Inland is a modern folktale that explores the fractured identity of a young man after the mysterious disappearance of his mother. Guided by a father figure and old friends who care deeply, his journey through the dreamlike spaces of rural England brings him face to face with the loss that haunts him in ways he could never have expected. Writer and Director Fridtjof Ryder discusses the film and its identity in an in-depth chat with Filmhounds.
For those who haven't yet seen the film, can you tell us a little bit about the Inland?
I guess it's kind of placed quite specifically, in my hometown in Gloucester and it deals with the local heritage of the place and the world that the characters are in is very much this place that I grew up in…this sort of half-rural, half-town space in which a character is introduced whose mother has gone missing and he kind of goes on a journey or search to all the old places that he's lived in in search of her.
Wonderful, I mean just so good. I think I keep quoting this really good Paul Thomas Anderson quote where he says ‘with acting, good actors are not the fear at all, it's when you get a bad actor and you have no idea what to do with them', that's when you kind of hit a brick wall and you start getting scared. I think Mark is probably the most consummate example of that in that every single take is gorgeous and everything he does, every inflection is gorgeous, it's really just a matter of modulating it in terms of what the film needs or where the film is at at any given moment. Just everything he gives is beautiful, so it's easy. It's really easy and fun as well.
And great timing as well, he's having a good year so far…
Yeh! Bones and All, and a bunch of stuff.
I was going to talk about Rory Alexander, it's a very physical, demanding performance from him. How important was it to have the right actor front and centre?
Hugely, in that the film was so small, and starting from such an intimate place just making it with a few friends, just trying to build something. And Rory was the first actor on board and I kind of got in touch with him through his drama school, and then wooing him a bit, going to see him a couple of times and grabbing a pint with him…sort of building up a confidence in each other from the beginning. It was massively important, he became someone on your side of the camera, who was your ally through the whole thing.
I saw him in a couple things at the beginning, thought he was great, and then confidence in him grew and grew watching him in more stuff and working with him more and more on the role, as the role built itself in pre-production.
So that physicality, the film is full of aching sounds of wood and forest and woodlands… did his performance inspire the sound design or was it the other way around and you had this idea in your head and it was his job to convey that?
Kind of a fluid border I think, bits and pieces sort of going both ways. Lots of the sound design was experimentation in post and playing with stuff and at which point you can bleed in and out of a memory and finding in and out points but certain things like the movement of the body sounding like the forest and trees, that was stuff that was in the script. We just played.
Bits of his performance and bits of his physicality also hit us round the head and struck us in post and all of a sudden you'd be like ‘oh my god you could do something here with his ribs…it's amazing the way he's breathing' so yeh, a bit of both.
I wanted to talk about the film tapping into a renaissance period for folk-horror movies, what elements of popular culture, film/tv influenced the film, and was it in your mind to make I guess it's more a kind of folk-mystery?
Everything when you start it, and especially being younger and coming from a love of film, an obsession with film you're throwing so much shit at the wall and certain things start going at a certain point… and the influences kind of hone themselves but I guess there was a few different bits.
I was reading a load of new ecology stuff at the time, I was reading these books like Underland, which kind of deal with the relationship between the climate, the world now and myths… cultural myths to with nature and also cultural myths to do with forests and was just getting really into that. Because having lived at the edge of a woodland and having the forest… and like Robin Hood and the myths you love when you're younger and looking at those through a slightly different lens and becoming interested in those in terms of the rural landscape in England and then wanting to translate some of that somehow, so that was all just swirling around alongside a load of other stuff… the idea of making a film which plays with social realist aspects but breaks into something else… so you start in one place, you're half an hour into the film then you're like ‘oh my god how did we get here' from the grounding of the film.
Also a load of experimental English filmmakers like [Nicolas] Roeg… all these kinds of people… but also in terms of the folk aspect of it, like anybody I love The Lighthouse , I love what's happening with folk-horror. I'm sure there some kind of push from my end of finding that interesting but not taking up so much of the horror side. It's a genre mash-up but it never quite fully breathes itself into one or the other. It's a bit of a psychodrama as well… I guess it's a surrealist piece on some level and then it's a folk piece too. There is no big horror showdown, I guess it was trying to weave a load of those things in.
I definitely felt those influences in the film… one of the scenes that stands out is the sex-club scene with the statues. There's a really strong visual identity with that scene, is that something that you always had in your head?
Yeah, and that was a really interesting one to actually try and work out with the budget and time we had. The idea of just those lights and nothing else and whole place just being this liquid black where you can't quite define the edges of any of it. The statues opposite them, that was always there but the practical constraints of the day and time you have and blacking out a bunch of windows in a huge old barn somewhere, all that stuff comes into play. The images change somewhat from what's in your head, but yes, for the most part that scene was always going to be this ‘hop' over into the other world, behind the mirror. And that would be the jump and visually it would feel like that you walked through a door and off the edge.
It was really striking and unexpected and you mention the ‘hop', it definitely felt like that. With the mystery element, it comes from the disappearance of the man's mother, you've mentioned the ecology aspect of it, was there a connection in your mind between the loss of motherhood and the earth and mother nature?
Yeah and it's kind of funny because it's a very old and very classical image and it's funny that so much of the new ecology stuff is trying to reinvent ways of interpreting and relating to nature in order to fundamentally change your relationship to nature.
It was interesting that the foundation is essentially quite simple, it's just a family drama… a mother, a son and a quasi-father figure and the mother being missing but with the nature and the circularity of the whole thing, it became the main thread.. and all these myths like The Green Man myth and the spirit of the forest literally connecting her (the mother) so she's almost the size of the forest. The scale of her is huge internally for him, but can be expressed externally through the landscape.
At its heart you have this dysfunctional family, and you've spoken a little bit about the influence of nature and the surroundings on the way a family takes shape, can you tell us more about that family at the heart of the film?
Well Mark talked about it really interestingly, he said ‘I always found that little border space between the edge of a town and whatever it may be, forests or fields, I always found that scrapyard at the edge of a town, a weird space to be in where you're neither one or the other' and I guess it was that, situating the family right there on the outskirts of town. Dunleavy's [Mark Rylance] house is this sort of broken-down old wooden thing, that's being consumed by all the plants around it and trying to put the family in that space where they're never quite one or the other. You feel to a certain extent they're isolated.
Definitely Dunleavy is this quite sad figure, living by himself, he doesn't have many relationships with many people. He's tied to this family and to the missing mother and tied to the boy.
The characters strike you as the ones who didn't make it out of that village or that town and for everyone who does, there's one who's left behind. There's people who've never left certain areas
A bunch of my friends! Not necessarily in a sad way, there's a load of people you grow up and you come back and they've built their life doing their thing, that have stayed in those childhood spaces. With The Man character, at the beginning it's very clear that there was some kind of breakdown and that he couldn't be a part of it. Then coming back to it is made very strange.
And on some very minor level, I feel that… whenever you're going home and meeting people you haven't seen in ages and you're stepping back into a psychological space when the train comes pulling up Gloucester. Your childhood's there and in places, you can see it around you. A map of your childhood.
Absolutely. Now that your first feature is out, is there a sense of relief and are there any new projects that you're working on?
Yeah, I guess it being the first time around, you're aware of how long it's going to take in theory, but the madness of having written something three years ago, shot it two years ago, edited during Covid, you feel like there's been so many steps at attempting to release yourself from the film so I guess tonight [the film's premiere at the London Film Festival] will be an interesting one to see how that feels. I reckon it won't hit for a while. But it's playing in a place that feels really right for it to play and to be seen, and you can let it go. I've written a bunch of stuff, a few screenplays. Hopefully somewhere really, really different [laughs].
You said you wrote it three years ago, was it hard to continue with the faith in what you've written?
Yes. Although conversely that's what I feel I've got to carry into the next film, you have to really fucking care. You have to be sure you're not going to love it for a week. You have to be sure you'll find stuff to love in it constantly for a long time, and that happened with Inland so much. There was a lot of finding things the whole time, the script and the edit being really fluid. You have to be sure you can love it for years.
Inland had its world premiere at the BFI London Film Festival.