You’ve got that great idea for a horror indie film & you’re ready to shoot. Hold your horses! … and read here 5 basic rules to make your horror concept even better.

RULE 1: SUCK ME INTO YOUR WORLD

From X-Files to Twin Peaks to the Following, each of those terrifying world has its own logic. Thus, the arena of your film should also make sense so your audience could dive into it.

One useful tip is to pick is to build the world of your film is to pick a character with a unique perspective of the world: Is your character paranoid like Mulder? (The X-files), Is your world about the darkness lingering in the Forest? (Twin Peaks) or about how social media can turn ordinary people into murderers?(The Following). How do you personally SEE THE WORLD?

 

RULE 2: …POPULATED WITH INTRIGUING CHARACTERS

There is no worst experience in horror than watching a film whose main character(s)/story are bland, generic or uninteresting. It’s like being introduce to a person at a party whose total personality is perfectly summed up by their Tinder profile and you can’t leave their side for the entire evening. Make your protagonist stand out. Give them a quirk, an awkwardness in the way he/she speaks or behaves. Hitchcock use to advice to start your story with your protagonist’s flaw or fear (see Vertigo). Here are two steps to create an interesting horror protagonist: > pick a flaw, a trait, something awkward that will make him/her stands out from the crowd (he’s scared of water, collect pictures of insects…) > Explore that same flaw in your story and see where it leads you: find out an interesting story behind that flaw to connect your character to the story.

 

RULE 3: MAKE ME CARE (SOMETHING AT STAKE)

Now that you’ve established 1) an intriguing protagonist 2) in a dark but logical world…it’s time to talk plot. In other words, what does your protagonist want and what does he do to achieve his goal. In a lot of horror films, this means your hero wants to survive whatever is threatening him. This is not enough. Too many horror stories are based on that simplistic survival instinct. You need to dig deeper into his/her backstory to find a strong human theme that will keep the audience interested. That theme should be connected to how we behave in society with others. Great Horror explores problems of the human psyche: The Thing about how paranoia can destroy a team, The Fly (Cronenberg) is about how overwhelming ambition can damage love, The Shinning is about how a dysfunctional relationship between father-wife-son can lead to madness. More recently The Badabook and GoodBye Mommy are about the trust between a mother & sons.

 

RULE 4: CREATE A SURPRISING UNEXPECTED ANTAGONIST…

Run-of-the-mill horror films tend to pick an obvious antagonist. Typically it’s someone who want to a) eat you alive, b)kill you, c)haunt you for the rest of your life. Try to pick non of the above and try to find something fresh, unexpected to scare us. Something we have not seen before: Goodbye Mommy is a great example. What if your own mother was the antagonist of the film. Someone you’ve loved all your life but could not clearly recognize? That’s the logline of this surprisingly good indie horror film. And there’s many other possibilities: The janitor in your building (Sleep Tight ), a plastic surgeon (The Skin I live in), or ten years old boy (The Boy).

 

RULE 5: …IN A CONTAINED ENVIRONMENT

There are usually 2 basics actions your characters will always experience in a horror movie: being chased or being trapped (physically or figuratively). In order to achieve such goal efficiently, there is nothing better than a contained environment. Could be an Island (Lost, Shutter Island) or a simple mansion (The Badabook). What matters is that your protagonist slowly get trapped in this reclusive place… Of course there are more things to say about great Indie horror films, and #SomeDarkPlaces to explore in the future.
In the main time, a simple question: What Indie Horror film have scared the sh…out of you lately?