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Entries in Independent Film (5)



Traditionally, the western and horror films of legend are male dominated. But the real fan knows that the lifeblood of these genres are women characters; from icons like Annie Oakley and Ellen Ripley to the classic ‘final girl’ archetype who outwits the psycho-slasher, the ladies have been the strong, soulful yin to the dark yang of the bad guy. So when the genres collide and the dusty, outback western meets the apocalyptic zombie epic, the lead actress was going to have to be something special. Meet Vanessa Moltzen, star of Bullets for The Dead

A VCA graduate with key roles in genre pics I am Evangeline (2015) and Tracy (2016) to her credit, Moltzen commands the screen as Annie Blake in debutant director Michael Du-Shane’s splattery mash-up of hard-bitten frontier adventure and gut-gnawing undead shocker. Audiences get their first look at the statuesque Annie as she robs a bank and slays some innocents, a big-screen entrance as good as any in recent memory.

“We see her at the beginning of the film as a cold-blooded killer, (but) she needed to have some redeeming qualities,” says the actress, who left behind her Sydney base for an extensive location shoot in the Queensland wilderness. “It was apparent that Annie had a depth that was complex, and a pain from family history that was a struggle to overcome. I found her through research and improvisation."

Working from the broad outline provided in the script by Du-Shane and co-writer Joshua C. Birch (based upon their 2011 short, 26 Bullets Dead), the actress wove a backstory that helped reveal Annie’s psyche and shape the performance. ”I didn't want to make her some cardboard cut-out,” says Moltzen. “She had strong reasons for her reckless ways, was brought up in a less than ideal environment that shaped (her) behaviour.” The actress also saw in Annie a yearning for blood ties and the bond they create. “She lost her family so she created a new one in her gang of outlaws (played by Renaud Jardin, Troy MacKinder and Karl Blake). She is fiercely loyal and protective of them.”

One unique aspect of Annie’s character is her sexual guile, an allure that generates a palpable physical chemistry with tough-guy bounty hunter Dalton (Christopher Sommers; picture, below, with Moltzen), who is taking the gang in for the price on their heads. “It’s a front at first, used to intimidate and challenge Dalton to see if he can handle her,” says Moltzen, who spends most of the film in her period undergarments. “But underneath, she desperately longs for someone who can see beyond her tough exterior. Back then, a woman her age would have been expected to be demure and married with a child. She is none of those things so she owns what she has. It’s most likely that she is a virgin.”

Du-Shane’s film is rich in western iconography and imagery, with Moltzen’s Annie Blake recalling such great cinematic frontierswomen as Barbara Stanwyck in Anthony Mann’s The Furies (1950) or Raquel Welch’s title character in Burt Kennedy’s Hannie Caulder (1971). “I watched a lot of westerns,” she admits, citing Kelly Reichhardt’s Meek's Cutoff and Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven as key influences. “The relationship to the harsh landscape and the expectations of the woman’s role in society was interesting to explore,” she says, also noting the bush shoot was not always an easy one. “I had a scorpion at my feet one day,” she laughs, “(but) I love being out on location. The smell, the grit, the texture of the landscape, the muggy air, the hot sun, it's all is part of the story.”

As for the bloodbath that comes with starring in a zombie flick, Moltzen admits to ending the shoot a little rattled. “I watched a bunch of zombie films beforehand as research, and I know there are some cracker scenes in our film that zombies fans will love,” she says, enthusiastically, “but on set it can be quite shocking to see all that blood and guts. I don’t need to do another scary film for a while.”

Screen-Space managing editor Simon Foster will co-host a Bullets for The Dead Cast & Crew Q&A, courtesy of the distributor Monster Pictures, on Thursday, August 18. Full details and ticket information at the venue website here.

Bullets For The Dead - Trailer from Monster Pictures on Vimeo.




When your low-budget debut hits big, where to next? Such was the enviable problem for horror auteur Sevé Schelenz, who rattled international festival crowds with his 2011 shocker, Skew. For his second feature, the Canadian has crafted a fresh perspective on the ‘single-setting’ horror film; the gross-out funny, very ‘splattery’ Peelers unfolds in a remote titty bar, as infected patrons turn on the survivors. Ahead of its World Premiere at the Palm Beach International Film Festival, Schelenz spoke with SCREEN-SPACE about the origins of his latest work, the learning curve he went through on the shoot and answering the age-old question, “Where would nudity be acceptable?”…

SCREEN-SPACE: After the success of Skew, what kind of pressure did you place on yourself and your 'sophomore project'? 

Schelenz: I never thought about any "pressure", never thought of it as a "follow-up". I was just ready to make another film and took it from there. The only thing I wanted to do differently was to make a more traditional horror film, (to) work with a DP and compose shots and work with lighting. When we shot Skew in 2005, films tried hard to look like big budget films and most fell short. I didn't want to make a film where the audience would be pulled out of the movie because they were thrown off by the look. With the sort of budget we had at the time, POV was the way to go. When we shot Peelers, HD was much more accessible. You could also shoot 5K, which allowed you to play with the image more in post, which you couldn't do back in 2005 without image degradation. Actually, the most important thing for me when making any film is to have a good script with twists and great characters. We did that in Skew, but some of the twists may have been a little too much for the audience. Screenwriter Lisa DeVita and I came up with something more balanced. 

SCREEN-SPACE: What were the origins of the story?

Schelenz: After Skew’s festival run and distribution, my sales agent asked me, "So, what's next?" I was developing a number of features, mostly comedies, thrillers, or sci-fi. He told me, “No, do another horror.” I asked him what he thought would sell and he said, "More blood and more boobs." I was more into anticipation-building and psychological horror but I went away and thought to myself, "I know I can get the blood in there, but what about the nudity?" I just wasn't interested in gratuitous breast shots. I thought, "Where would nudity be acceptable? A strip club!" It turned out there were not a lot of good stripper-horror films, leaving an untapped sub-genre of horror out there. I asked ‘Devits’ if she would be interested in writing a script with strong female characters who kicked ass, a deft story and some good twists. Her eyes went wide and she told me a story about something that happened to her while she was at a strip club in Las Vegas. From there, Peelers was born. (Pictured, above; Schelenz, on-set, with actress Nikki Wallin).  

SCREEN-SPACE: The 'single setting' concept carries its own production challenges. How did you address both the limitations and potential of your location?

Schelenz: A single setting can be the kiss of death from an audience point of view. There is a perception that the more locations, the bigger the film, the more the audience will want to see it; my sales agent recommended multiple locations if only to have them in the trailer. But from a production point of view, a single location is the way to go. It is the best answer to the main obstacle of indie filmmaking - budget. My editing background means I’m always thinking about how scenes transition, which I bring to the script process as well. So, I sort of treated each room in the strip club as a separate location, of giving each one it's own look and feel through production design, lighting and camera angles. Our DP Lindsay George (pictured, left) was an indie fllmmaker's dream because she was fast, had a great eye for composition and understood lighting. Peelers doesn't feel like it's all in one location, when in fact it pretty much is.

SCREEN-SPACE: There is a great deal of authenticity in the casting, a lot of 'character' in the characters, especially in your lead, Wren Walker, and the girls who play the dancers. 

Schelenz: We threw out a wide, open net for the casting to see as many actors as we could. Surprisingly, we had a lot of talented girls show up to auditions. We were worried that actresses would hear "stripper horror" and think ditzy, damsel-in-distress types with gigantic fake boobs, when really we were going for something different, something against type. We wanted characters with brains, women you could sympathize with who come in all shapes and sizes, confident in their own skin. How could actresses know this coming in to cold auditions? We were wrong; ultimately, selecting our female roles was tough due to all the talented options. When it came to the lead character, ‘Blue Jean’, none of the girls ideally fitted the role. Wren Walker (pictured, above) came in late in the audition process because her boyfriend saw our ad and encouraged her to read and she nailed it. Wren just owned the Blue Jean role right off the bat.

SCREEN-SPACE: Despite the usual tight budget and time constraint issues, did the shoot go to plan? Was it a positive set?

Schelenz: When you make a truly independent feature, you're always worried about running over. I had the experience of shooting Skew and we also had great 1st and 2nd ADs on Peelers. For the most part, the shoot went according to plan. Another way of staying on schedule is to allow more time in pre-production and rehearsals. The more issues you can encounter and solve before production, the better. This helps the mood on set, as the prep has been done. Of course, you also set the tone of production pretty early on. I got to know most of the cast and crew ahead of time and that made things more enjoyable. It's great to hear cast and crew say, "I had a great time on set, it was so much fun," but it's not the case for the producers or director. Yes, we are pretty pumped to be on set and making a movie but it really is up to us to get the shots needed or there's no film. (Pictured, above; from l-r, Wren Walker, Madison J. Loos, Momona Komagata, Kirsty Peters and Caz Odin Darko).

SCREEN-SPACE: And you pull a Hitchcock, rewarding yourself with a very funny cameo! Plan to spend more time in front of the camera?

Schelenz: (Laughs) I like the idea, (but I’m) not sure I have the acting chops to pull it off. I like to get myself, or my name in there somehow, just for shits and giggles. If you listen carefully, you'll hear my name being paged as Doctor Schelenz in the opening sequence. In Skew, my name actually appears on a newspaper as Officer Schelenz. My cameo in Peelers is actually part of a bigger story.  Everyone in the scene, minus the main actor, is the crew from the film, including the other three producers. It was a fun scene to film because I knew in editing I'd have a chance to get everyone into the movie.

Peelers will premiere April 9 at the Palm Beach International Film Festival, Florida; other territories to follow.



Under the stewardship of new CEO/President Jeff Davis, the 21st Palm Beach International Film Festival represents a defining period in the event’s history. The relatively young celebration of cinema seems poised to join the ranks of Cannes, Venice and Toronto, with whom it shares accreditation status. One key initiative in 2016 is an international strand of horror titles; ten films from seven countries that announce PBIFF as a major new platform for global genre works. Having settled into the 250-seat Palm Beach Theatre in Manalapan, Florida in 2015, patrons can expect to be thoroughly unsettled by Director of Programming Larry Richman’s impressive line-up of shockers. “The 21st PBIFF is all about fresh ideas and new directions,” says Richman, whose insight you’ll find below in our preview of the 2016 PBIFF Horror Film roster…

THE FOREST (Dir: Paul Spurrier / Thailand; 109 mins / Trailer / pictured, above): A new teacher (Asanee Suwan) establishes a bond with a mute student (Wannasa Wintawong) that leads to a terrifying, yet moving lesson in life. The first westerner to have directed a Thai-language film (P, 2005), Spurrier works elements of fantasy and the supernatural into his dark tale of redemption and revenge.

THE PERFECT HUSBAND (Dir: Lucas Pavetto / Italy; 85 mins / Trailer): Having wowed the genre festival circuit with his short film Il Marito Perfetto, Argentine-born/Italian-bred director Lucas Pavetto developed the concept into this feature-length work. A cabin-in-the-woods weekend for a young, struggling married couple (Gabriella Wright, pictured; Bret Roberts) turns particularly horrific.

THE PHOENIX INCIDENT (Dir: Keith Arem / USA; 84 mins): Combining a found-footage aesthetic, docu-drama elements and some good ol’ fashioned alien abduction lore, Keith Arem’s offers a visually arresting reimagining of certain ‘facts’ in relation to the March 13, 1997 mass UFO sighting in Phoenix. If you still have an ‘I Want to Believe’ poster in your man-cave, this is a must-see.

“I'm a huge genre fan. While I've been with the festival for several years, it was a change in management this year under new President and CEO Jeff Davis which allowed us to create a category for horror and a cash prize competition, to boot,” says Richmann, whose entertainment industry experience includes long stints in commercial radio, the tech sector and online journalism; he founded and became a respected film festival regular as contributor for the highly-respected Indie Film Spotlight.

INTERIOR (Dir: Zachary Beckler / USA; 83 mins / Trailer / pictured, right): Carrying before it a wave of insider buzz, Zachary Beckler suburban ghost-story introduces a sly sense of humour and genuine chills to the ‘paranormal investigation’ genre. It also introduces a franchise-worthy entity in Emily, the spirited central spectre of the writer/director’s chiller.

BUBBA THE REDNECK WEREWOLF (Dir: Brendan Rogers / USA; 80  mins / Trailer): Brendan Rogers aims for instant cult status in his low-budget/low-IQ comedy/horror about a hillbilly lycanthrope and the townsfolk who bestow upon him (anti)hero status. Looks and feels a bit like the Troma classic, The Toxic Avenger (a good thing, right?)

MASKOUN (Dirs: Krystle Houiess, Sharif Abdunnur / UAE; 91 mins / Trailer): Combining both raw handheld footage with a richer, more complex film craft, the film industries of the Middle East offer a rare genre work in this chilling tale of paranormal incursion and past life manifestations from directors Krystle Houiess and Sharif Abdunnur. Advance word and plot details are shrouded in well-staged ambiguity, but anticipation is high.

“A lot of my inspiration comes from Colin Geddes, who programs the 10-film Midnight Madness section of the Toronto International Film Festival, and Tim League at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, two festivals which led me to PBIFF,” acknowledges Richmann, who also acts as PBIFF’s Executive Vice President.

THE KEY (Dir: Gedeon Burkhard / Germany; 90 mins / Trailer): Mashing gangster thrills, rampaging undead and farmhouse horror tropes and staged at an insanely high pitch, German actor/director Gedeon Burkhard’s The Key is a frantic, fierce and funny splatter feature with a legitimate shot at ‘midnight movie’ cult status.

PEELERS (Dir: Sevé Schelenz / Canada; 95 mins / Trailer) WORLD PREMIERE: Having announced his fearless talent with 2011’s Skew, Sevé Schelenz doubles-down on the humour and gore in Peelers. The last night of trading at a remote strip joint goes bad when infected patrons start turning on each other. Lots of blood, lots of boobs, lots of fun.

LAND OF SMILES (Dir: Bradley Stryker / Canada; 95 mins / Trailer): Not all is as idyllic as it would appear in Bradley Stryker’s hell-in-paradise opus, Land of Smiles. In Thailand to repair a broken friendship, Abby (Alelexandra Turshen; pictured, right) becomes a pawn in a sociopath’s twisted cat-and-mouse game; if she refuses to follow the psycho’s instructions, footage of her friend being tortured will grow alarmingly worse. But is all as it really seems…?

THE HOUSE AT THE END OF TIME (Dir: Alejandro Hidalgo / Venezuela; 100 mins): Redemption and revenge for past sins are themes that feature in several of the horror works on offer. Venezuelan filmmaker Alejandro Hidalgo’s supremely stylish ghost story examines a crime of infanticide at the hands of a malevolent spirit and a wrongly imprisoned mother (a terrific Ruddy Rodríguez) determined to reveal the truth. Already a festival circuit favourite; earned Best Picture honours from Screamfest.

“We're not TIFF or Fantastic Fest but we can certainly aspire to have a killer horror program and these 10 films represent some of the best of what's being produced in 2016,” Richmann states.

The Palm Beach International Film Festival runs April 6-14. All ticketing and venue information can be found at the event’s official website



As festival programmer of the 2014 A Night of Horror/Fantastic Planet Film Festival, Dr Dean Bertram highlights an emerging trend amongst the modern horror narrative – the strong female protagonist. The days of the screeching ‘final girl’, destined to survive because of her virtuous nature and moral fortitude, are fading into the anachronistic ether if the films of the 2014 event are any indication. Bertram’s favoured female horror lead could be the Devil’s descendant, an avenging rape victim or a mysterious young newlywed; even the ‘final girl’ archetypes that populate his programme travel unfamiliar and frightening fresh paths. SCREEN-SPACE profiles a selection of the women who carry the torch (and knife and gun and axe…) for their gender in Bertram's modern horror compendium, which starts tonight in Sydney's inner city…

The casting of Scottish actress Rose Leslie (pictured, above) suggested that Bea, the effervescent new wife of Harry Treadaway’s Paul in Leigh Janiak’s tummy-tightening study in paranoia and sexual politics, was going to be no damsel-in-distress. Having established her ballsy, take-no-crap acting credentials as ‘Ygritte’ in Game of Thrones, her transformation in this ‘Stepford Wives-meets-Body Snatchers’ shocker is subtle and disturbing; working from a smarter-than-usual script, she deconstructs gender expectations as they exist in both the real world and the traditional ‘cabin-in-the-woods’ setting of Janiak’s shattering debut. “Her talent and charisma are so natural and authentic,” the director told Under the Radar. “We really walked through every little bit of the script tracing where Bea is, internally, every beat along the way.”
HONEYMOON screens Saturday, November 29. Tickets available here.

When asked how the striking Paulie Rojas (pictured, right) was cast in his fever-dream demonic possession opus Another, multi-hyphenate auteur Jason Bognacki told Grolsch Film Works, “We were looking for someone who looked fragile to the touch but who could transform into a forceful, demonic presence.” Nailed it. As the part-time pharmacy employee whose hellish lineage awakens a potent evil within, Jordyns’ tormented physical and emotional arc makes the sort of acting demands only the horror genre can. Bognacki manipulates his leading lady’s doe-eyed beauty into a fierce, brutal weapon of force; Rojas gives a fearless, forceful rendering of power and passion.
ANOTHER screens Saturday, November 22. Tickets available here.

As the ‘middle part’ of the original Human Centipede, Ashley C Williams didn’t have much scope to create a meaningful female character. The imbalance is redressed in Matthew A Brown’s brutal revenge odyssey, in which Williams’ titular victim emerges from her milquetoast dental hygenist cocoon and carves her way through the douche-bag attackers that drugged and raped her. The director cites Takashi Miike’s Audition as an influence; the Japanese great’s eye for modern noir imagery and niche sexual taboos courses through the veins of his gruesome vision. Not-so-subtle undertones of Sapphic sisterhood are exploited, with Williams locking Australian Tahyna Tozzi in several dark embraces.
JULIA screens Wednesday, November 26. Tickets available here.

Australian-based Canadian director Ursula Dabrowsky plucked first-time actress Sarah Jeavons (pictured, right) from obscurity to play Sam Durelle, a protagonist who morphs from the traditional shrieking ‘final girl’ victim into a fearlessly malevolent force of her own. “She had the look I wanted and I had a gut feeling about her, but I needed to know if she could act,” the director told Festivals’ Launch Pad webpage. “It’s always exciting for a director to cast an unknown and then see them blossom in front of your very eyes.” Jeavon’s bloody, bold Sam embodies the ‘New Feminine Hero’ perhaps better than any other; a pretty, petite blond destined for the meatgrinder in a more conventional work, the actress explodes in a third-act fury of defiance that defines Dabrowsky’s non-conformist take on women in horror.
INNER DEMON screens Friday, November 21. Tickets available here.  

Granted, Audrey Cumming’s feature debut is positively dripping in overplayed horror tropes – the surly babysitter finding her inner warrior while fending off home invaders in a remote mansion (see last years’ You’re Next, for example). But the film has hit big with festival audiences who have responded to Alysa King’s portrayal of the put-upon au pair Kylie, the actress (pictured, right) finding deeper layers and more recognisably human traits in her character just as the film begins to ramp up the tension. King has that ‘everygirl’ essence which has made memorable the great slasher film babysitters of generations past – Carol Kane in When a Stranger Calls; Jocelin Donahue in The House of the Devil; and, of course, Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween.
BERKSHIRE COUNTY screens Thursday, November 27. Tickets available here.



Jeremy Gardner was a young filmmaker with a vision for a film that would occur in a post-apocalyptic zombie world but which was really about two friends, road-tripping through the undead wasteland. So Gardener took on a starring role opposite fellow newcomer Adam Cronheim and, with a skeleton crew and just US$6,000, took to the backwoods of middle America to craft The Battery, a dark buddy-comedy that has become a cult hit the world over. Despite having been spruiking his film for nearly two years, Gardner (pictured, below) has a bottomless pit of enthusiasm for his directorial debut, as SCREEN-SPACE discovered when he chatted with us ahead of the film's home video release in Australia...

It has been a long journey for The Battery and it has collected a lot of awards and fans along the way. Did you ever envision the vast reach and warm response it would recieve?

It has literally been the most fulfilling and amazing part of the whole process. I have always said I wanted to make movies that travelled, so the fact that I made a movie and got to travel has been ridiculous. For awhile there we didn’t think it was going to go anywhere because there was a good six month lag between our first festival and the next one we got into. But as soon as we got into Imagine Film Festival in Amsterdam (pictured, right; with co-star Adam Cronheim), it just started steamrolling. Just that one friendly hit and that was it. I never envisioned it would have such a long life but I always certainly hoped it would.

The Battery doesn't colour post-apocalyptic mankind in rosy shades. Support characters pose a great threat to Ben and Mickey's survival; even their friendship is deteriorating. Is this dark view of humanity stemming from your personal philosophy?

No, it isn’t. I have my days when I get really down, when I’m reading the news and it really depresses me. But I do believe that if you need help, then maybe 90% of the people you come into contact with will help you. Maybe I was just writing from a dark place, I think. I guess I believe that in situation like the one in the film, it is not going to be the brainless thing that is just acting on instinct that is going to be the problem, it will be those that calculate and decide what we can get out of other people that will be the dangerous thing.

There are some knowing nods to films like Tremors and Jaws in there that genre buffs have great fun with. What films have inspired you and influenced The Battery? 

Oh, God, I have a Jaws tattoo on my arm! To me, Jaws is the greatest movie of all time. When I was a kid, I loved Jaws and then when I grew up I loved Jaws for an entirely different reason. I just didn’t realise how much of a character driven movie that was as a kid. When I grew up, I realised that the dynamic and the chemistry between those three performances was just incredible. Outside of Jaws, a lot of weird, indie stuff interests me. David Gordon Green (pictured, left) had a big influence on this; I saw All The Real Girls when I was about 22 or 23 and just the way he would let moments breathe with this weird, awkward realism I thought was completely engaging. It wasn't necessarily plot-driven and that kind of aesthetic stuck with me. There’s some Alfonso Cuaron in there, too; just letting things play out in front of the camera.

The thickly-wooded setting in which much of the film takes place seemed very remote. Did this sense of being 'removed' from society, of having that 'small crew intimacy', infuse the storytelling at all? 

The whole movie was constructed around having it play on a bigscreen but such that it wouldn’t be a financial burden on myself or investors. I wrote it for wooded areas, though I didn’t know where that was going to be. Then when you get to that place and it is so remote and so creepy and you are only there with four or five people at time, it invokes a sort of ‘in the trenches’ feeling with these people. And having no money, everyone was doing everything just to get it shot. Our main actor, Adam (Cronheim) took on a producer credit because he would spend his downtime getting food for extras or keeping traffic away because we were shooting. Don’t forget, out in those woods when it got dark it was like ‘outer space’ dark (laughs), pretty terrifying. We only shot one scene at night, when my character is drunk and dancing around in the old house, and when we wrapped you’ve never seen a crew pack up so fast (laughs).

(MINOR SPOILER) The film climax involves one of the longest single takes, with a static camera no less, that I can ever recall and it yields a perfectly pitched finale that is stunning. Was the decision to go with the one-shot and not to cut away at all a deliberate one?

Thank you very much, because that has proven to be the one thing that divides people. Originally, there were a bunch of trappings we added to it that (sequence) that were in early scripts that came from more sort of ‘classic zombie’ films. The outside of the car was done up with wire and nails so it was more like a ‘death mobile’, stuff like that, but once we realised we didn’t have the money to do all that stuff we pared away all of the nonsense and just got back down to these two guys. I had a crisis of confidence the night before we shot the sequence, totally convincing myself that the ending just wasn’t going to work, so I got my good friend and DOP Christian Stella and we just drank beer in the parking lot where the car was parked. Now, I bought the car online and didn’t even know it had a sunroof until then, so we reworked the ending when we realised that. And we made a rule that once they got inside the car, the camera would never cut inside a scene; every time it cuts, you know that its later in time. So once we made that rule, there was no way we were going to cut when Mickey left the car.

Your chemistry and timing with Adam Cronheim clearly came from a long-standing friendship...

(Laughs) Actually, I didn’t meet Adam until a month before we started shooting! (pictured, right; Cronheim, in yellow, with Gardner) I’m glad that sense of friendship came across and he is certainly one of my best friends now. And that’s largely because of the stress and anxiety we went through, of knowing that you are there for one another with a shared goal despite an intense schedule. The fact he was a baseball player in college helped; when I first met him I made him bring his glove so we could play catch.

Finally, Jeremy, you make the ultimate sacrifice as an actor and offer up to your audience a full-frontal nude moment. It looked freezing under that waterfall; was it really that cold...?

(Laughs) Yes, it was so, so cold, but that’s no excuse for what you see up there on the screen.

The Battery will be available on DVD from Accent Film Entertainment from May 21.