Fantastic Fest is known for bringing together the films that challenge us, that dare to explore new ground, and showcase rising top talent. In Out Of Darkness, you’ll find all of the above. We spoke with director Andrew Cumming, making his feature debut in the brave (old) world of Paleolithic horror. He shares his influences, his fascination with how history repeats itself, and what he hopes audiences can gain by looking back.
BUT WHY THO: [Out Of Darkness] is a fascinating Paleolithic horror and it’s that particular element that has everyone at Fantastic Fest so excited. As far as “period pieces” go, the Paleolithic era is a hell of a period. Why set horror so far back in time?
ANDREW CUMMING: That time period – on an anthropological level – I’ve always thought that if we could really nail it, we could say something really profound about us as a species. The whole point of the film is humanity. So, we were writing this film around 2016 to 2019 – there was a lot of turmoil in the world. And we were looking at what it is that we are capable of as humans, what we do to people that are different from us or that we don’t understand. These were the themes we were loading in.
Apart from that, I really felt that the particular time period hadn’t been done a lot in cinema. I wanted to set a new standard, a new template, for what our ancestors could look like and get away from what had come before. That, in particular, got me excited because it meant that this wouldn’t be your typical British debut.
BUT WHY THO: You talk about discussions of humanity. It’s a really interesting choice to marry humanity with the horror genre. Why is humanity so horrifying to you?
ANDREW CUMMING: [laughs] Geez, I don’t wanna give too much away! When you see [Out Of Darkness] you’ll understand where I’m coming from.
I think there is a lot of good in humanity. But if you look back through history – whether it was the Third Reich or whether it was The Reformation – we have this habit of turning on those that are different from us and building up terror and fear. And building up hatred, all based on misunderstanding. It’s just something cyclical in nature that we do.
Out Of Darkness posits this: This is where we’re coming from, but can we change? Which is why setting the film in 45,000 BC is so interesting. Because it could be a period piece… or it could be the future. All you’d have to do is take off the tagline that tells you when the film is set. So, again, it begs the question: What are we capable of? Can we change?
BUT WHY THO: Equal parts timeless and timely.
ANDREW CUMMING: Hopefully!
BUT WHY THO: This is your feature directorial debut. You come from a background in short films. Within that, you have a distinctively minimalist style that’s very intimate. Which makes a lot of sense for a short. What’s it like to bring that into a feature debut? Or, do we get to experience a film on a much larger scale from you with Out Of Darkness?
ANDREW CUMMING: This is definitely a bigger scale. We made the film for not a lot of money, but the end product feels so much larger. The minute you put some people and a camera out in the Scottish Highlands, you’re gonna get epic!
Certainly, the filmmakers that I’ve been drawn to – like Denis Villeneuve, recently – these are the filmmakers that inspire me. People that can paint on a very broad canvas and make films that are commercially accessible but still smart. That’s what I want to do.
BUT WHY THO: I’m glad you bring up your influences, in terms of scale and what you’re specifically trying to accomplish with Out Of Darkness. Are there any other influences, maybe within the horror genre? Or just personal little “easter eggs” of yours that you’d want to share?
ANDREW CUMMING: Oh, so many easter eggs! We basically ripped the entire plot structure from Alien! Alien, for me, is the perfect movie. Anybody that fights me on Alien being a science fiction film will lose! Because it is a horror film, first and foremost! As a teenager, I grew up on the original Predator. These movies feed in.
Let’s just say it’s a broad trough that I’m stealing from. Especially in a debut. Every film you loved, every subconscious recollection of every film you’ve ever seen somehow finds its way in there and it’s best not to fight it.
BUT WHY THO: I love it! You’ve expressed a lot of excitement about joining the Fantastic Fest crowd here, it’s your first time! I happen to know it’s a rowdy crowd. What are you hoping your audience will take away?
ANDREW CUMMING: I hope they are ready to get on the roller coaster and ride. I like movies that are slightly brutal, but I especially love movies that pin me to my seat and don’t let me go for 90 minutes. That’s what I tried to do with Out Of Darkness is make something that just keeps cranking and cranking and cranking.
But I also hope that audiences see that there’s a message here. That being said, I’m trying to “hide the vitamins in the ice cream.” I hope people enjoy it, but I hope they find something deeper to discuss afterwards.
Out Of Darkness premiered on September 22, 2023 at Fantastic Fest 2023