Dartmoor traditions and myths have been wrapped up and put in the thrilling horror that is The Medusa Box.
The feature has emerged out of a short and is the signpost to a series that is primed for filming on the South Devon moor. A prologue teaser sets out The Medusa Box cinematic stall. It is poetic, harsh, full of mystery and stays just this side of paranoia and gore to put your senses into overdrive.
The prologue itself is an echo from the past of the present-day setting of the film. Which is fitting for a Dartmoor setting that feels as old as time, with the past shaping the everyday. The Medusa Box pulls on those shared social stories, the myths, the legends and the history.
“We’ve been trying to tie everything in with as much as we can with history,” says director and producer Bex Phillips. Of course, some of the myths pull on the supernatural. “There’s always witches on Dartmoor,” says Bex.
When Bex lived on Dartmoor and worked on a campsite, a mysterious pastime revealed itself to her.
Enthusiastic and secretive
“A regular visitor to the campsite was a Letterboxer, and I’d never heard of that before,” says Bex. He would receive letters at campsite reception, and other Letterboxers kept turning up. They had notebooks rather than mobile phones. They were really enthusiastic and very secretive. Bex loaded up on books from Tavistock market and started researching.
“I came up with the idea of a film about Letterboxing and a sabotage,” she says. Bex shared that idea, the look-book she’d put together along with her enthusiasm with screenwriter Kris Heys in Manchester and The Medusa Box began taking shape.
“We started writing a short film,” says Bex. They played around with the idea, put together some dialogue for a couple of actors and gained momentum. Kris wrote a longer script
With a move back to Devon, Bex was ready to get authentic and film on Dartmoor and continue that momentum. Then, Covid.
Back on track, but hit by the lockdowns. “We filmed the prologue which will be the opening scene for the feature film, to tease and trail it and get people interested to help raise money,” says Bex. “We’ve got some good crew together.” All of which, and most of the cast, are from the South West, and that momentum has picked up again. “It’s been about six or seven years since it started from point A, to now.”
Shooting the prologue on the moor had a combo of challenges… as well as joy.
“The forest that we filmed is on the edge of Dartmoor and was kindly given to us by the landowner, Alice. We were lucky – the weather was cold, but it was dry, and the light was pretty much perfect.”
There’s a rich cinematic feel to the prologue, and that’s something Bex is going for to give the story an epic sense – not surprising given Bex’s background in art and art directing. But there’s a movement throughout the piece that belies her connection to choreography.
“The movement and the cameras have been interesting,” she says. “There are a couple of moves in the prologue that we came up with and they actually worked. I’ve always seen directing films as very similar to choreography. As a choreographer, I want to use the camera to create a movement that takes the audience into that picture.” And that picture should look good, and combine with the performances. “It’s about getting that all together.”
The Medusa Box is hoped to be a vanguard for more films in a similar vein.
“We’re going to treat this as the pilot to a series of short stories set on the Dartmoor looking at mythology,” says Bex.
As you would expect with that subject matter, it’s the kind of film that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
British folk horror
“It is a folk horror, but it’s got an element of adventure,” says Bex. “It’s definitely for an adult audience.” And the modern folk horror adventure takes some nods to the big storytelling of Spielberg. “We’re also using different techniques that might make it stand out a bit differently from what you’d expect a traditional British horror to be about.”
To get this far they had to be pretty imaginative about fundraising to make the prologue. With creative t-shirts, badges, and posters. One of the novel ideas that fed the film’s creativity has been the EP of sound sketches by JS Zeiter – a pre-cursor to the soundtrack. In blood red vinyl and hand-printed, it’s an ideal evocation of a trippy journey through relentless nature.
“It helped me to envisage the way I was going to shoot various things because I could close my eyes and see vistas and Dartmoor,” says Bex.
It appears to be working. Not only are there a handful of the impressive EPs left, and the prologue teaser has piqued the interest of an investor.
It shines through in the honesty and enthusiasm of Bex’s filmmaking and vision, which aims to finish shooting later in 2023.
Part of yourself
“I hope that every filmmaker enjoys what they’re doing and does it because they enjoy the creative process,” says Bex. “The role of the filmmaker is to communicate – to tell stories. When you are telling stories – even if they are factual documentaries, or fictional, whatever it is that you’re making – there needs to be some kind of moral message, a little bit like fairy tales. But you’ve got something in there that’s what you’re expressing is a part of yourself, truthfully.
“Dartmoor is vast and it’s big and it’s weird and exciting, and I want the movie to be as big and exciting.”
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