Interview: 'Double Blind' (2023) director Ian Hunt-Duffy

Our interview with Ian Hunt-Duffy, director of the medical research-themed horror thriller "Double Blind"
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Delve into the chilling depths of Double Blind as we sit down with director Ian Hunt-Duffy to explore the genesis of this gripping thriller. From the inception of a drug trial with fatal consequences to navigating the intricate balance between suspense and horror, discover the creative journey behind this spine-tingling cinematic experience.

Interview: 'Double Blind' director Ian Hunt-Duffy

1428 ELM: What inspired the premise of a drug trial with deadly side effects as the central theme for Double Blind?

IAN HUNT-DUFFY: I love horrors or thrillers that are self-contained, and so a drug trial was a setting that really interested our screenwriter Darach [McGarrigle], as it attracts characters on the margins of society and acts as its own mini world with its own set of rules. We’re also big fans of high-concept stories, so I thought his idea of “if you fall asleep you die” was such a great hook, really evocative and memorable.

1428 ELM: How did you approach balancing suspense and horror elements while maintaining the narrative coherence of the film?

IAN HUNT-DUFFY: In terms of narrative coherence, luckily we had a great, suspenseful script to work from, constantly pushing the plot and characters to their extremes. We also had a brilliant editor on board the film, Colin Campbell, who really helped balance the various elements during post-production. Having our story confined to a single location was really beneficial too, as it afforded us a much greater control over the camera, lighting, and production design, all of which came together to really build the suspense and horror.

Challenges for a new filmmaker

1428 ELM: Could you share any particular challenges you faced during the filming process, especially considering it's your feature directorial debut?

IAN HUNT-DUFFY: There were a lot of things we had to problem-solve and figure out during the shoot. For example, how to achieve the shot where the camera travels out from the iris of a character’s eye, or how to light inside a closed body bag. I had never done any wirework before, so the levitation scene was a new experience too. The main challenge though was just an incredibly tight schedule and never enough time, so we always had to find creative solutions.

For example, on day 2 of the shoot, one of our actors got Covid and had to isolate for 7 days, so we had to quickly rework our shotlist and schedule to keep the show going. Luckily our Grip, Charlie, had a very similar hairstyle and physique to the actor, so we put a costume on him and were able to use him as a stand-in: shooting over his shoulder, or positioning him in scenes with his back to camera, and it worked out!

1428 ELM: What drew you to collaborate with Epic Pictures Group and Screen Ireland for this project, and how did their support contribute to the film's production?

IAN HUNT-DUFFY: Screen Ireland had funded my previous short film Low Tide, and they were brilliant to work with. They really developed and nurtured us as filmmakers and wanted to support us in making our first feature film, so they gave us development funding to write the screenplay for Double Blind’. We then pitched the project at the Frontières International Co-Production Market in Montreal, where Epic Pictures came on board as our Sales Agent. Together with Screen Ireland, and Wildcard Pictures in Ireland, we were then able to secure production financing for the film.

The cast of Double Blind

1428 ELM: How did you go about assembling the ensemble cast for Double Blind, particularly in choosing Millie Brady and Pollyanna McIntosh as your leads?

IAN HUNT-DUFFY: We were very lucky to have a brilliant casting director on board, Amy Rowan, who spent months finding the right actors for each role. The film is an ensemble piece, but our way into the story, our anchor for the audience, is the character of Claire. So we focused on finding Claire first before building out the rest of the ensemble around her. When I met Millie Brady for the role, we had a long conversation about the character and the story, and she really connected with Claire’s backstory, her relationship with her mother, and how she tries to act hard on the surface but is really vulnerable underneath.

It’s a demanding role both emotionally and physically, as Claire is really put through the wringer as the film progresses. So that was something that excited Millie, the chance to not only map Claire’s emotional journey and arc, but also sink her teeth into the physicality of the performance. Millie relished all the stunt work and fight choreography, and portraying the different stages of sleep deprivation and exhaustion and how that affects the body. I think Millie is phenomenal in this film.

As for Pollyanna, for the role of Dr. Burke I wanted an actor that would excite genre fans. Pollyanna is a horror icon, so we offered her the role and then crossed our fingers. Pollyanna watched my short film ‘Gridlock’ and was friends with the star of the film, Moe Dunford, and so she reached out to him for a bit of a background check on me! Luckily he spoke very positively about our experience together, so Pollyanna agreed to come on board.

To work with someone like Pollyanna for my first feature film was an absolute pleasure, she was so professional and put everyone at ease. With only a 23-day shoot, we were constantly under pressure and up against the clock, but Pollyanna was always so relaxed and prepared, and that energy permeated throughout the rest of the cast. With Pollyanna, we would typically only ever need two takes before we had it, so having an actor with that level of experience really inspired everyone.


1428 ELM: Are there any specific cinematic influences or references that inspired your directorial approach for this film? I know there was a film with a similar premise called The Alpha Incident from 1978.

IAN HUNT-DUFFY: John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of my all-time favourite films and was a big influence on Double Blind. I love self-contained horrors, where a group of mismatched characters are trapped together in one location and paranoia takes hold. Like The Thing or Alien. Other touchpoints for me then were films like Event Horizon, Cube, Green Room, and The Shining. And since we were dealing with sleep and hallucinations, you have to pay tribute to the master Wes Craven and A
Nightmare On Elm Street.

1428 ELM: Given the setting of the film being in a confined space, how did you work with the production team to create an atmosphere of claustrophobia and tension?

IAN HUNT-DUFFY: I always saw the facility as another character in the film, like Outpost 31 in The Thing or the Nostromo in Alien, so I wanted the location to be distinctive. I spent a lot time with our art department and production designer Steve Kingston finding the cold and sterile “feel” of the facility. I wanted the warren of corridors in the building to feel intimidating and endless for our characters, so the hard blue lines helped to create a strong one-point perspective and vanishing point. The facility is also in the lower levels of the building, so there are no windows or sources of natural light, everything is artificially lit.

The only reminder of the outside world then comes from the tree Blackwood have planted in the middle of the common room, but even that has an ominous artificiality to it and so adds to the tension and claustrophobia. I also had a lot of discussions with our sound designer, Brendan Rehill, about the sound and tone of the facility and how to make that feel subterranean and oppressive, so Brendan created a lot of heavy, deep tones for the “hum” of the facility that reverberates underneath the surface of every scene. Using the noises of oscillating fans, thrumming machines, synths- all building and adding to the artificial and claustrophobic feel of the place.

1428 ELM: Can you speak to the importance of originality in genre cinema and how Double Blind distinguishes itself within the horror-thriller genre?

IAN HUNT-DUFFY: There are so many great new genre films being made every year, so it’s really important to try and make something original that will quickly grab people’s attention. I tried to make Double Blind distinctive in both its visual and sound design, creating a horror film with a distinctly Irish feel. We are well known for our dark sense of humour in Ireland, so we wove some dark humour throughout the story, balancing the tension and scares with some Irish wit. Hopefully we’ve put our own spin on a well-established genre, playing with familiar tropes and delivering something a little bit different.

1428 ELM: What do you hope audiences will take away from Double Blind, both in terms of entertainment value and any underlying themes or messages?

IAN HUNT-DUFFY: First and foremost, I hope they are entertained. I want to fully immerse audiences in the dread and claustrophobia of the story, and really feel all the suspense and tension throughout. Horror films are always a great way at a holding a mirror up to society too, and we tried to do that with Double Blind, dealing with themes like personal identity, the distrust of Big Pharma, and the housing crisis here in Ireland. But by filtering it all through a horror or genre lens, it hopefully makes it more digestible for the audience.

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