Caradog W. James is a British filmmaker who impressed audiences with 2013’s festival hit The Machine. The style and craft James demonstrated on that film has carried through into his first foray into the horror genre, Don’t Knock Twice. Based on an urban myth, Don’t Knock Twice is as visually striking as it is creepy, and confirms James as a director to watch...
STARBURST: It’s been a couple of years since Starburst spoke with you about The Machine; how have you been?
Caradog W. James: Great, thank you. It’s funny, we’ve finally been green lit on the pilot for the television series so we’ll be filming in Toronto soon.
That’s great news.
Yeah, I pitched the television series to Universal and SyFy a couple of years ago, and they commissioned me to write a script, and I’ve been writing and re-writing while making Don’t Knock Twice. It’s great because they’ve given us a decent budget to get going with.
The timing appears to be perfect as since you made The Machine we’ve had Ex Machina and Westworld, but you were there first.
(laughs) I was! The only problem was we didn’t have a marketing budget so no-one knew we were the first!
We should talk about Don’t Knock Twice though. How were the challenges different with this film?
It’s another low budget film so you never have enough time or resources, which is always a challenge, but with a fantastic cast and crew we’ve pulled it together. The hardest thing is always getting the film to be the vision you want within those constraints and on schedule.
Do you feel that with horror there are certain things fans and audiences expect and that you need to include while remaining original?
The reason I wanted to make a horror film, in truth, was to become a better filmmaker. I’m not an aficionado but I did set out to watch hundreds in anticipation of making Don’t Knock Twice. It’s all about eliciting a response from the audience, provoking fear and tension through sound and camera movements. In many ways, horror films are looked down upon because they’re genre but you can learn so much from making them. They’re deceptively difficult to get right and I can see why some filmmakers spend their entire career in the genre. And once you’ve done it you immediately feel like you could have done it better. So, it wasn’t so much about satisfying anyone else’s expectations, just me improving as a filmmaker and I believe horror to be wonderful school for that.
Of those hundreds of films you watched were there any that influenced Don’t Knock Twice?
John Carpenter is certainly a massive influence; The Exorcist is obviously a benchmark and Kubrick’s The Shining. These are the films that transcend the genre into art and that’s always what you aspire for. In terms of trying to understand what works, there were the ones I always went back to. The Blumhouse model is a good one, but they’re not always great films. The Conjuring, however, is a perfect example of modern horror with great direction and script, demonstrating great craft.
You mention The Conjuring, and that is a film that absolutely does hit the right horror notes in targeting a mass audience.
One hundred percent, but those clichés will always be there, it’s just a craft to design the film well to make sure, when you do hit them, they work.
Back to Don’t Knock Twice, you have a “creature”. How do you set about the design process as there are so many already on film?
For me, I’m invariably disappointed with monsters. My approach, it was about trying to keep the monster hidden as much as possible as fear builds in the imagination. And equally, if you can have a real person playing the monster it’s far more effective than CGI.
There is a kitchen scene that is extremely effective but, like you say, very little is seen.
I love that scene because I was able to do the same lighting as in Blade Runner, with the reflections and so on.
You have the same theme of dysfunctional parental care in Don’t Knock Twice as you did in The Machine, but you didn’t write this one. How did you incorporate that?
I fed back into the script and we re-jigged the main character a little. When you work on a film for a year and a half things do change and it’s a theme that is very close to my heart; about sacrifice and the conflict between providing for you family and being there for them. I find it important and very relatable.
Caradog, thank you for your time today.
Good to chat with you, thank you.
Don't Knock Twice is in cinemas and on demand 31st March and on DVD 3rd April