Not since Powell and Pressburger has the English town and countryside's sinister aspect been so closely examined in the cinema. The Archers' productions such as The Red Shoes (1948), Gone To Earth (1950) and Peeping Tom (1960) were films infused with a sense of supernatural dread, with Albion painted as a place of curse and superstition. Theirs was a fusion of imagery and sound design, in conjunction with the assembly of what, at the time, were maverick rolling casts which included actors such as Marius Goring, Robert Helpmann, Roger Livesey and David Farrar. Later came Michael Reeves' Witchfinder General (1968), and with it that sense of intangible disquiet and horror, and now, to suit this modern age, the anxiety has returned.
Pieces, a new 15-minute film written and directed by 31-year-old Jack Weatherley (pictured), is attracting attention for its subject matter and heavyweight cast. 'It's quite a dark and challenging piece, a non-chronological exploration of a difficult subject which will hopefully provoke questions from audiences,' he says. 'It's about an unspoken incident which affects two families, effectively turning their lives into a nightmare. With shorts you have to do something which is different.'
Pieces came about after the success of Weatherley's first film, Straight Way Lost, which premiered at the BFI London Film Festival in 2011, and was screened at festivals internationally, subsequently being picked up for distribution by Shorts International. 'I never set out with a clear-cut plan, I just wanted to make a film. I had an idea which was inspired by a nightmare and I got it into script form.'
So like all directors worth their salt, he continued to write, and now finds himself part of the new vanguard of British film directors which includes Eran Creevy, Ben Wheatley and Paul Andrew Williams, all of whom possess the pugnacity which is necessary to get a script to the big screen.
'I've been making Pieces for close on two years now,' says Weatherley. 'I wrote it and sent it to a producer friend of mine, who really liked it, but then a big job came in last year which sucked up the whole of the year and meant I had to put it aside. When that job finished, we started talking again and committed to making it happen.'
The film was shot in three days by Laurie Rose, who has been the cinematographer for Ben Wheatley's films and The Stone Roses: Made of Stone (2013) by Shane Meadows. 'Effectively we have a feature film cast and crew for Pieces, which was a real inspiration,' he says.
With a cast comprising the increasingly versatile Michael Smiley (2011 BIFA winner for Kill List/A Field In England, 2013), George MacKay (who acted alongside Daniel Craig in Defiance and who stars in For Those In Peril and Kevin McDonald's upcoming How I Live Now), Alice Lowe (Sightseers), Paul Kaye (Game Of Thrones) and Tanya Franks (Pulling), the film consequently hits with the power of fresh acting alchemy.
'It was a challenge assembling a cast as busy as this one. Michael [Smiley] is a rare spirit, who was at the forefront of my mind when I was writing Pieces,' says Weatherley. 'This is a cast of top actors, in high demand, so to get them together for Pieces was fantastic.'
Weatherley first got a job as a runner before working in TV and moving into commercials and promos. 'I just wanted to make drama. I think secretly, everyone wants to make drama,' he says.
Was he always going to film his own script? 'Yes, it's my baby. But it's difficult to be objective about your own script. I wanted to prove to people I had it in me.
'As a young filmmaker, I knew I had to take steps myself to get this film off the ground. It's very much a case of slogging and putting yourself out there. And proving to people that your work is worth investing in, be it emotionally or financially.'
In keeping with this country's zeitgeist, Weatherley says he finds darker subject matter more interesting. This is an age of uncertainty, after all. 'Nicolas Roeg is a genius, as he takes a linear medium and mucks around with it, making the viewer do the work, and draw their own meaning. Terry Gilliam's work is also very unsettling, and there's a real talent in being able to unsettle an audience.
'Jonathan Glazer [Sexy Beast, 2000] makes beautiful films, and Ben Wheatley [Kill List, 2011 and A Field In England, 2013] is a director with unique sensibilities and someone I really admire. He's proven that if you have enough passion and enough talent, you can make the films you want to make. With luck, Pieces will be showing at the big UK film festivals. And with a cast like this one, a lot of interest is coming our way.'
A driven man, Weatherley says that 'nowadays anybody can call themselves a filmmaker and for the first time a generation can make films which look high quality for very little cost. That's liberating, but it means competition has never been greater'.
Through a combination of will power, canniness and self belief, Weatherley has risen out of the saturated market. A new voice has arrived, so take note.
© Jason Holmes 2013 / firstname.lastname@example.org / @JasonAHolmes
For more information on Jack Weatherley, visit: jackweatherley.co.uk / @Jack_Weatherley
Portrait photograph by Pete Zelewski / www.petezelewski.com
Still from Pieces courtesy of Wingbeat Pictures (George MacKay, left/Michael Smiley, right)Suggest a correction