Other Worlds Austin Hears The Quiet Hour

Director Stéphanie Joalland on a very British apocalypse

There's a strong tradition of British end-of-the-world stories, like Day of the Triffids and The Day the Earth Caught Fire. However, for her doom-laden film The Quiet Hour, writer/director Stéphanie Joalland found her influence in a more low-key apocalypse: The Birds.

Don't make a sound: The Quiet Hour, which receives its Texas premiere this week. (Image courtesy of Frenzy Films)

Not the Alfred Hitchcock film adaptation, but the original novella by Daphne du Maurier. That story focused on a Cornish farmer, protecting his family from sea bird attacks, who realizes the flocks are following the tides. Joalland said, "What I also loved about du Maurier’s novella is that there’s a sense that Mother Nature is avenging itself from humans, so in many ways it could be interpreted as a cautionary tale.

Joalland's film focuses on siblings Sarah (Dakota Blue Richards, The Golden Compass, Skins) and Tom (Jack McMullen), trapped for much of the day in a farmhouse. Taking the place of the birds, unseen invading aliens patrol in ships, then disappear at set times - the titular quiet hour - and humans can briefly travel safely across what was once their own world. The pair's quasi-peace is devastated when faced with interloper Jude (Game of Thrones' Karl Davies), and a pack of bandits hunting him for their own reasons. As always, it's the humans that are more of a threat than the interstellar nemesis floating overhead. Joalland said, in her story, the aliens are "a metaphor for the recklessness with which we’ve been treating our planet and how it could bring about the death of our civilization."

The film screens in Austin on May 28, as part of the year-round programming from Other Worlds Austin film festival. Before its Texas premiere, Joalland talked to the Chronicle about the human and alien threats that drive the film

Austin Chronicle: The characters have very little idea exactly what the aliens are up to - beyond that they are there, and they are deadly. How much of an idea did you have about exactly what they are and what they were up to?

Stéphanie Joalland: I don’t know what they look like. I decided to keep the extraterrestrial mysterious to convey the idea that what’s out there is probably unfathomable, mysterious. In my mind they are just here for our resources, refueling on their way to another galaxy; we aren’t the end of their trip, just a means to an end and they truly don’t care about our species, we are as insignificant to them as field mice are to farmers who plough their fields.

One of my influences when it comes to the nonphysical representation of the aliens was Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama where a group of human explorers intercept an alien spaceship that enters the solar system and enter it to unlock its mysteries but they only find machines. The ship eventually leaves the solar system and we are left wondering what the creatures who built them looked like and if they ever realized we existed at all. It’s a chilling, terrifying idea, and reminds us that what is out there is probably just altogether too alien for our human minds to comprehend.

AC: The narrative centers around how much Sarah and Tom can trust Jude. How much of that was in the original script, and how much did the cast shift the dynamics of their relationships?

SJ: It was always in the script but when I watched the first cut it became even more obvious that the crux of the story was about Sarah’s conflicted feelings towards Jude as she wavers back and forth between mistrust, trust and attraction. It’s largely due to the fact that Karl Davies brings a disturbing likability to his character that makes us wonder even more about his real agenda.

"Sarah keeps her moral compass in the sense that she’s only doing what she has to do to protect herself and her brother." Stéphanie Joalland on the moral core of The Quiet Hour. (Image courtesy of Frenzy Films)

AC: One of the key drivers for the characters is how they approach hopelessness, and what it takes to survive – both physically and emotionally – under such conditions. Their responses cover the gamut, from white lies to horrifying immorality. How far were you prepared to let those three, especially Sarah as the main protagonist, go?

SJ: Sarah keeps her moral compass in the sense that she’s only doing what she has to do to protect herself and her brother and she realizes it can’t happen without violence. When you use the terms “horrifying immorality” you are probably referring to the fact that in the world of the movie some people have clearly become cannibals, one of the ultimate taboos and an unsettling reminder of our animality. In my mind that’s what separates people who retain their humanity and others in the story and it’s a line that Sarah, Tom and Jude would never be willing to cross.

AC: Historically, the British are always queasy around guns, especially compared to Americans. You have firearms, but the characters often seem uncomfortable using them. How did you approach the use of violence, especially firearms, in the story?

SJ: Sarah isn’t comfortable with weapons indeed. Like most Europeans, she didn’t grow up around weapons and they still feel alien to her (no pun intended). Up until the moment when the story starts, her father was the one in charge of protecting the house and possibly doing things that were morally reprehensible to ensure their survival. But now that’s he’s gone she has to do the dirty work herself and the film is really about Sarah gradually coming to terms with the idea that her old values no longer apply in this terrifying world and she might have to kill to survive. Similarly, the female villain is torn between her old values and what she has to do to survive in a world that has gone wrong, which is why she’s so hesitant to kill Sarah. It has only been one year since the aliens arrived on the planet and civilization collapsed so most people still hang on to shreds of their humanity.

AC: There is an attempted rape at one point. The use of rape in sci-fi and fantasy has become increasingly controversial, so how did you approach writing that sequence, and what it means for the rest of the film?

SJ: Like in The Walking Dead, The Quiet Hour is above all about human survival in a world where things have gone bad and civilization has fallen apart so there’s a very realistic aspect to the story and unfortunately these things happen a lot in war zones. It’s vile, it’s horrifying but I made sure it couldn’t possibly be misconstrued as gratuitous exploitation within the context of the story. To me the rape attempt is the visceral turning point of the film, the moment when Sarah realizes that she’s going to have to drastically change and do things she finds morally reprehensible to ensure her own survival and her brother’s.

Other Worlds Austin presents the Texas premiere of The Quiet Hour, May 28, 7.30pm, Southwest Theaters Lake Creek 7, 13729 Research. Tickets available via www.otherworldsaustin.com.

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Other Worlds Austin, Science fiction, The Quiet Hour, Dakota Blue Richards, Karl Davis, Jack McMullen, Stéphanie Joalland

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