Today we are pleased to welcome writer and director Magnus Von Horn to the site to hear all about his new film The Here After. Read on to find out what inspired the dark film, how he cast the lead role and more…
First, would you like to give our readers a bit of background on The Here After?
Well, it’s about John, a 17-year-old boy, who returns from a juvenile detention centre to the small village where he grew up, and where he committed the horrific crime that got him into juvie in the first place.
How did you initially come up with the idea for the film?
I remember reading about a case taking place in Sweden about a boy who had committed murder at the age of 15, and all of the details that came out in the police interrogations he had to go through. It was heartbreaking to read because he was a very normal boy who was not marginalised in any way, who didn’t have any obvious difficulties in his past or with his family. I had this feeling that it could have been, or could have been anyone, who had committed this unforgivable crime. Reading his confession provoked questions in me about how I would respond if I was in a similar situation, and that started me off wanting to read about someone returning home after that. In Sweden, the maximum penalty when you’re under 18 is four years, so you can still be a child and be coming out, having already committed a crime and served your sentence.
Was the script very faithful to the case details, or did you use artistic licence?
I don’t think it’s faithful to the research I did, because the script is not based in facts. Everything I had read was true crime accounts, about the details leading up to the crime, and what I was interested in was what came after, doing something that was true to the reality of society, and true to myself.
The film is clearly placed in Swedish culture. Would you say the story is Swedish, or is it universal?
I think it’s a universal story, but it takes place in a very specific place. The emotions are universal, are felt everywhere in the world. I think the more specific you make the cultural details, the more universal you allow those emotions to become. But it takes place in Sweden, these are Swedish characters, Swedish society – what you see is specific, but what you feel is universal.
Having attended film school in Poland, did you find you related to Sweden differently on returning?
I haven’t returned to Sweden; I’m still living in Poland, but I wanted to make the film in Sweden. I think anyone would look at their home somewhat differently having been away for a long time. But I also have a unique view of Poland, living there as an immigrant.
The script is very much a small-town story. Was it difficult to find the perfect small town to shoot in?
It’s always difficult to find good locations, but we had a regional fund supporting the movie, so we had to come and shoot in that region, doing little bits and pieces here and there that, in the end, make up one village in our film. There’s a lot of countryside there…what was difficult to find was the house where John lives.
It’s difficult to say exactly what it was we were looking for, but we knew when we found it. It was somewhere that felt like time had stopped, then we added aspects of modernity to it – flatscreen televisions, and certain kitchen utensils – but I liked that the house was older. In Sweden, many houses are quite modern, but I wanted to find something that felt stuck in time.
Were you always clear that this was a small-town story? Did you ever consider setting it in a city?
No, we had to make sure that the character didn’t have the option of anonymity.
In casting John, what were you looking for?
The casting process was very long; we were looking for John among all of the teenagers of the countryside, because I wanted amateurs, people who would have talent that they weren’t aware of. I didn’t want to teach anyone to act, because I don’t think that’s very interesting – I’d rather that they have part of the character inside them already. But with John it was different actually, because the actor I first had resigned, because he didn’t want to miss out on the moose hunts and the harvest, rather than miss out on those things shooting. Then the second actor for John also resigned, for personal reasons just two weeks before we were due to start shooting, and at that point the production nearly ran out of money. Then we saw a face on TV, a young musician, Ulrich Munther – I didn’t know who he was at that time, but he was quite famous in Sweden, and still is. He wasn’t what I was looking for at all, I wasn’t looking to cast someone already known, or a musician, but I met him and he made a huge impression on me, he was just right for the rôle. And he was looking to change his career direction at that time too, as he was mostly connected to a young fanbase, and wanted to pursue a different kind of music, so it was good for him to do something quite dark like that. So it was good timing – we both needed each other, I think.
The Here After was your first feature as director. What challenges did you encounter?
I know filmmaking is difficult on every level, so I was expecting that before I shot this. I think it’s important to be in good physical shape, to last 30 days of shooting.
Is there anything you’d do differently on your next film?
Yeah, a different story.
It’s a bit difficult for me to talk about that at this time, but I’m interested in human darkness – the parts of people that we’re scared of, the things we’re scared to admit that we have. I want to stay outside of my comfort zone.
The Here After opened on the 11th March in cinemas, will you be checking it out? Let us know in the comment box below!