First Look: The Reverie

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Earlier this week I had the pleasure of catching up with Sam Wildman, a very talented director and producer whose previous credits include a number of documentaries for the BBC and Channel 4. You might also recognise his name from the world of short films though, such as the spine chilling Antisocial, which I was lucky enough to see during Leamington Underground Cinema’s 2013 festival.

Currently, Sam is beginning work on his latest short film; The Reverie. If you’ve seen any of his previous work, then you’ll be as excited about this project as I am, and keen to visit its Kickstarter page. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the film is described as an ‘intimate character piece about a girl at the end of the world, focusing on a lost, desperate survivor drifting through an abandoned world in search of human contact.’. Up until now the team behind The Reverie have let little else slip about the film, but in an exclusive interview, Sam revealed the inspiration behind his latest short:

You’re in the pre-production stage of The Reverie, which you teasingly describe as a ‘post-apocalyptic fairy tale’. What else can you tell us about the film?

The Reverie is an intimate character piece about a girl at the end of the world, following an unnamed catastrophe. The story picks up as she stumbles across a battered old transistor radio. There’s a song playing on the airwaves, and it reignites her hope that someone else might be alive out there. She finds herself drawn into a vast, bleak wilderness in search of the signal’s source.

It all sounds very dark. Your last short, Antisocial, was quite a sinister piece as well. In what ways do you think that you’ve developed your ideas in coming up with The Reverie?

I wanted to tell a story that felt like an antidote to my last short, Antisocial. They both begin in a very bleak, sombre place – but where Antisocial and its character embraced that darkness, The Reverie goes in the opposite direction. It’s an optimistic, hopeful story about risking everything we have in pursuit of a dream. There’s a naivety and childlike innocence to our heroine that allows her to believe in something that an adult might be dismissive of – and that’s actually what leads to her salvation.

It strikes me that The Reverie also departs from your previous work in terms of its fantastical elements – is this fair to say?

The script is a real fusion of genres. We’ve drawn on stories as diverse as Richard Matheson’s original I Am Legend, to the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales, to the Twilight Zone. There’s science fiction, there’s adventure in there, there’s an element of mysticism and fantasy, but at its heart it’s a coming of age story.

That sounds like a very particular kind of balance in tone your aiming for. Were there any films you found influential in this respect?  

Ben Howling’s Cargo was one short I saw last year that was hugely influential for this project. For someone like me that loves the genre, that is near perfection. I think dramatic shorts work best when they’re simple stories set over short periods with minimal dialogue – Cargo encapsulates that for me. It’s also beautifully shot, and incredibly tender despite its grim subject matter. Two directors that I also really admire at the moment are Colin Treverrow (Safety Not Guaranteed) and Shane Carruth (Primer, Upstream Color). Their approach to the genre is very rooted in reality, and yet there’s an incredible magic to their films. I think it’s their ability to treat the science fiction elements in their stories as something special and reverential. Science fiction can all too easily fall into the trap of feeling familiar and stale and common – that’s something they’ve avoided.

The films you’ve just mentioned draw a lot of their appeal by setting the fantastic and magical within a very tangible, real-world setting. Do you aim to fuse fantasy and reality in The Reverie in a similar way?

We felt very strongly that the story should be anchored in a very familiar, grounded setting. That’s tricky with science fiction, particularly when you’re dealing with the end of the world. Our apocalypse is never explained – it always felt like the background to the story, rather than being the story itself. Right from the start we know that something awful and catastrophic has happened – people lie dead in their own homes, the streets are abandoned, and the world is silent. And although I made a specific choice about what that meant in writing the film, I’ve avoided explaining this to the audience. I didn’t want to get caught up in sci-fi mumbo jumbo, and drawing more attention to that event takes us away from the reality of the situation our heroine faces.

So that’s our reality – and the magic, the fantasy element – comes from the heroine’s experiences. I can’t say too much without giving away the ending, but something miraculous happens to her during her journey. That’s where the fairy tale comes in. A lot is left to the audience to interpret her experiences and what they mean, but this extraordinary occurrence gradually lifts us from a grim, post-apocalyptic world into a really hopeful, enchanting place.

The Reverie’s Kickstarter campaign ends on the 8th of April, so be sure to support this project before it’s too late. The film will be touring the festival circuit from Autumn onwards. Until then, follow its progress on Facebook and Twitter.

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