Graham Hughes’ (pictured above) found footage sci-fi horror Hostile Dimensions sees two documentary filmmakers – Sam and Ash – deciding to investigate the disappearance of a graffiti artist who has seemingly ‘vanished’.
However, as they delve deeper into their research, they encounter an ominous freestanding door which leads them on a dark journey through the dimensions behind it. Determined to uncover the truth the pair soon realise they have stumbled across something far more terrifying than they could have ever imagined…
We spoke to Hughes about his favourite found footage movies, finding a pyramid in Scotland (?!) and whether we’ll be seeing anymore multiverse adventures via freestanding doors…
How did everything begin for you with Hostile Dimensions?
I was developing a project with Blue Finch, the sales agents on Hostile Dimensions, and trying to get financing for that. Everything moves really slowly in film and I realised I could squeeze in another smaller film in between getting that bigger one off the ground.
So I thought I’d do something similar to my last film, Death of a Vlogger, keeping the mockumentary format, using the same cast and crew. Also because it’s so difficult with all the other producing skills going on and trying to make things as simple as possible, the key thing was that most of the film [could be] shot here in my flat!
So that was the jumping-off point but I also wanted it to be different from Death of a Vlogger. I was looking at ways to expand the idea so the idea of a portal to other worlds came into being and everything spiralled from there.
What’s the writing process like for you?
Usually it [starts with] a high-concept idea. I’ll think of something that’s just combining two things and then it’ll just sit in my brain for sometimes months or years. Until it grows enough to be an idea that’s worth taking down.
Then usually I’ll start with a spreadsheet. Just thinking out loud, writing down ideas that come to me. I’m more of a set-piece director than a story director. So usually I’ll write a list of scenes that I would want to see within this idea. I’m all about structure and I love structuring things and that’s kind of how it gets put together.
The pub helps as well – it loosens me up. I’m less critical. Then the next day when I sit down sober and look at the ideas I can throw out all the shite [haha]! I still have a full time job so going from sitting at a desk till five at home, then having dinner and coming back to the same desk to write is sometimes a bit intimidating. So getting the laptop and going somewhere makes it a bit more fun and appealing.
What are the positives and negatives of directing a found-footage mockumentary movie?
So a positive is I think that it’s a much more visceral and immediate kind of medium. I find that most of the scariest films I’ve ever seen are found footage. It’s just much more of an immediate connection with characters for me.
It’s also a massive win for low-budget productions. You don’t need to worry about coverage so much. For instance, if you’ve got a dialogue scene with two characters, usually you’d have three setups and you would need to get coverage from different angles. Whereas in fiction mockumentary, usually there’s only one camera in the scene.
That can be very useful for production but there can also be a lot of problems in the edit if your single setup isn’t particularly good. The genre has so many rules – you’ve probably seen some of the worst found-footage examples where cameras are always glitching. I don’t think I’ve ever recorded any video that has a glitch in it. Yet in so many bad found-footage films the cameras are glitchy and they use it to cover edits.
Obviously, I want to set the rules for myself where I want it to be realistic – it’s obviously a sci-fi film but the parts of the world that we will connect with, I want it to be realistic, I just want it for the audience. But that can cause some issues with production.
What are your favourite found-footage movies?
The Dirties is one of my favourite. And I like Lake Mungo, Hell House LLC, Savage Land…
I liked a few before making Death of a Vlogger but it was The Dirties that really opened my mind to the possibilities of it as an art form. After watching that, I just dived into the rabbit hole and started devouring everything I could get my hands on.
There are just so many – some of the best horror films ever made [are found-footage] like REC, Troll Hunter and Chronicle and some of the bigger ones like Cloverfield, there’s such a variety.
There are some stunning locations in the movie – what were they like to source those?
That was really fun. Because of the nature of how the film was made (being that it was low budget and the cast and crew were set and we had all these elements in place), there was quite a bit of flexibility with the other worlds and what they could be because as long as they fit the story then it was fine!
A lot of the time the only headline for our location would be that it needs to be kind of alien or interesting. The other restriction was the catchment area – we couldn’t really travel much more than three hours out of Glasgow, just for logistical reasons.
A lot of the sourcing was done on Atlas Obscura, just scrolling for ages looking for distant known locations that I’ve not seen on film and that people maybe aren’t aware of.
I think my favourite was the pyramid location. A few people already have been like ‘the effects of that pyramid are really good’. They’re so good because it’s real! It’s not an effect. It’s a real pyramid that’s in Scotland. When I saw it, I was like ‘Why has no one ever mentioned this before?’ [haha]!
What is your favourite world that Sam and Ash visit?
I think just in terms of location [the pyramid world] was a favourite because it was so surprising to me. I do like the soft play [world] as well. That initially came from a particular scene I wanted to do. A backroom kind of piece, like Kane Pixel’s short, Backrooms, [which] I absolutely loved. It got me into Liminal Horror on Instagram. I was just like, ‘oh, this is such a great horror idea’, like new lore.
I wanted to do something with that. So I was looking for white boxy locations and they’re really difficult to find.
So that led to just being on Liminal Horror Instagrams and they’d have abandoned swimming pools or swimming pools at night, schools at night, and soft plays as well.
Soft plays are pretty creepy. Inherently. And there’s loads of them around Glasgow so I just started getting in touch with folk and [soft play] Pandamonium wrote back and said they would let us film there.
Then weirdly enough, I’d always planned for the backroom scene to have a giant teddy bear in the corner. It was just a total coincidence that we booked Pandemonium and I saw that they had a big panda suit. It was one of those great, nice coincidences of an improvement to the film coming from something that was just a surprise and something I hadn’t planned for.
It’s much better than a brown bear in a backroom space. It’s a nice example of being flexible and letting your ideas go when something better comes in.
The ending leaves the movie open – would you ever be tempted to come back to the world(s) of Hostile Dimensions?
I don’t think so. I think there’s a very latent, if ambiguous, message in the film and I think exploring that world anymore might just dilute that.
What do you want audiences to take away from the movie?
The general state of the world has put me in a state of anxiety. It’s also put me in a feeling of helplessness and it’s breeding apathy in me. I think maybe on the sides of the political spectrum, most people don’t really have much control. For me, I feel almost like I just want to disengage and look after myself – I can’t help anything anyway, so I may as well just give up.
That was kind of where the central idea came from. I just wanted to explore and then I didn’t want to say one way or the other, which is better. I just wanted to explore these two characters. They’re both given the option of leaving this world and landing right into their perfect world.
If you were given that option, would you stay in this place and try and fix it? Or would you jump ship to the place where you fit? I don’t want to land on either side of that [but] I do want to just ask that question. And that’s something I’m still asking myself. Do I want to continue banging my head against the wall and fight for what I think is right? Or do I just keep my head down and look out for me? That’s the struggle that I was trying to get into the film, but I don’t want to tell anyone what to think.
Hostile Dimensions will have its world première on 26 August FrightFest 2023. Get your ticket here.