, intent on revenge and fuelled by alcohol, Harper agrees to the deal and spends the rest of his evening downing shots with Johnny Ray. The next morning, Harper awakes to the mother of all hangovers with hazy memory of the previous night's events. Answering a knock at the front door, he is surprised to find Johnny Ray and his beautiful but distant girlfriend, Cherry, ready and waiting to drive to Vegas to kill Vincent. Harper's claims that he was drunk and didn't know what he was doing mean nothing to Johnny Ray who is more threatening than ever in the cold light of day. Harper quickly realises that there is no easy way out; if he wants to survive this, he has no choice but to go along with the plan. What follows is a tense and deftly constructed noir thriller in which Harper's story takes an unexpected detour, presenting the audience with two alternate versions of events with two very different outcomes. Did Harper really want to kill his step father and which road did he actually take?
Ahead of the UK premiere of his latest film DETOUR at Horror Channel FrightFest Glasgow, Chris Smith tells us the importance of FrightFest, his love of ‘film Noir’ and his hatred of reality TV..
FrightFest has premiered all your genre movies CREEP, SEVERANCE, TRIANGLE, BLACK DEATH, except GET SANTA obviously. Is this positioning an important part of the rollout process for you?
Firstly let me apologise for being away for so long and thank you for having me back. I wrote ‘Get Santa’ because I'd just had a son and was feeling like I wanted to do something that he could watch in the next 15 years. I expected the film to take a year to come together but it ended up taking four years. My son was by that time old enough to come to the premiere with a few of his class mates.
Back to the question, Frightfest is extremely important, not just to me personally, because it's always an honour, but it's important to the birth of the film. The Frightfest audiences are the first people to see it, the first to comment on it and it's nice that they're such committed fans. Putting a film out there, freeing it from the confines of the edit suite is exciting, but also scary. Frightfest, because of the audiences passion and knowledge of genre, make the process what it should be, fun.
What was the main inspiration for the DETOUR script? Many have commented on its multi-narrative SLIDING DOORS-style vibe. Complicated to write the two sides of one story?
‘Sliding Doors’ and ‘Run Lola Run’ both came out the same year. I must admit I was never inclined to watch ‘Sliding Doors’, but I know that, like ‘Run Lola Run’, it deals with the concept of different destinies being forged by blind change. Though actually neither of these films were an inspiration for ‘Detour’, which came about by chance.
It was early 2007 and I had just finished writing ‘Triangle’ and was in LA trying to finance it. I'd liked the film ‘Disturbia’, which had been a big hit and so for about three months Hollywood was trying to make Hitchcockian thrillers. An exec came to me and said she'd like to cook up a modern version of ‘Stranger's on a Train’. I think my brain was so wrapped up structurally from writing ‘Triangle’, that instead of two characters deciding to murder each other's wives, I cooked up one character, seemingly facing two destinies, based on one moral choice: To kill or not to kill?
Was it complicated to write? Certainly not in comparison to ‘Triangle’ but it offered different challenges. I was really keen for the characters to shine through more than I'd achieved in Triangle, and this is tricky because you're asking the audience to question the narrative, rather than simply immersing them in a classical structure, and then you're also hoping they feel empathy for the characters. That is the main challenge for any film that makes you aware of the film making process.
DETOUR is full of film noir references, from the HARPER poster on the wall to the clip from the 1945 B movie classic DETOUR by Edgar G. Ulmer. What is it about the film noir idiom you like?
I've always loved Film Noir. I think it is, or rather was, the cornerstone of indie cinema. These are films often made often on the cheap and yet always brimming with colourful characters, taut story lines, and scenarios where a happy ending feels impossible, instead of inevitable.
The film that has always had the biggest effect on me is Fritz Langs' ‘The Woman In The Window’. My film ‘Detour’ is arguably more influenced by that, than the Ulmer movie that we reference in the film and borrow the title from. That said, both films contain a character who crosses a line and finds that the forces that drove him there, and the company he now keeps, will never let him free again.
DETOUR is showing at the Glasgow Film Theatre on Sat 25 Feb, 4.30pm as part of Horror Channel FrightFest Glasgow 2017