In Ravers, a new horror comedy directed by Bernhard Pucher, a contaminated energy drink turns an illegal warehouse rave into a nightmare and an idealistic young germaphobic journalist has to step up to the plate and overcome her greatest fears to help her friends get out alive. STARBURST put on its dancing shoes and visited the film’s set at Pinewood Studios in Cardiff to find out if Ravers is really worth raving about…
It’s the last few days of filming for Ravers at Pinewood in Cardiff and the production is slowly winding down although the film’s production offices are still buzzing and FX designer Dan Martin and his team are still hard at work designing gory prosthetics and eye-popping props for Bernard Pucher’s debut horror feature film. Down in the studios a sequence is being shot where one of the film’s lead characters is attempting to escape from a burning room.
What on Earth is going on here? In a break from filming, Bernard Pucher explained how Ravers came about and how his own background led to him helming his first feature film. “I was a DJ for many, many years,” he explained. “Back in 1996 when I was a teenager I got into DJing when I started clubbing and back then it was all trance music. I got into techno stuff when I moved to the States when I was 18 and then it became much more serious; I was the only one of my friends who took DJing seriously. I started my own label in 2001 and ran that until 2008 when I moved to London so it was always part of my background. One day my co-writer Luke Foster came to me with this idea called ‘Poppers’ where basically you take a drug and it makes your head explode! There wasn’t really a good premise for a story but I loved the idea of a horror film set amongst ‘ravers’ who take something that makes them dangerous. We evolved the idea over the years; it took us about five years to get from that original core idea to the script we have now.”
Bernard explained that he wasn’t initially expecting to actually direct Ravers. “We were actively trying to find someone to do it. But then more and more as we were developing it more and more my stamp was put onto the project. We were starting to write specific scenes and more of my imprint came into it so the time came when I say ‘Why shouldn’t I direct this? What isn’t that a bad idea?’ I never thought that this would necessarily be something that I would be up for, we were thinking we’d get someone who is much more of a horror director. I’m not a horror lover like Luke is - he watches anything and everything, good or bad it doesn’t matter, he’ll watch it all! I’m much more selective, I have a much broader taste when it comes to the movies I like and the movies I want to make. But I always wanted to try a feature film and the more we worked on this the more I thought ‘Well, if I’m gonna do it, this is exactly the movie I should do it with’ It started making perfect sense just to try and get everything off the ground.”
What can we expect from Ravers in terms of its style and its themes? “Thematically Ravers is about hedonism, about doing what you want to do,” said Bernhard. “The premises that the rave takes place in is an abandoned energy drink plant and the beginning of the movie explains how the drink that used to be manufactured there becomes contaminated. The ravers host their illegal rave and find this contaminated stash which produces an extreme reaction to the drugs they’re taking. People on cocaine become hyper aggressive, people on weed become so stoned they pass out and become really hungry, people on ecstasy give extreme hugs so you get various different levels of threat and the core thread is that whatever they want they have to have and if they don’t get it they become aggressive and they want to make sure that they get it. You can’t aggravate them in any way, shape or form and if the music stops they want more and they always want more of everything. They’re also not dead so they’re not ‘zombies’; they’re infected but they can also be turned back and they can be saved. Our lead character Hannah is a germaphobe; she’s afraid, she doesn’t like going out, she doesn’t like risking contaminating herself, she doesn’t like mess so her OCD and her germaphobia get in the way of her leading a life that has many more experiences than the ones she’s willing to experience. The ravers are the exact opposite to that; they are free thinking, they take their drugs, they dance, they party, they sweat, whatever…it doesn’t matter to them. The film isn’t saying that either/or is a bad thing, it’s just that Hannah doesn’t feel comfortable in that environment but she goes to a rave because she falls in love and takes a really big risk – not for the first time in her life – but probably the biggest risk in her life to go into an environment she’s uncomfortable with to pursue someone she falls in love with. But then of course all Hell breaks loose and she’s now trapped inside the rave where all the ravers are becoming a real threat and she has to overcome her fears and her germaphobia to save the day.”
We caught up with actor Manpreet Bambra who told us a little more about Hannah. “She’s just a typical girl who works Monday to Friday in a restaurant and on Saturdays she likes to let loose and go to parties and go to a bit of a rave. She’s got a bit of a thing going on with Becky [Georgia Hirst], she has a bit of a crush on her and that pushes her to do things she might not normally do. I was really attracted to the script because it deals with so many interesting concepts and real-world issues that many people have to deal with like OCD and mental health problems as well as all the fun and comedy and horror. I have a bit of OCD myself with hygiene and stuff and even though my character doesn’t have OCD in the film you have to understand the issues around someone who does have it and the film deals quite sympathetically with them.”
Manpreet is best known for her TV roles in Russell T Davies’s Wizards vs Aliens and the Netflix series Free Rein, but Ravers gives her the chance to play a more adult character for the first time. “It’s been a great experience so far, very different to what I’m used to doing,” she said. “I normally play a child on TV so it’s my first time playing an adult - well, an 18-20 year-old - so that was fun and working with people around my age has been great. I’ve learned a lot because it’s completely different making a horror film; it’s a real learning curve working in a studio because I’ve never realty worked in a studio before. I’ve been doing my own stunts too which has been great fun.” Manpreet is full of praise for first-time feature director Bernhard. “When I had my first meeting with Bernhard we discussed the character in detail and if I am ever stuck on anything or want to discuss anything he’s always there to be hands-on with me and he says ‘Please discuss it with me’. One day I was struggling with the accent slightly because sometimes you can overthink an accent and it doesn’t come out even though you can do it and I had that one day when I had a lot of dialogue and he wanted to make sure I was okay so we discussed it and worked on it and that’s what you want from a director who wants to get the best out of their actors, they don’t want to see you struggle. There have been opportunities to give input into the character and the way she talks if there are things I think she might not say in a certain way. The best thing about working with this team is that everyone is open to that sort of input.”
Also in the cast in Danny Kirrane, a familiar face in TV series as diverse as Trollied, Poldark, Game of Thrones, Utopia, and films such as Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge. We found him relaxing in his trailer between scenes covered in fake blood and grim prosthetics. “I play Ozzy, who is the cousin of the protagonist Becky,” he explained. “He is a scientist but a bit of a stoner. He works in a laboratory and that’s how he ends up taking Becky to the rave where all the horror takes place. I think at the beginning of the film he’s quite laid back and quite chilled and he has to work really hard to survive. You wouldn’t describe him as a fighter but he has to really learn to fight and he saves everybody because he comes up with an antidote to what’s happening to all the ravers so he saves Hannah and he becomes quite the hero by accident. He has to fight for his life, he finds the strength somewhere within himself and it’s an arc you wouldn’t expect from someone so chilled and stoned!” Danny agreed that Bernhard has really powered the film along. “We’ve changed a lot and found different things we can do and attempt and he’s really open to that and he has a great energy about him, he really believes in the project. He’s not like a director who’s been just given a script to direct - he’s co-written it and he really believes in it.”
We spent some time with effects designer Dan Martin in his prosthetics department. Dan has worked on a multitude of feature films such as Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire and A Field in England, shark thriller 47 Meters Down and, more recently, the crazed H.P. Lovecraft adaptation Colour Out of Space. We asked him about the specific challenges he encountered during Ravers and what sort of creatures the script demanded bearing in mind that they’re very definitely not zombies. “It always comes down to the detail in the script but they’re really mutants rather than zombies or the undead. With the general crowd stuff we’ve been doing it’s been very difficult to move away from the ‘zombie’ look especially when you think that the very vague terms ‘zombies’ covers everything from slow shambling living dead through to infected rage monsters. Demonic possession, Deadite Evil Dead stuff often counts as ‘zombies’ so I think a lot of stuff falls into that area and you get a crowd of those things together and it’s much harder to be unique with your visual look. So the places you can be unique are in the gags and the deaths so obviously your creatures have giant swollen eyes then you have to have those eyes pop on camera so we got to do this pastiche of Fulci with the double-eye pop and I made sure we had a real nasty custardy aqueous humus mix that ran down the hands during the eye pop. There’s a fair amount of gore. One of the luxuries of the sort of heavily compressed prep schedule we had is that you get left to your own devices as there isn’t a lot of time for feedback. We did have one round of feedback with Bernhard and he liked it. We had a few notes and changed a few bits but by and large it was allowed to pour out of my mind and into the clay which was satisfying. The mutants were described in the script, it’s not like it just said ‘general monsters’ but it still left me with a lot of space to be imaginative and creative.”
We were keen to pin down the tone of Ravers as we were getting a vague Shaun of the Dead vibe from everyone we’d spoken to. “There are bits that are quite funny, but it takes itself more seriously than Shaun of the Dead but in a way I think that’s quite funny as well,” offered Danny. “I would say it’s a bit like the first Blade film as the whole film is in the mode of that’ raver’ sequence that opened the film.” Bernhard Pucher said: “It’s an action horror film, very action-drive. The gore ramps up as the film goes on. In terms of my approach to it as a director I was far more inspired by The Terminator and films that are action-packed suspense thrillers but still use the things that we know in the genre to combine those things together. It’s supposed to be fun. We’re not making Shaun of the Dead or anything like that; those films have very much their own approach to what they think horror films are and how to work it and what’s funny about them and we’re not making a tongue-in-cheek self-aware horror movie. There are a few subtle nods here and there but nothing to sort of go ‘Hey, look, we’re making fun of horror movies’. We want it to be fun like Die Hard is fun; the threat of serious and the situation is serious for our characters and certain things are pretty funny and I feel like you can augment the threat and the fear and the suspense with humour but without completely screwing the tone or anything like that. It’s about waking that balance.” Dan Martin felt that the tone veers a little more to the comedic. “It’s definitely going to be in the Shaun of the Dead camp,” he told us. “I think the problem with this particular genre is that if you don’t hit one end or the other you can get lost. If you’re not fun, rompy horror but you’re also not like super-grim, dark, misery horror then you can’t quite appeal to either audience. There are people who like both and those people are more likely to like the middle ground also but you don’t want to fall between the two stools of Shaun and Martyrs! We’re probably more at the Shaun end; of course these things find their tone in the edit because of what the actors bring to it and our actors have all been fantastic. It’s been a really good cast and they’ve interacted with each other really well and that kind of camaraderie, especially when you have people playing a group of friends, just lends itself to a good atmosphere with all the stolen winks, nods to each other and if that stuff’s left in the edit, which it very usually is, then that adds to the warmth and depth of those characters.”
As we prepared to leave the crew to return to the set to resume filming, we wondered what audiences could expect from the film and what everyone involved hoped an audience would take from the finished product. “I want the audience to get excited by it, to understand the concepts, to have a laugh, to get scared,” said Manpreet Bambra. “It’s just an all-round fun film with great ideas, a beautiful romance story and hopefully it’s as realistic as horror film can be. There’s so many individual characters and they do get a chance to develop. It’s nice to have that.” Danny Kirrane added: “I think it’s fun. I think it’s visually arresting. It’s dramatic in places and funny, it’s escapism and above all it’s entertaining. There’s so much stressful stuff going on in the world at the moment and this is nothing like that; it’s not political, it’s a standalone genre film with likeable characters and you can just lose yourself in it yourself in it.” The final word should go to director Bernhard Pucher. “I have brought my DJing experience into Ravers. I don’t have the social commentary of someone like Jordan Peele but I have taken my experiences of DJing in legit places and non-legit places over the years and tried to make sure that the film feels reasonably authentic whilst still being a heightened action movie with a few laughs and some real scares and jumps.”
Ravers is available now on VOD.