Sponsored feature: Mad Crab Productions & Eckz Productions LLC
Sutherland is a new atmospheric horror film written and directed by Corbin Rowell and produced by Xavier Velasquez. The film was a finalist for Best Cinematography at the recent Montreal Independent Film Festival.
After a night out with friends, a young couple spends the rest of the evening at an old farmhouse, but someone – or something – is watching them.
A Q&A with writer and director Corbin Rowell
Congratulations on your upcoming horror short Sutherland. First off, how did you come up with the concept of the film?
Sutherland was really a conglomerate of different inspirations ranging from films, real life stories, video games, and my own innate fears. My friend, co-producer, and cinematographer, Xavier Velasquez, had another film project that fell through, but still had the dates on the calendar to shoot something. So he tasked me with conceiving a short film we could shoot in 5 days. At the time, I recently played Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, and I just absolutely loved the farmhouse horror aesthetic to that game. There’s a character in that game who is always watching you, hiding in plain sight, and that was something I wanted to include in the film. Another big inspiration in regards to the farmhouse setting was M. Night Shyamalan’s film Signs. So my brain started with that eerie setting in mind and went crazy, incorporating elements from real paranormal stories I heard in the Unsolved Mysteries podcast as well as exploring one of my greatest fears, which is being watched inside your home. While ghosts, aliens, demons, and all that can be considered fictional… anyone can be outside your home watching you, and you may never know it. That thought has always scared me to my core. Your home is supposed to be your safe space – your place to decompress, spend time with family, rest & recharge, etc. The thought of not being comfortable in your own home because you know someone is outside watching you is unsettling, and that’s the essence of what Sutherland is about. When you watch this film, you’re gonna be checking over your shoulder, closing the blinds, and drawing your window curtains.
The thought of not being comfortable in your own home because you know someone is outside watching you is unsettling, and that’s the essence of what Sutherland is about.
The film has a great atmosphere and you can really feel a presence closing in on the two main characters. Were you inspired by any other invasion horror films when making Sutherland?
Absolutely. My biggest inspirations for this film would be M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs (although it’s probably not technically an invasion film, but it’s a similar setting), Disturbia, and Hush, the latter of which is one of my favorite horror films ever made. These movies all have this theme of some threat on the outside trying to get inside. We’re viewing these films almost entirely through the eyes of the characters inside the home, which makes it way more immersive. As the viewers, we are in that home with them trying to survive, and it just feels real. And that’s the route I wanted to take with Sutherland. The entire film is from the perspective of the couple inside the farmhouse, and we get to experience everything they do in real time.
The creepy old farmhouse is a big part of the film. How did you scout the location?
It’s my grandparents’ house in Sutherland, VA – Pleasant Level. I knew when I started conceptualizing this film having a farmhouse setting, I HAD to use their home. Some believe it’s haunted, since parts of their home are over 200 years old. It was used as a Union hospital during the Battle of Sutherland’s Station in 1865. Many people have died in their yard and around that home, and there have been guests that claimed it’s haunted. In fact, Xavier’s girlfriend said she felt a presence upstairs in one of the bedrooms. We even had our lead actress Christine Oswald get locked in another bedroom upstairs… twice. The door didn’t have a handle and it wouldn’t open, so she yelled for help, but no one heard her. She eventually got out on her own though haha! Poor thing. I brought her to my grandparents’ house to shoot a horror film, and some ghost was probably messing around with her, locking her in rooms and such. Or maybe it was a faulty door… but I like the ghost explanation better. Another great thing is we didn’t have to dress the set. We added one picture for the film, and that was it. The home was already furnished with historical memorabilia, which provided an awesome visual backdrop. The house itself is a character in Sutherland, and I was truly grateful that my grandparents allowed me to use it!
What was your biggest challenge during the filmmaking process?
Probably lighting and the tracking shots. Xavier and I wanted to shoot wide and have a lot of panning shots in order to further engage the viewers and showcase the farmhouse. And when you shoot on a wide lens, it becomes a challenge to hide the lights. We also had several tracking shots, which took a lot of time and prep work. We visited my grandparents’ house twice before the actual shoot, and we “shot” the film with stand-ins so we could get an idea of what we wanted and how to maneuver with the Steadicam rig. It was quite a process, but it was a ton of fun. Other than that, the shoot itself was mostly smooth sailing.
Where can horror fans watch the film once it’s released?
Sutherland will be available on my YouTube channel where I post all of my films: Mad Crab. It’s currently in the festival circuit, but we’d like to hold some private screenings in the Richmond area and eventually release it publicly in either the spring or summer.
Follow Sutherland on Instagram.