Focus on Perth Monster Fest Part 3: Everything you need to know about Sam Barrett’s Sororal

Closing Perth Monster Fest 2014 is Perth director, Sam Barrett’s Sororal. If you can’t make the screening or the Q&A following the film with producer David Karsten as well as other cast & crew members, you can find everything you need to know about the film below. Happy reading.

What does Sororal mean? That’s a secret! This rather archaic word hides precious clues to a major plot twist and I’d hate to ruin it for you. More importantly, the word has an otherworldly feel that I think perfectly captures the joyful strangeness of the film. I know it’s tricky to pronounce. It helps to break it up. So-ro-ral.

Once you peel away the celebratory stylistic and aesthetic aspects of Sororal you will find that the film is about love. It’s a psychedelic and offbeat exploration of the mysteries of love in all its forms told in an outrageous and thrilling style. I’m always delighted to hear audience interpretations so I won’t elaborate too much but I will say that the key to the film lies with Cassie and her choices. Co-screenwriter Robert Studsor and I began simply with the idea of a ‘girl with powers’ as seen in Depalma’s Carrie, The Fury and Cronenberg’s Scanners. I wrote an initial draft about a girl, who became Cassie, with Telekinetic powers and Robert gently told me that telekinesis has been done to death and that we needed a new angle on this sub genre. The thought of staging flying toasters and other objects convinced me that he was right. His suggested angle on the story was very interesting and really sparked our imaginations. This is how Sororal was born.

I saw a play called Motortown a few years ago and it starred a powerful young redhead in a supporting role. She didn’t know it at the time but I swore to approach her with my next film and this is how I met Amanda Woodhams. Her reading of Cassie was exceptional. She was able to show both Cassie’s vulnerability and her inner strength. I met Liam Graham through Amanda who had worked with him on previous occasions. Liam brings a quiet and restrained quality to the role of Trent, which is great to watch. I approached Nicola Bartlett after seeing her work in Little Sparrows. Nicola is an absolute pro and understands her instrument very well. Jeremy Levi and I began collaborating on my previous feature Esoterica and he was my first and only choice for the role of Hector. Jeremy’s portrayal of the drunken one time scientist keeps you on edge. He’s ambiguous, alternatively mysterious and sometimes quite humorous. Overall, I think the cast is wonderful and quite diverse in what they bring to the film.

Giallo films or gialli are a once insanely popular genre of Italian thrillers/horror films/police procedurals that were rife in the 1960s and 1970s. ‘Giallo’ is translated as ‘yellow’ in English and refers to the lurid colour of the paperback novels that would often serve as source material for these films. The genre is quite broad in scope but is characterized by outlandish plots, wild imagery, elegant scores and a healthy dose of nudity and bloodshed. Some notable films in the genre include Blood and Black Lace, Torso, Lizard in a Woman’s Skin and Profondo Rosso. Sororal has many other influences but the parallels with this delightful sub-genre are many. The use of music, colour and above all, imagination, are what really drew me to these glorious films and I hope we have captured the spirit of the best of them in Sororal.

Sororal is a cinematic celebration of things that I hold dear. As an avid cinephile I can’t help but tip the hat to those that have come before me. Sororal is an autonomous entity for sure but rather one created from the crushed up bones, blood and sweat of myriad films and filmmakers. The list of inspirations is far too long to cover in depth but it’s fair to say that the film owes sizable debts to Brian DePalma, David Cronenberg, Mario Bava, Dario Argento, Ingmar Bergman, The Exorcist part II, German Krimi films, Altered States, Melville’s Le Samourai, Patrick, Re-Animator, Polanski, Hammer…the list could go on forever.

The film was shot in Perth, Western Australia. The crew tackled the searing summer heat in iconic locations such as the abandoned pigeon infested Fort Knox storage facility, Council House, Monument Hill and the Cygnet Theatre. I was drawn to interesting, older architecture to emphasise an old world feel for the film. Well before the commencement of pre-production, we were on the lookout for anything that had a pre-1980’s look to help give Sororal a distinctive style.

The artwork was created by local artist Tessa Darcey. In a sense Tessa is the real Cassie but without the horrible visions. Monique, the production designer showed me Tessa’s work and I was completely blown away. It’s moments like that, which can make one believe in destiny. Her artwork is simply magnificent and was a perfect fit with the character of Cassie. I knew that her strange, macabre images would be even more special once she adopted the wild colour palette of Sororal. The resultant images of Cassie’s dreams were so powerful that I scrapped a proposed title sequence in favour of Tessa’s hypnotic artwork. Everyone has a favourite image of Tessa’s and I think my pick would have to be the ‘drowning woman’. The image shows a woman frozen in a painful grimace as bubbles explode from her mouth. Her hair floats above her head like a ghostly specter. What really grabs you about Tessa’s work is the sophisticated storytelling on display in a single image.

Christopher de Groot, my good friend and true collaborator, composed the score for Sororal. Chris’ synthesis with the project has been so complete that I cannot imagine another composer being capable of what he has brought to the film. The score is a mixture of analogue synth, choir, brass and rhythm with no less than two drum kits to achieve that giant prog-rock sound. We started discussions about the film when we were at script stage and we have met regularly throughout the process. We screened films and exchanged music over the course of an entire year so by the time he came to writing the score we both had doctorate degrees in the world of Sororal. The score is a surging electronic beast with diverse influences from Goblin and Ennio Morricone to Tangerine Dream and Bulgarian Choir music. The music is the heartbeat of the film and fuses the vibrant and dangerous world of Sororal together.

Sororal is an ode to Italian giallo, and one of the most unique and astute Australian features in eons. Sam Barrett lives and breathes genre, but this is much more than mere homage – confronting, powerful and beautiful, it is a serious work of art in its own right.

Cassie (Amanda Woodhams) is tormented by horrorfic visions that follow her from her dreams into her waking life. The troubled artist copes with this curse that isolates her from the outside world by commiting her violent visions to canvas. Cassie’s life is thrown into further disarray when it is revealed that her visions are depictions of real life murders. As her friends and family start turning up dead, Cassie realizes that her link to the killer works both ways and if she is to survive, she must unearth her family’s carefully hidden secrets and confront her own sordid past.

Directed by: Sam Barrett
Starring: Liam Graham, Amanda Woodhams, Nicola Bartlett


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