An Australian horror anthology from 11 Female Directors
When Clara discovers her deceased mother’s revered ‘Book of Dark Whispers’, she can’t stop reading the strange stories within its mystical pages. Each weird tale reveals a new facet of the twisted human psyche… or the not-so-human, as the case may be.
Dark Whispers is an Anthology horror film from creator Megan Riakos and features 11 different stories each from 11 different female directors. I spoke with Megan about the film and asked where the inspiration for an anthology project came from. “Over the past six years I’ve been involved in the Australian Women’s horror scene, mainly through the incredible Stranger With My Face International Film Festival (run by our associate producer Briony Kidd) down in Tasmania. It quickly became very apparent that there were amazing short horror films by women, that for whatever reason…were not converting into career opportunities for the filmmakers behind them,” she said. “At the same time, I was releasing my debut feature Crushed and experienced first-hand how difficult it is for female-led stories to get distribution and a wider release. Whilst this was happening there were a number of horror anthologies coming out, including the Aussie Anthology A Night of Horror Volume 1 and then XX – the women’s horror anthology from the U.S and it struck me that this could be a great way to spotlight the often-hidden work of women in horror.”
As the co-founder and NSW Board Member for Women in Film & Television (WIFT) Australia, Megan is very conscious of the large disparity of male and female directed content coming out in Australia. “The Australian Screen industry sees 84% of feature films directed by men, leaving women struggling to be seen in this landscape.” She said, “Generally, my work is varied both in content and with those who work behind the camera, but in this instance, I felt it was important to provide an opportunity to female filmmakers in Australia for this platform.”
After a call out for female directed horror shorts in July 2018, 10 directors and their films were selected to be a part of the anthology. Angie Black, Briony Kidd, Isabel Peppard, Janine Hewitt, Jub Clerc, Kaitlin Tinker, Katrina Irawati Graham, Lucy Gouldthorpe, Madeleine Purdy, Marion Pilowsky and then Megan Riakos herself directing the wrap around story that ties all the pieces together.
One of the biggest challenges of using pre-existing shorts was how to bring it all together as a singular film piece. “I discovered these films when they were fully complete, so had no impact on how they were made, however I was heavily influenced by each film when it came time to write and direct the wraparound segment which tied each segment together.” Megan explained, “They [the shorts] vary in filming formats, aspect ratios, length, styles, sound design, finishing formats and a multitude of other creative differences. We think this is part of the charm of the project but technically it was a challenge to ensure we could bring them all together in one edit process to make a cohesive film.”
The film itself is super accessible, which is such a positive as it allows a wider audience to be able to enjoy a horror experience. The horror genre in the modern age can often focus a lot on blood and gore or ramping up the jump scares, but Dark Whispers Volume 1 focuses on the psychological more then the physical presence of something horrific. “During the curation process, it became clear that many of the submitted films took a more psychological approach to horror and often subverted the typical tropes; resulting in a fresh and unique perspective firmly embedded in the female gaze.” Megan said, “It’s not to say women are confined to just one type of horror, but I think characters tend to be an important aspect of these films and when you explore character you take a more psychological approach to the genre.”
Whilst Dark Whispers Volume 1 plays around the festival circuit there is already whispering of a possible follow up. “We will gauge how we go over the following six months but are definitely planning a Volume 2 – whether that be a second horror anthology or perhaps steering over to explore science fiction.” Megan said, “Keep your eyes peeled for the next instalment, in whatever guise that might be!”
Dark Whispers Volume 1 is playing as part of Sydney’s Monster Fest on Sunday the 3rd November and if you are looking for a variety of horror on your Halloween weekend I can highly recommend grabbing some tickets and checking it out. I also asked Megan why she thinks people should come and see the film? “With ten short segments in an array of horror sub-genres there is definitely something for everyone’s taste, as long as those tastes are twisted! Plus you will be supporting all of these talented filmmakers as they move into the next stage of their careers.”