Interview | Director Kiah Roache-Turner on spider horror Sting

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Kiah Roache-Turner’s Sting is the stuff of nightmares for all arachnophobes. We chat to the director about his new, spine-tingling horror film. 

“I’m terrified of spiders” isn’t exactly what you expect to hear from the mouth of a director who has just done a horror film about a giant spider. 

Yet, that’s exactly what Kiah Roache-Turner has done with Sting. We catch up with Roache-Turner as he’s filming his next film, The Beast Of War, which sees him swap giant spiders for giant sharks. “I just spent a day dealing with giant sharks. And now I’m going to talk to you about giant spiders!” Roache-Turner grins over Zoom. Variety is the spice of life, as they say.

Sting follows Alyla Browne’s Charlotte who unknowingly takes an alien spider as a pet with disastrous consequences, putting her entire apartment building in danger. Ryan Corr plays Charlotte’s stepdad who is struggling to connect with her, but there’s nothing quite like mortal danger from an alien species to bring a family together. 

He tells me about the various spiders he encounters regularly in his native Australia, including a funnel-web which will kill you within hours if you don’t seek treatment. While I seriously contemplate whether I ever want to visit Australia, we chat about Sting, Alien and Spielberg among other things. 

You’ve talked a lot about Alien and IT being big influences on Sting. I picked up a Spielberg vibe as well.

Thank you for picking that up. That was a deep conversation that we had with the producers and editor a lot. The obvious reference is Jaws, but it’s not just Jaws, it’s his whole output in the 80s. He does this thing where he makes you love the characters and the family unit that he sets up. 

Nobody does a family scene that is as dynamic and as engaging as Spielberg. Usually, a family scene with a family sitting around a table talking is the most boring thing you’ve ever seen. But for some reason, Spielberg can make it dynamic and interesting, and make you care about the characters. There was the vibe of Spielberg’s 80s horror that we would desperately try to ape to a degree.

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Credit: Studio Canal

That’s the kind of horror that I grew up with. I saw these films very young, but I believe you’re not a fan of PG-13 horror.

PG-13 back then… You could take someone’s head off, and it was PG-13! Jaws is PG, right? Have you seen Jaws recently? It’s brutal! PG back then is kind of our MA (R) now. 

I don’t believe that horror sits in a PG world. It’s horror, it’s supposed to be disturbing. If you’re rounding off the edges, you’re not doing horror, you’re doing something else.I wouldn’t know how to direct a PG horror film. In the 80s I would, because they let you do whatever the hell you want. We were traumatised in the 80s, like The NeverEnding Story and the horse, Artax, drowning in a swamp over a long period of time. I’ve never gotten over that and they would never do that now, that would just be an M immediately or an MA. Kids would never get over it, I never did. PG in the 80s was different from PG now.

In films like Sting, you want to show the audience the creature, but you don’t want to show it too much. You’ve got some cool kills in the film but you’ve also got the human drama of the stepfather and daughter. How do you balance all those elements? What’s the recipe?

I don’t know if there is a recipe, I think it’s just instinct. I don’t really like torture porn or gore, I don’t really do really gory stuff. I don’t mind the implication of horrific gore, but I don’t really want to dwell on the wounds. The less you see, the better. 

I almost didn’t even want to show this spider as much as we did. I was seeing some of the digital stuff of the little spider running around and I just loved it so much that we ended up going with more than I was maybe comfortable with. And I’m fine with that because I think it looks so good. I actually think that, from my perspective, some of the best scenes in the film are when you don’t see the spider at all. There’s a scene with the giant spider attacking the family, and it’s blocked out like a Hitchcock film. You never see the spider in that sequence, it’s all sound design. You can see what’s happening on the faces of the people and it’s all off screen. It’s all completely the sound of the spider scuttling around and growling. They’re kind of my favourite scenes. 

It’s one of the things about Jaws that is so brilliant, you only see the fin or a bit of the shark every now and again, it’s mostly just ocean and the potential of this thing coming up and grabbing you. The imagination of the audience has no budget whereas when you show the creature, you are restricted by your budget, and what the digital stuff can do without the uncanny valley effect or restrictions of what the puppet can achieve. But if it’s all sound design and happening in the darkness, then the audience fills in the gaps and usually, that makes for a better creature.

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Credit: Studio Canal

I love Nekrotronic. Was it a challenge to go from that balls to the wall kind of action to a traditional horror film, with more of a creepy vibe.

I wanted to do a straight horror film. I wanted to try my hand at doing a serious, dramatic horror film. This is as serious as I can go. I know that there’s silliness and some funny things, but I wouldn’t know how to go more serious than this. I like films with a bit of a sense of humour. So this is me, genuinely trying to make a creepy, scary, disturbing horror film. 

Most of the films that I’ve made have been very big in terms of humour and craziness. I wanted to see if I could do Alien on a smaller scale. I wanted to try my hand at making a Spielbergian, Poltergeist-like film. It was a little bit of a different approach for me, because all the films up until Sting I had made with my brother. Me making films with my brother is quite different from me making films on my own. Like, he loves Aliens, I love Alien. One has dudes running around with automatic weapons, shooting the crap out of all these Xenomorphs coming at them. I love that film, but my favourite is Alien where it’s like a contained, very artistic approach to the horror genre. 

I guess Sting, in a weird way, is the first true Kiah Roache-Turner film. That’s the difference in tone really that you see from Nekrotronic, or Wyrmwood to Sting. This is me working for the first time without my brother and his love of high powered assault weapons.

We’re getting a new Alien film this year. It looks great and I’m hoping that it does well and it’ll spawn more great Alien films. Would you be up for making one?

Are you kidding me?! If somebody approached me to make an Alien film, my head would explode with happiness. Of course! Is it Fede Alvarez who’s doing it? I’m so jealous. My face is dripping with jealousy right now. I would love to do that, 100%.

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Credit: Studio Canal

Is there any fear of messing with something you love so much? Denis Villeneuve recently said he’s done with that because of Blade Runner 2049

But he did take on doing the sequel for one of the greatest science fiction films ever made in the history of the world. He set himself up to fail a little bit. But Blade Runner 2049 is still a towering, majestic masterpiece of brilliance. It’s just not… Blade Runner. That’s like going ‘oh, well, I did Citizen Kane 2 and it’s not as good as the first one.’ Like, Citizen Kane is lightning in a bottle. 

With Alien, I think there’s a little bit more leeway. Everybody knows that Ridley Scott is the man and he made a brilliant film, but James Cameron proved that you can do a riff on that and still make one of the best action films of all time. Fede Alvarez seems to have captured lightning in a bottle in his own way too. The good thing about Alien is, it’s such a brilliant setup, the creature is brilliant. The science fiction context is great. You can’t go wrong, as long as you concentrate really hard on making it scary. If you make that your priority, I think you’re going to be okay with Alien

I wouldn’t feel worried at all, going into the Alien world. I would just be so stoked to get the opportunity. If somebody came along and said do you want to do Apocalypse Now 2? Then I would be like ‘No, that’s a terrible idea.’

You’re doing a shark film next, Renny Harlin is working on another shark film. These creatures keep coming back and filmmakers are always interested in making more of these films. What is it about them that is so appealing?

It does kind of come in waves. It had been so long since anybody had made a spider horror film. And while I was prepping to do Sting, DreamWorks was prepping to do the Arachnophobia reboot, and the French one [Infested] was being made. I think it’s just a Zeitgeist thing, the world collectively just decides it’s time for a spider film. 

Right now, I think there’s like ten different shark films being made. As a filmmaker, you’ve just got to be a part of it. When I decided to make Wyrmwood back in 2015, it had been a while since there had been a decent zombie film. It took me three and a half years to make Wyrmwood, because I funded it myself, and in that three and a half years, suddenly, 20 zombie films came out, and then The Walking Dead. You have to just make sure that you’ve got an original take on it, the filmmaking and writing is really good and just hope that you can fit into that wave somehow. 

The good thing about Infested and Sting is, they couldn’t be further apart in terms of the approach and the tone. There’s room for those two films. You don’t want to be the one that makes a crappy version of the other. Renny is off doing his thing, it’s a completely different concept. What I’m doing is loosely based on a real thing that happened to the HMS Armidale in 1942, where the ship got sunk by Japanese zeros, and a bunch of Aussies were just left in the middle of this debris, being picked off by sharks over a period of time. I’ve written [the film] very loosely around that concept. I think it’s different enough from the other million shark films that are out there to be its own thing.

Sting is in UK cinemas 31st May

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