Just like the movies that led to the mid-2000s resurgence of the splatter subgenre, The Dare (review) succeeds in shocking its audience with grisly, grotesque imagery exploiting humanity’s most irrational fears; succeeding in its simplicity to leave you traumatised!
Co-writing this blood-soaked horror alongside Giles Alderson, screenwriter Jonny Grant breathes new life into the art of splatter – The Dare is definitely not for the squeamish – and has been kind enough to answer a few questions for Attack from Planet B.
Ken Wynne: Hi Jonny. Thanks for taking the time to to answer a few questions. It really is appreciated. The Dare was co-written with Giles Alderson, who you also co-wrote Arthur & Merlin: Knights of Camelot with (alongside Simon Cotton). How did you both meet and how was The Dare developed?
Jonny Grant: Back in 2011, I blasted out hundreds of emails to producers, directors, actors. I subscribed to IMBD Pro on a free trial, just so I could get hold of their e-mail addresses. Giles was one of those contacts, and one of the few who got back to me requesting to read my script The Nobodies. He said he loved the script but wasn’t in a position to do anything with it. Two years passed and Giles emailed me again, saying he’d like to try and make The Nobodies.
Giles worked with a couple of producers to raise some money but the money people backed out, for one reason or another. In the midst of all that, Giles came to me with a one sheet for a horror idea, at the time called ‘Welcome to the Last Day of Your Life’. He asked me to co-write the movie; it sounded cool so I thought why the hell not.
A month later we had a first draft. Over the next 12 months we had mega long skype and phone calls developing the script, then Giles had a contact (an actor called Julian Kostov) in Bulgaria, where Nu Boyana Studios is based. They were looking to begin a slate of horror movies, so Julian, who came on board as a Producer, and Giles pitched the idea to them. There were a couple of pitching sessions, including one in London, before Nu Boyana agreed to take the project on board. Even now it seems to good to be true.
The script did the rounds; we got feedback from a range of beta readers, and edited accordingly, before the first day of principle photography was booked in, mid-November 2016. The shoot was 18 days, which is actually a crazy short amount of time for a feature. I was re-writing parts on set, and everything just flashed by in an instant.
After seeing the first cut, I just wasn’t happy with the lead [character], who at the time was some douche bag on a stag do (bachelor party in the US). He had no family, which meant the stakes weren’t as high. So I went to Giles and said I think we should re-write the opening scene and add some more parts throughout to raise the stakes for Jay. Giles agreed and we went ahead and gave Jay a family.
On top of that, the Execs weren’t happy with the original ending, believing it to be too bleak for US audiences. So I had 48 hours to write a new one; I remember giving myself a stress migraine from thinking so hard about how to end the damn thing. I was desperate not to lose the essence of the piece, but also not to make it too bleak again. There had to be a compromise and hopefully we achieved it. Maybe the original ending will crop up as a special feature on a director’s cut one day. Not long after, Giles and the crew shot the new ending, which meant a new midsection needed to also be shot. It was all a huge learning curve, and in hindsight, invaluable to the way we approach our next project.
Ken: Let’s talk about subgenre, because The Dare is very reminiscent of both Saw (2004) and Hostel (2005); two pioneering thrillers that led to the mid-2000s resurgence of the splatter subgenre. Was this intentional or coincidental?
Jonny: Completely coincidental. Those two movies are amazing, and I have massive respect for them. But they’re not exactly my kind of horror movie. I really didn’t want to go down the route of violence for violence sake. I wanted our villain to be conducting these acts because they resonated deeply with him; the violence was personal to him and his past. I wanted story to be king, and character to be queen. Unfortunately, a lot of the character work from the script didn’t make the cut. But that’s just the nature of the beast. It all worked out well in the end.
Ken: How do you feel about The Dare being referred to as “torture porn”?
Jonny: I hate it. And I think it’s a misunderstanding of the piece. So here’s the dictionary definition of pornography: Printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings.
I don’t think The Dare fits that description at all. Plus the entire reason our villain is doing what he is doing is emotional. He is entirely motivated by his emotional feelings. So no, I hate that label, and hopefully the sequel will shed it completely.
Ken: The Dare is definitely not for the squeamish. Were you pleased with how the SFX and VFX were executed in comparison to how you had imagined each torture sequence playing out? I must admit, I flinched a few times during the eyeball scene.
Jonny: Oh yeah, those guys at the studio did an amazing job of making the violence visceral and not silly or ridiculous. Those violent gags don’t cause laughs, like a Mortal Kombat finisher. They make you cover your eyes and imagine what it’d be like suffering like that. It’s raw and real.
Ken: Did you have any ideas that were included in the original script, but didn’t make it to production due to budget or time constraints?
Jonny: Oh so many. The original script had a lot more in the way of character work and development. There was backstory for every character in the basement, where they came from, who they were, what they were doing when they were taken. We got to know them a lot more. There was a lot more bonding between them. And some stuff actually got shot, it just didn’t make the cut for pacing reasons or whatever. I get it. There was also a gruesome scene of Jay being forced to chew a lightbulb. In fact, the violence was even more brutal than it is now, but we had to cut a lot back in order to make the movie Rated R rather than NC-17. It’s still an 18 in the UK! All this stuff might make a future Blu Ray release. Fingers crossed!
Ken: The Dare concludes with one final scare that wouldn’t be out of place in a slasher movie. Having set up the audience for a potential sequel, do you see yourself returning for The Dare 2 in the future?
Jonny: Absolutely. That’s my hope. I have the entire sequel mapped out. And a good idea of where The Dare 3 would go too. I would never want to do a sequel just for the sake of it. There has to be a believable motivation for each character, and a natural story driver. But The Dare’s story has that much scope. A lot of personal motivation, and increasing stakes so I definitely think this could be a trilogy. Then see what happens after that. Hopefully something will be announced in the not too distant future. Keep your eyes peeled!
Ken: What genre movies do you feel have had the most influence on you as a screenwriter, and why?
Jonny: Everything I have ever learned as a screenwriter can be learned watching Jurassic Park and Jaws. Jurassic Park especially is the reason I wanted to work in the movie industry in the first place. It’s just lightning in a bottle. And not just because of the amazing dinosaurs. The character work is fantastic. If we didn’t care about the characters, we wouldn’t care about what the dinosaurs do to them.
In The Dare, we focused a lot on making the audience care about the villain, because we wanted to flip the genre on its head and experiment with that. I think The Dare 2 will test our loyalties even further.
The Blair Witch Project is my favourite horror movie of all time. In just how we see nothing. There’s nothing more terrifying than our own imagination. I love the setups and the payoffs. I’m big on those, I just think they’re a fantastic tool when done well.
More recently I love Hereditary, It Follows, Us. I recently saw Saint Maud and instantly fell in love with it. I think when writing The Dare 2 I’ll definitely be more influenced by their deep psychology, and their sense of visual storytelling – the unsaid.
The Dare is available now on Digital Download and DVD from Lionsgate UK.