Two years ago, Daniel Byers set horror festival circuit on fire with Bloodyback, a 30+ minute frenetic battle against zombie hordes set in the historical military backdrop of the French and Indian War. Byers, who wrote and directed that project, is returning to the Atlanta Horror Film Festival this weekend with more gory havoc in Ice Man.
Set in a glacial, post-apocalyptic world, Ice Man centers on characters in a perilous fight for survival against merciless cannibals. We spoke with Byers ahead of the Friday night premiere to discover his process on following up and building on Bloodyback.
BeatsBoxingMayhem: We tend to be a nosy bunch as horror film enthusiasts that want detailed explanations. I say that in regards to Ice Man being set in a “post-apocalyptic” world. We see with The Walking Dead that the creators decided not to delve into the origin or reason for their zombie apocalypse. What was your creative process in deciding how much background you’d give the audience about what happened to create this Ice Man universe?
Daniel Byers: Ice Man is a story about people driven to the ultimate desperation – eating other people. While I wanted to focus on the character’s experiences and avoid too much exposition about the world, I see it very much as an apocalypse brought on by agricultural collapse and famine. It’s not one of the trendiest apocalypse options, but it’s a likely way for us to go down. Food access is a fragile thing. One major drought in the wheat belt and we might all be making the kinds of choices these characters face.
When you hear the word cannibal, we usually think of two character versions in horror — the primal savage or the person who seems normal outside of their desire for human flesh. Without spoiling, how were you able to subvert or add your creative twists to these horror tropes?
I think you’ll see both the expected models and the unexpected. Feral humans slavering for blood? Hell yes! But what the film really explores is what good people are capable when trapped in inhuman situations – and how, given the right situation, unspeakable acts can become absolutely routine.
What made Bloodyback so memorable was the unique setting and the frenetic pace of the violence. It really created a sense of dread where danger was present in every shot. Ice Man presents a totally different environment and circumstances from Bloodyback, but can the fans you made from that project expect similar fast pacing in Ice Man?
If you liked Bloodyback’s action and intensity you’ll absolutely enjoy Ice Man. I think you’ll find a lot of film grammar translates between the two. But Ice Man is also more of a deep dive into two characters and their choices. It’s a film about the demons inside of us just as much as the demons outside.
As an expedition filmmaker, it’s not surprising how settings are a big strength to your filmmaking. Talk about the process of getting the Dark Tower team back together and the pros and cons of shooting deep in the mountains during winter.
I love approaching fiction films like expeditions. Shooting in literal blizzards in the wilderness of the Adirondacks meant we had to prepare in ways most productions don’t. It was brutal going. The biggest thing was to feed everyone well and often – the body can handle cold and exertion really well as long as you stay fed (ironic given the story!) What we got in trade was the absolute grandeur of the winter wilderness. I wanted the whole film to feel like it was sheathed in ice and snow, to create a truly unforgiving world.
I’ve got another short in post-production now called Penumbra. It’s a pivot away from what I’d consider fantasy/horror like Bloodyback and Ice Man into Sci Fi/horror, and it’s also the first Dark Towers film to take place in the relative present. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say the monsters in this one are going to be out of this world!
Ice Man premieres tonight at the Atlanta Horror Film Festival during the Shorts #5 Block (9:20 p.m.). Screeing and daily passes are still available at http://www.atlantahorrorfilmfest.com/tickets.html.