Getting Under the Skin of British Horror: A Conversation with Axelle Carolyn and Neil Marshall for the home entertainment release of Soulmate | The Fan Carpet Ltd • The Fan Carpet: The RED Carpet for FANS • The Fan Carpet: Fansites Network • The Fan Carpet: Slate • The Fan Carpet: Theatre Spotlight • The Fan Carpet: Arena • The Fan Carpet: International

Getting Under the Skin of British Horror: A Conversation with Axelle Carolyn and Neil Marshall for the home entertainment release of Soulmate

11 August 2014

“The films that stay with you are the films that manage to get under your skin and into your head” says Neil Marshall. Ahead of the home entertainment release of Soulmate, The Fan Carpet had the opportunity to speak with the films writer-director Axelle Carolyn and producer Neil Marshall as we attempted to get under the skin of their ghost story and inside their heads.

“We’re halfway between horror and drama, mainstream and art house and while to me that’s what makes the movie unique and unexpected, it also disappoints some people who come in with specific expectations.” For a filmmaker making her debut feature Carolyn is bold and steadfast in her creative vision. It is difficult to perceive her contribution to the disquieting small village and haunted cottage narrative that merges horror with the investigative elements of the thriller and detective genre as anything other than a tale of halves.

In a conversation that spanned childhood to the present day, Carolyn and Marshall took us back to those early inspirational moments along with their discovery of horror, before sharing their thoughts on the creative process, working in genre, censorship versus classification as well as taking us inside of their Welsh ghost story...


Why a career as a filmmaker? Was there that one inspirational moment?

Axelle Carolyn: As far back as I can remember I’ve always wanted to tell stories, and as a kid I would write short stories and illustrate them with pencil drawings. Then as a teenager I decided film was the way forward. I grew up in Brussels, Belgium, in a family with no ties whatsoever to the film industry, and my parents insisted I got a university degree first. So I did, but once I had my degree I seized the first opportunity I had to get into the film industry, which in my case was to start writing set reports for film magazines.

Neil Marshall: I feel that film-making is what I was destined to do - I’m just not made for anything else.  There was a defining moment - the day I first saw Raiders of the Lost Ark. It was a revelation to me, and not only because I loved the movie so much, and still do to this day, but because I understood for the first time what it meant to be a film director. That movie wears its direction on its sleeve, and it’s brilliant.  I was aware for the first time that the story, sound, music and images had been created and manipulated by someone specifically for the effect it has on the viewer. I began making my first films shortly after that - learning the basics using a Super 8mm camera, and making a lot of mistakes along the way. It was a great self-education.


Can you remember the moment you discovered the horror genre?

Neil Marshall: There were two moments. The first was when I was about five or six years old and my Father woke me up and said there was something on the television I should see. It was James Whale’s Frankenstein, and I was both afraid and entranced by it. I’m not even sure I really understood it, but the images clawed their way into my brain, and they have remained there ever since.  The second moment was several years later when I must have been around twelve or thirteen and a friend had just got a VHS player. He picked up Zombie Flesh Eaters and I Spit On Your Grave from our local rental shop, and we watched them back to back. This was just before both titles were banned under the Video Nasties act in the UK. Well, it’ll come as no surprise that I was fairly grossed out and disturbed by those movies, especially I Spit On Your Grave, which is hardly a bundle of laughs, though at least Zombie Flesh Eaters has the scene with the shark!  But whatever the reaction, they didn’t scare me off watching horror movies - quite the opposite. I started watching every horror movie I could find after that!

Axelle Carolyn: I couldn’t pinpoint a specific moment, but I do remember being attracted to the darker, spookier aspects of cartoons, and The Disney Silly Symphony - The Skeleton Dance was a milestone for me - I loved it. But actually anything that had something to do with skeletons or ghosts.


Soulmate is your feature debut. How invaluable was both your time in front of the camera and the experience of writing and directing your three short films in preparing you for this transition?

Axelle Carolyn: I started writing and preparing Soulmate before I made the shorts, and so it’s hard to say. Each filmmaker has a different process, and making the shorts helped me figure out what the best preparation was for me - how to organise my notes, and what kind of shot list or storyboard helps for example. 

Having worked in front of a camera was certainly a huge advantage, because it gave me a better understanding of an actor’s work, and I like to think that it helped me figure out how to best direct my cast on set. Directing actors is one of my favourite aspects about filmmaking, and I was blessed with a fantastic cast – it was a real joy!


All of your writing and directing credits are shades of horror. What continues to attract you to the horror genre?

Axelle Carolyn: Its versatility. Horror covers so many shades and nuances, and I feel that just like sci-fi offers wonderful metaphors to comment on society, horror is perfect to express emotions and explore themes that would otherwise seem twee, or depressing. Soulmate deals with grief, suicide, loneliness, but because on the surface it’s a ghost story, it (hopefully) doesn’t come across as preachy or overly sad.


What was the genesis of Soulmate, and was there ever the temptation to be both in front of and behind the camera?

Axelle Carolyn: Yes, I was tempted at one point. But acting to me was always a means to an end. It was something I got the chance to try and experiment with for a while, but it was not a goal in itself. I was all too aware of my limitations, and so I quickly decided to focus on writing and directing. Early on when I was writing, I wasn’t sure if I was ready to direct, but the story felt too personal to let go of it. Of course it took years to get financed, and so I had plenty of time to prepare.





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