Any Minute Now on IMDB

Any Minute Now

 

The ghost story has long been an established staple of English history. Dating back to such literally greats as M.R James and his collection of short ghost stories (Oh, whistle and I’ll come to you, my lad) and Henry James (The Turn of the Screw) the ghost story has long been held in critical and social high regard.   

 But despite a few notable exceptions on British television (BBC’s adaptation of ‘Whistle and I’ll come to you’ (1968) and Nigel Kneale’s excellent ‘The Stone Tape’ (1972) the full potential of the ghost story within British film has, for some reason, never been fully explored. The only two truly successes can be seen in ‘The Innocents’ (1961) (and adaptation of Henry James (The Turn of the Screw) and Nicolas Roeg’s ‘Don’t look now’ (1973).  

 Why there have been so few ghost stories in British film has always struck me as odd. This is particularly evident when the hallmarks of the genre has been translated to much critical and audience acclaim in a variety of American films, most notably ‘The Others’ (2001) and further back ‘The Haunting’ (1963) (which was mostly filmed in Britain, but was still an American production).  

 ‘The Others’ (2001) is essentially a re-working of ‘The Innocents’ (1961) complete with governess, played by Nicole Kidman, in charge of an old spooky house, who looks after two mysterious children. Although the film works well, I always found that the glossy production values distracted from any real emotional impact from the characters and that it also distanced the audience from truly submitting to the realism of the scares. Also, much like ‘The Sixth Sense’ (1999), the whole film feels built around an, admittedly, very clever twist ending (1) which, like all twist endings, works well on first viewing, but diminishes the more times you view the film.   

 The other end of the spectrum of ghost stories is the modern invention of the mockumnetary. This approach generally comprises of ‘found’ footage, which the protagonists have left behind after their ordeal. This first made an impact in the 1999 film ‘The Blair Witch Project’ and was repeated with zombies in ‘[Rec]’ (2007).  Last year Oren Peli, along with Paramount Pictures, scored a massive hit with ‘Paranormal Activity’ (2007). The film made a massive profit (the film made $9.1 million in its opening week, compared to its modest $15,000 budget) although its genesis can be seen as far back as 1992 with the notorious, but brilliant, BBC mockumnetary ‘Ghostwatch’.  

 These mockumnetary films again, whilst effective, pose another problem with me. Whilst they manage to convince the audience that they are real, and so heighten the scare impact, to me, they fail to engage on any level. Characters, subplots etc are all put to one side in order to concentrate on simply scaring the audience. They are simply the film equivalent of a roller coaster. They scare the hell out of you, but don’t leave you with much else, and much like all roller coaster rides, once you’re accustomed to the scares, they leave you with little else to want to revisit.  
 
So, on one hand you have well drawn out characters and plots in films like ‘The Haunting’ (1963) which are worth watching again and again, but aren’t really scary. Or you have films which are very scary, the mockumentaries, but which lack any real character development.  

 So we come to ‘Any Minute Now’, a film written by myself and Darren Barber. My main purpose for writing this script was in order to create a film which combined the best of both worlds. On one hand it would be a tender love story between two outsider teenagers growing up in a small town. On the other, it would be a truly scary ghost story, which would frighten the audience.  

 In order to achieve the realism and frightening aspect of the film, I drew upon my own and friends experiences of truly terrifying within other films, books and real life. Incorporating the theme of invasion of the home (the ghost visits the protagonist in her bedroom, a theme taken from such home invasion films as ‘Funny Games’ (2007) and ‘Them’ (2006). Also the film utilises the darkness, a terrifying technique which deprives the audience of sight, a technique discussed within Stephen King’s excellent book ‘Danse Macabre’ in reference to the climax of the film ‘Wait until dark’ (1967).  

 Then, in order to convince the audience of these scares, I plan on shooting the film in the style of social realism. Social realism is a style of filmmaking which is inherently British (i.e. the films of Mike Leigh and Shane Meadows) which is also gritty and real. This style of filmmaking should help plant the audience within the world of the film and so to make the unfolding drama all the more realistic. By not going to the extreme of the mockumnetary, I then wouldn’t have to sacrifice the other important element of the film, which is to build upon character development and sub-plots and so the audience would have a reason to re-visit the film with repeated viewings.  

 The film isn’t only a ghost story, but also a tender love story which follows its teenage protagonists (Anna and Josh) through the tentative stages of first love. This narrative should instantly connect with its teen target audience in a far more realistic way than other such films (most notably the ongoing ‘Twilight’ series).  

 The closet examples in modern cinema which I most relate this film to are ‘Let the Right One in’ (2008) (a tender love/vampire story) and the works of Guillermo del Toro and in particular his excellent Spanish films ‘The Devils Backbone’ (2001), which he directed, and ‘The Orphanage’ (2007), which he produced.   

 The third element (after love and ghosts) which ‘Any Minute Now’ deals with is Anna’s illness, narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is something which is rarely (if ever) touched in films. After research into the illness, the condition lent itself perfectly to the narrative. My initial ideal was that the ghosts would only visit Anna whilst she slept. This way, she wouldn’t grasp if they were fragments of her imagination or if the visitations were real. The only problem with this angle would be that it would require Anna to have stayed for a lot longer in the town (as the ghosts would only visit her at night) and so would have stretched the day time scenes a bit too thin (it’s always better to have a film take place over a shorter length of time). So I decided that she could suffer with an illness such as narcolepsy.  This would mean she could fall a sleep during the day and have the ghosts visit her then. After I started research into the illness I discovered that suffers also experience something called hypnagogic hallucinations. These are where the suffer has realistic, mostly terrifying, hallucinations throughout the day.  For a horror film this was a brilliant discovery and something which has never been explored in other films. Also giving Anna narcolepsy was a way in which I could bring to light a little known about illness to a mass audience. This could be an avenue to confront people with any prejudices which they my have about the illness through the prejudices with which the character within the film may also display.  

 The final element in the films narrative explores the still taboo subject of cannibalism. Cannibalism is something which has been used in many folk and fairy tales throughout the ages. Either in the form of actual or perceived threat, it has appeared in the form of the witch who wants to eat the children in Hansel and Gretel, the giant who tries to eat Tom Thumb, the wolf dressed up as grandma with his big teeth who wants to devour little red riding hood and so on. The idea for ‘Any Minute Now’ stemmed from an article in the book on cannibal culture ‘Meat is murder’  in which cannibal killer Andrei Chikatilo talked about his childhood experience where his parents related the story of what happened to his brother Stephan. To quote the story “a few years before he himself had been born, in 1936, Stalin’s collectivisation of private farmland had caused widespread famine amongst Soviet citizens in the Southern republics. The people of Chikatilo’s village, Yablochnoye in the Ukraine, were hit by the famine even harder than the rest of the Soviet Union, and one day the young Stephan, having wandered too far from home, was captured, set upon and eaten by a group of starving Ukrainian peasants” It has since transpired that there have been records or accounts of this incident. By the story still struck a cord with me and my intended ghost story.  

I also drew inspiration from historical documents relating to the fate of the Donner party between the dates of 1846 to 1847 and the story which inspired the 1993 film ‘Alive’.  Both of these stories study the question of what would good, civilised people do under such extreme circumstances (this was a major theme explored in my previous film ‘The Season of the Witch’ (2009). 

 The ghosts in ‘Any Minute Now’ can be divided up into three generations. It is often believed that the older a ghost is, the less of an existence it still has. One theory suggests that a ghost is somehow recorded into the fabric of time (a theme explored in ‘The Stone Tape’ (1972) and that its actions are constantly repeated over and over again. As a ghost gets older, it simply starts to fade away. So the oldest generation of ghosts buried out on the moors (2) can no longer be seen or interacted with. Anna can only hear them over the night sky, the second oldest is Joshs dad. Although Anna can see him, he doesn’t interact with her or anyone else and merely exists by the tree (3) which he is buried (4).  The most recent generation of ghosts are the ones of the small boy and Lydia. These are the ones which can both seen by Anna and interacted by her.

 Peter Goddard - Director