Interviews: Director Matt Mitchell Talks About His Upcoming Horror Film The Rizen

A door to unspeakable horror opens this January. Laura Swift (The Snowman), Sally Phillips (the Bridget Jones series), Bruce Payne (Warlock III, Passenger 57), Julian Rhind-Tutt (Lucy), Tom Goodman Hill (Everest) and The Young Ones’ Adrian Edmondson star in writer-director Matt Mitchell’s “fast-paced and thoroughly entertaining”* action-horror The Rizen, invading VOD this January from Uncork’d Entertainment. 

The year is 1955. NATO and the Allied Forces have been conducting secret, occult experiments in a bid to win the Arms Race. They have finally succeeded, but what they have unleashed could tear our world apart. Now one woman must lead the only other two survivors past faceless horrors that threaten to kill or capture them at every turn. They are the only ones left who can fight to close a door that should never have been opened. 

Matt Mitchell sits down for a fairly “off the record“ chat about his new movie The Rizen, invading VOD January 2, 2018 from Uncork’d Entertainment. 

TMS: What does the title The Rizen refer to, sir? 

MM: Well, that’s a good question. To be honest - and don’t tell anyone else this - when I first wrote the script it was originally just called The Tunnel. We never left the escape tunnel, even at the end of the script. It was pretty dark. 

However, after a couple of drafts the ‘world’ started to expand (one of the things I love about filmmaking, and sci-fi/horror specifically, is the world building involved, creating something that feels like it has weight and a bit of history/mythos behind it). 

As the world grew, it became clear that the story had a fairly heavy Lovecraftian/cosmic horror lean to it. The Rizen actually refers directly to the kind of nameless horror that gets revealed at the end of the film (#spoilers). 

TMS: Is it fair to say the movie is influenced by some of the great classic monster movies of the past? Can you talk about those influences? 

MM: That is not just fair to say, it’s spot on. We piled everything we love about sci-fi/horror (that we could pull off within the crazy constraints of such a tight budget) into The Rizen. Not just films either, there are some pretty clear gaming references in there too. 

If I listed all of them we’d be here all day, but something that was very satisfying at the London Sci-Fi Film Festival (where we were lucky enough to close out the show), was how many references people were getting and how much fun everyone had spotting them. 

Ok, ok, I can’t answer this without mentioning at least one of them, can I? I’ll go with a gaming reference… there’s a moment in the film where our heroine, Frances (Laura Swift) stumbles across a crowbar she can use as a weapon, that’s a direct reference to the game Half Life, which I’m a big fan of. 

TMS: How hard is it to make an independent movie? 

MM: It’s like swimming upstream a river of slowly hardening concrete, and the whole time you’re shouting ‘thank you thank you we’re so lucky thank you!’ in constant fear that if you stop swimming or shouting, someone will take the opportunity away from you… 

…then there are the bad days. 

I’m joking of course, it’s honestly a great privilege and the fun days easily outweigh the not-so-fun days. 

TMS: I imagine it’s also quite difficult making one that encompasses either make-up or creature effects? How much time is spend on honing in those? 

MM: Well, it certainly makes the concrete harden a bit faster! 

Pulling off a low budget indie film on this scale takes meticulous planning for all departments - there are months of production meetings and schedules and lists and lists of production schedules. Everything to the last scrap of latex and drop of fake blood is itemized and accounted for. 

Then onset that all goes out the window and it’s chaos - usually because I’ve thrown some kind of spanner in the works (and this was the same for production design and costume and camera and sound too). 

Our Make-up Designer (Jess Heath) was responsible for all prosthetics and sfx on The Rizen - and anything remotely gory/bloody/gross/weird/lols - and she was continually coming up with incredible workarounds and ways to cheat what we needed to get. 

TMS: And in terms of distribution, with so many films getting produced these days, was it difficult to find a home for The Rizen? 

MM: This is a question best answered by the films incredible Producer, Clare Pearce - who is the tireless (and usually thankless) champion of anything that becomes part of our slowly growing catalogue at Lost Eye Films Ltd. 

We’ve been very lucky with the film getting picked up for distribution both in the UK and worldwide, but this was something that Clare had worked into the film right from pre-production. 

TMS: How important were festivals for the film? 

MM: The Rizen is the first film we’ve distributed that’s been shown at both the Sci-Fi London film festival AND the Australian Sci-fi Film Festival - this gave us a wonderful opportunity to not just watch the film with cinema loads of our peers who love sci-fi, but also a much needed hit of kudos. 

For example, because of the London Sci-fi film festival The Rizen had a review in Sight & Sound magazine, which is incredible! 

TMS: Is there anything you did on this one that you wouldn’t do on the next?

MM: The Measured, Mature, Interview Answer: 

Every time I make a film, I learn exponentially more about myself and filmmaking than I did on the last one. The learning curve is steep for Indie’s and the falls can be heavy, but I honestly don’t feel there is anything else in the world that I want to do other than make films. 

So with that in mind, yes there are hundreds of things I’ll do differently next time, and they’ll be a hundred more after that. 

The Real Answer: 

YES! Loads! Too many too list here! But I’m already writing the next film and it’s even more bat-shit crazy than this one, so stay tuned you lunatics, it’s going to get a lot weirder! 

TMS: What about a sequel to The Rizen

MM: Ok you got me. There is a sequel. 

Remember when I said the world building grew as we got through more drafts of the script? Well, it grew so much that it also became clear that there was more to the universe of The Rizen than we could justifiably fit into one film - so, there are two. 

When we made Rizen one, we also shot Rizen 2 almost concurrently - this was just as much fun as it sounds and twice as intense. But it meant that parts of the first movie could literally bleed over into parts of the second movie, it made for a crazy schedule and some mind-bending work from every single member of production, cast and crew…. but ultimately we’ve been blessed with two very special films. 

The films are really a Part 1 and a Part 2 of one large, over-arcing story - and there is even an idea for a Part 3, but that’s probably something for another interview. 

Also I’d like to take a moment to thank you, Spoiler Free Movie Sleuth, for your support of indie extravaganzas like The Rizen and for such great questions. Thank you guys. Also, this is all totally off the record, right? I mean there’s some fairly sensitive stuff in here? …Guys?