Two feet, filmmaker Jon Wright and his team have established, is the optimum height for a creature you don’t want to find in your bedroom. “For something coming around the foot of the bed,” the Northern Irish director of Grabbers, Tormented and Robot Overlords clarifies. “Actually, to be totally accurate, it’s slightly shorter than two feet.”
This rather unique bit of research has been rather crucial for Wright’s next project, The Little People, a home invasion horror in which — as the title suggests — stature plays an important role.
Rather enticingly billed as “Gremlins meets Straw Dogs,” the film — being introduced to buyers in the Virtual Cannes Market by Cornerstone — centers on a young couple who, following a traumatic event in London, flee to remote rural Ireland for some peace and quiet. Unsurprisingly, things don’t exactly go to plan, and the two find themselves the target of a group of malevolent goblins living at the bottom of the garden.
The Emerald Isle isn’t short (pun intended) of diminutive mythological imps, but The Little People’s little people aren’t quite the mischievous pot of gold or lucky charm-chasing types. They’re instead based on local faeries known as “far darrig,” which Wright says are “related to gnomes and leprechauns, but are sort of like the black sheep of the family.” Black sheep might be a touch diplomatic: these pint-sized predators are best known for soaking their caps in the blood of their victims.
The Little People is also a contemporary “creature feature” set to embrace the analogue of yesteryear and fuse it with today’s technologies. Essentially, the vertically-challenged antagonists are going to be real: five-foot actors wearing prosthetic masks (made by Harry Potter monster-builder Shaune Harrison) and shot in a giant set to make them appear small.
Wright’s plan is to then use modern VFX — “a highly-evolved version of the tracking technology used on Where The Wild Things Are” — to animate the mini monsters in post-production.
“When I look back at these old creature features, you don’t really believe that the things are real,” he says. “They’re great movies, but the effects definitely haven’t stood the test of time. And when I see the modern CG versions of goblins or elves or whatever, I don’t quite believe them either.”
While the production methods for The Little People may offer a (blood-soaked) hat tip to the pre-CG era, Wright says the film is a horror movie very much in the mold of recent frighteners such as Hereditary, Midsommer, Get Out and The Babadook, where there’s more than just scares beneath the surface.
“I love the fact that the films have taken old genres and updated them to say something very contemporary, making a movie that wasn’t really doable in the 80s and 90s.”
Although primed to have viewers hiding behind their popcorn, The Little People, Wright explains, also examines the repression of violent urges. One of the main characters is a second-generation British Asian he describes as an “urban pacifist,” but someone who is actually capable of violence given the right circumstances.
“So we were like, what circumstances can we put her through where she learns that she’s not a pacifist? How can we teach her this lesson in the most dramatic way? So the little people in the wood are symbolic of those violent urges, which she keeps under lock and key.”
Speaking of violence, alongside gauging optimal height for bedroom scares, another key factor Wright and his co-writer Mark Stay had to put some serious thought towards was the manner in which The Little People’s murderous munchkins will be vanquished.
So the two sat down with a whiteboard and imagined they were teenage boys in a cinema wanting to see small creatures offed in the most fun and creative ways possible.
“We basically wrote a shopping list of death,” he says, adding that they went around a house thinking of how everyday items could be used to kill two foot tall Irish goblins.
“And you’ll be amazed,” he laughs. “I mean, you never see a deck chair as a murder weapon.”