A PREHISTORIC horror movie shot in the Highlands and screened at last year’s Glasgow Film Festival is set for its full release in cinemas later this month. 

Out of Darkness, originally titled The Origin, is the debut feature from Scottish director Andrew Cumming and was shot in the north west Highlands to recreate the film’s Stone Age setting.

“It’s about this small band of early modern humans who, under the leadership of quite a dominating patriarch, move to find new hunting grounds and new territories,” the director explains.  

All is not as it seems though as the group eventually encounters something “ancient and evil and all hell breaks loose,” as Cumming puts it himself.

In an interview with The National, the filmmaker spoke about his love for horror films, why Scotland makes the perfect setting for a horror film and keeping things as authentic as possible.

Location scouting

The project first started back in 2015 during a meeting with producer Oliver Kassman at a time when both were keen to make “smart genre movies,” specifically one which was set in this time period.

He cites William Golding’s 1955 novel The Inheritors as a source of inspiration and, along with screenwriter Ruth Greenberg and Kassman, the three set out on a road-trip to scout for locations to shoot the film.

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“We travelled all through the north west just to get a sense of the landscape before putting pen to paper.

“And that was it really, we went off and Ruth delivered us a first draft within a couple of weeks and poured a lot into it from her own experiences.

“It was a relatively straightforward period to get that first draft out into the world.”

Cumming admits that it would have been easy to consider other locations, such as Iceland or Norway, but that from very early on he always considered shooting in Scotland as a top option.

The National: Out of Darkness was shot in the Highlands - Image: Signature Entertainment 

He explained: “In a previous life, I made these sort of corporate and charity videos and from that I knew how good Scotland would be.  

“Scotland was always the number one location. It’s a cliché but it really does become another character in the film.”

The film was shot within a 45-minute drive of the Gairloch Hotel in north-west Scotland, with the exception of the Bone Caves which were around a two hour drive and one hour hike away.

Interest in horror

Cumming’s love of horror dates back to his youth, when he admits he probably watched a number of films “far too young”.

He notes that The Shining, Alien and Seven are movies which have stuck with him and explains they tap into a take on the genre that works particularly well for him.

“Around the time we started developing Out of Darkness, there were a lot of good horror movies coming out whether it was Hereditary or The Babadook, we’ve obviously had stuff like Get Out as well,” he says.

“A lot of films took horror and pushed it into really interesting territory where you could sneak the vitamins in with the ice cream as it were.

“They had something to say about us, about society but they did it through the lens of genre and that was exciting to see happening as we pitched this prehistoric horror movie.”

He says he feels this is also reflected in his film and stresses it was important to forge a connection between the audiences and the main characters despite being set 43,000 years ago.

“I felt we needed to spend time with these people before we had a monster descend upon them.

“Obviously you hint there’s something there but you slowly build the idea that something is out there before s*** hits the fan.

“In some horrors, the currency is jump scares but I don’t respond to that as much as I want to spend time with these people and let things build up.”

Staying authentic

To add extra authenticity to the film, Cumming brought Palaeolithic archaeologist Dr Rob Dinnis and Dr Daniel Andersson, a poet and historian, to help capture the period as best as possible.

The latter even created the language the film is spoken in the film, which the director explains is a mix of “Basque, Sanskrit and Scandinavian influences”.

Discussing the importance of Dinnis to the film, Cumming said: “He encouraged us not to be too wedded to what we see in glass cases in our history museums but our production designer also took a deep dive into these things.

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“That’s important because it gives you the material to use but we still had licence to go off and play and my main thing was I didn’t want to create something that just felt like you had put the Discovery Channel on. We have to identify with these people.

"I’m borrowing from Ridley Scott here – nobody was there. My interpretation is as valid as yours based on the research.”

Out of Darkness will be released in cinemas on February 23.