Lady Killers - A Preview of DOUBLE DATE

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Any man who claims that he has never been afraid of women in one way or another is a liar; their alluring beauty, inscrutable minds and unpredictable behaviour have baffled men since time immemorial. Pushing this idea to the extreme is the starting point of British comedy horror Double Date.

The brainchild of writer Danny Morgan, the story originated from channelling his own anxiety and fear of talking to the “terrifying creatures” that are womankind. Having always found the general concept of dating to be a particularly horrifying prospect, he became intrigued by the idea of a man so overcome with crippling shyness he is still a virgin despite being about to turn 30, and the night when he finally conquers his fears turns out to be the night when he really should have just stayed home. The plot of Double Date follows Jim – the unsullied in question – and his cocky best friend Alex as they encounter beautiful sisters Kitty and Lulu, who zero in on the former for initially unclear reasons that are nevertheless established will not end well, and before the night is through there will be murder, lust, laughs and romance.

Having never written a feature before Morgan kept the story simple, deciding that a script focusing on four characters – two guys and two girls – taking place over a short period of time was a scope he could handle. Although pre-emptively limiting himself on the timescale and character count, his imagination for visuals took some time to be reined in, the script at one point having Jim form the insect body between the mirrored butterfly wing tattoo each sister has on her shoulder before the image burst into flame, while at another shot called for a huge explosion. After realising the several million pounds such a vision would cost was way out of any realistic price range, Morgan spent “about fifty years” developing the script with producer Matt Wilkinson, bringing it down to a more manageable level. Morgan found this self-limitation improved his writing talent, forcing him to focus on dialogue instead of acceding to his instinct of proclaiming “And then someone dies! Everything catches on fire!” to keep the audience’s interest.

This reduction in scale made the director choice of Benjamin Barfoot a more viable one (“Everyone else said no; they were scraping the bottom of the barrel”), who was a veteran of numerous shorts (of which Morgan wrote several and starred in most) but yet to make a full feature. His DIY method of filmmaking utilised a creative and practical approach that overcame challenges in ways vastly less expensive than if numerous people had been working on them. Barfoot felt the fundamental principles of filming a feature remained the same as a short, he simply had more people surrounding him around to perform tasks, to the extent he occasionally felt he was standing around doing nothing, but this also afforded him “more stress left in the tank” to deal with any larger problems that might arise.

To raise the funding they shot a three-minute trailer showing a couple of scenes from the film that Wilkinson shopped around, the strength of the showcased material eventually getting two independent financers excited about the vision, who stumped up the necessary funding to go into production. Along the way, the script underwent numerous tweaks as everyone threw in ideas of how to improve and trim any unnecessary excesses, and by the time shooting was about to begin and “every third page you were laughing out loud,” they were convinced they were on to a winner.

It was never up for debate that Morgan was going to keep the lead role of hapless ginger Jim for himself (“Rupert Grint, piss off!”). Fully aware of what he looks like, he knew he was unlikely to be cast in any lead role, never mind a romantic one, and would more often be the lead’s whacky friend (“Gingers make good sidekicks”), so the script was partly designed to generate an opportunity for himself he would likely be otherwise denied, while also creating a character to whom he could personally relate. Additionally, it being his first lead role in a feature, he reasoned that any anxiety he felt would translate to the nervousness of his character, and thus enhance his apparent acting skills.

Kelly Wenham, who plays the elder and more aggressive sister Kitty, was involved from the beginning, being featured in the trailer used to promote the film to investors. She was cast almost immediately after first meeting Morgan when she “grabbed me by their hair, pinned me against the wall, and scared the shit out of me!” and was involved for a couple of years in the film’s development. The other two central roles, Alex and Lulu, weren’t cast until a few weeks before shooting began, but after casting director Anna Kennedy pulled Michael Socha and Georgia Groome seemingly from nowhere, the quartet was soon complete and quickly melded as a team, Morgan even acknowledging they each brought depth to the characters he himself had not put in the script.

Being an unrepentant sleaze, Alex is the kind of person many people would despise on principle; indeed Socha himself initially stated that although he liked the script, he was unsure of the character. However, he came to realise Alex’s apparent arrogance is down to his lack of self-criticism that masks an occasional vulnerability and is first and foremost a loyal friend to Jim, and throughout the film, his emerging likeability is in part down to the charisma of Socha’s performance.

The treatment of female characters in horror movies is an issue heavily discussed and a long way from being resolved, but fortunately, Double Date goes some way towards addressing it. Coming from a matriarchal family and having two elder sisters, Morgan was determined to not portray the girls as the one-dimensional horror vixens they could so easily have become, wanting the film to be more than just “two idiots and psycho girls.” To remedy this, an effort was put in to give the ladies necessary depth and provide an understanding of why they’re doing what they do. In addition, the film was originally shot with the girls’ backstory told near the films’ beginning, but it was soon realised it would work better if their motivations were unclear for the first half of the film, allowing the audience to uncover details at the same rate Jim does. This initial lack of explanation also amps up the initial tension since the audience remains aware of the danger Jim and Alex are blundering into. The girls seem scarier since it’s made clear what they’re capable of, but unclear of their ultimate goal, and as you come to understand them, you begin to empathise with what they’re trying to do, if not exactly that manner in which they’re going about it. This also allows for greater value to be placed on the genuine affection that gradually grows between Jim and Lulu, wanting them to end up together while knowing how unlikely it is that they will. Similarly, just as the unfettered emotion of Jim and Lulu become a duality of sorts, so the assertive confidence possessed by both Alex and Kitty allows each to become a perfect foil for the other.

One of the film’s most complex scenes features what may well be the most ridiculously and comically protracted fight sequence ever committed to film. With Morgan freely admitting he can’t write action, Barfoot took the direction of “A big fight happens” and ran with it. After he choreographed the sequence with a couple of martial artists, the fight was translated into around a hundred panels of a storyboard, whereupon the stunt people acted out the shots as Barfoot filmed them, essentially creating a live-action animatic from which the makeup artists and cinematographer could work. Due to time constraints, the scene was shot in linear order in a day and a half, beginning in a room beautifully designed and made up and becoming slowly trashed as the battle refuses to relent, the crew manoeuvring themselves around and over the mounting chaos and strewn debris cluttering the space by its end, with only seconds to spare as the final shot was complete. For future reference, Morgan now knows he can simply write “Ben, something amazing happens here” into the script, knowing the scene will be in safe hands.

Comedy horrors can be a tricky thing, and one need only look at any one of a litany of failed attempts that this (or any other) country has produced to appreciate just how rare it is to get the equilibrium right. However, in this case the trend has been defied. Each page of Double Date’s script made it clear how much horror and how much humour was required from each scene, allowing the necessary balance to come through in the quartet’s performances. As well as the tightly written script, the film manages its equilibrium through its four central characters acting as the ingredients of a carefully maintained alchemical concoction, with Kitty’s aggression bringing necessary levels of violence, Alex’s misplaced confidence the humour and Jim and Lulu’s burgeoning relationship the heart. The aforementioned backstory of the sisters brought with it some of the story’s darkest moments, and it throwing off the necessary early levity was another reason it was cut.

The film also seeks to subvert the traditional gender roles of horror movies, by having a sweet and naive guy be the helpless victim rather than the standard innocent girl, while the most ‘monstrous’ character is a sexually confident woman who would most often be the type of person films such as these would portray as being preyed upon. It also acknowledges the concept of male virginity, which while not being as highly prized as that of young women, is just as viable a state in which to exist, despite often being conveniently overlooked.

Beyond Double Date itself, the power trio of Barfoot, Morgan and Wilkinson are already working on another project they plan to be just as energetic and violent, featuring all the hallmarks of their feature debut but on a larger scale. It might, Morgan suggests, have something to do with ginger hair, and who knows, could even have an explosion.

Double Date is released in cinemas on October 13th

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