Coffin Rock: suspense on a budget

Lisa Chappell in Coffin RockRupert Glasson and David Lightfoot took the premise of what could have been a typical family drama and turned it into an effective thriller. They told Paul Hayes why they went down that path.

The new thriller from the first time writer/director Rupert Glasson, Coffin Rock, fits very comfortably into the genre film category. Set in a small coastal ‘anytown’, the story about a middle-aged couple struggling with possible infertility against the ticking of the biological clock, and the young drifter who takes an unhealthy obsession with the lady in question, mixes thriller and horror elements to the family drama.

“Family relationships are what I am really fascinated by,” Glasson told Encore.

Instead of going down the path of catharsis and pathos, Glasson went for scares and suspense. The decision was both for practical and artistic reasons.

“Thrillers are my favourite kind of movie,” he said. “I wanted to do a relationship thriller like Fatal Attraction or Cape Fear, because they intrinsically have good drama, and suspense doesn’t have to cost a lot.”

The $2.1 million Ultrafilms project was financed through the South Australian Film Corporation, the defunct Screen Australia predecessor Australian Film Finance Corporation, and private investment. Glasson believes that grounding the film in relationships and structure it so it did not reach past its budget gave Coffin Rock more of an accomplished and confident feel.

“You can approximate or get near to a big movie feel if you base it in a relationship,” he said. “We didn’t want a film that looked like we couldn’t afford to make what we really wanted to, so it’s about designing the project to your budget as much as anything else.”

The thriller and suspense elements of Coffin Rock become less surprising when one looks at the posters and sees the ‘From the producers of Wolf Creek’ tag. That should not fool people into expecting a gory horror this time around.

According to David Lightfoot, the Wolf Creek and Rogue producer in question (sharing production responsibilities with Ayisha Davies), the two films are distinctly different animals.

Wolf Creek was a terrifying piece of suspense, whereas this is really something to think about,” he said. “Rock has its scary moments and a couple of shocking pieces, but it is a totally different film and designed for a different genre and audience than Creek.”

Test screenings have proven successful with a younger, 18 to 35 audience, but Lightfoot wants to reach an even wider audience.

“I always suspected it is going to appeal people in their 40s, because the two heroes are that age, and we’ve had a positive response from people in their 60s. They are the sort of people who would never see Wolf Creek in a million years!”


Despite this wider appeal, Coffin Rock has only received a very limited cinema release. Queensland-based distributor All Interactive Distribution (Black Water) is handling the title in Australia and New Zealand. While it will play in multiple markets including Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, the Gold Coast and regional South Australia and NSW, the film will initially play at only nine cinemas; and at press time, negotiations were still taking place for a Sydney season.

According to Lightfoot, this is as much a sign of the current times as anything else.

“Exhibitors do not have a lot of faith in Australian film at the moment, and they are displaying that,” he said. “If you look at Australian films, unless you are making a comedy like Charlie & Boots, there are some fantastic films and they are all getting 12 to 25 cinemas.

“If we were doing Wolf Creek today we would be struggling to get the 100 cinemas we got in 2005.”

Not playing at every multiplex around the country does not necessarily spell doom for an Australian product. Home entertainment is an ever increasing market and one that Lightfoot is well aware of.

“It’s important that as producers we start to accept that getting films out to cinemas is a very expensive exercise,” he said. “With DVD, video on demand, pay TV, as well as hotels, the whole thing has potential profit. The main thing is that Rock does well on all platforms.”

Another major revenue stream comes from the international markets, where Coffin Rock has shown some definite early strength, having been sold by its agent Bankside Films to territories including the UK, Germany, Belgium, Turkey and the US – although the deals have not been not as lucrative as they were for Wolf Creek.

“Big English-speaking territories simply are not offering anything near the sort of minimum that you could get a few years ago,” explained Lightfoot.

Glasson believes international success harkens back to the film’s wider appeal, not only beyond a thriller or horror film, but also beyond being an Australian film.

“You could have the same thing on the North-Atlantic coast of the United States, or in France or England, and you would have the same feel and the same kind of emotional, family problems,” he said. “It’s not that its Australianness was a big factor in the story working. It is a human story more than anything.”

Coffin Rock will be released on October 22. ■


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