SIFF 2016 interview: 'If There's a Hell Below' director Nathan Williams
"The landscape is a main character," director Nathan Williams said of his neo-noir thriller "If There's a Hell Below," screening during the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival. It's a homecoming of sorts for the film shot in the cinematic, barren stretches of eastern Washington.
William's feature-length directorial debut, which had its Pacific Northwest premiere May 25, is a nuanced and taut thriller following an anxious whistleblower and an ambitious journalist who agree to meet in the isolated countryside. And Williams says the desolate and lonely stretches of rural eastern Washington was the perfect backdrop for his dramatic thriller.
"We wanted a landscape where you can see a long way, where you feel exposed," Williams said. "The movie has this tension between claustrophobia or agoraphobia. We're either packed in a little car or you're outside - wide open and exposed, where anyone can see you from any direction."
Williams, himself a native of Portland, said he often drove through eastern Washington and noticed its cinematic qualities.
"I'm always location scouting - even if I don't know what it's going to be. I'm always asking 'What can I shoot here someday?'" he said. "I wanted to shoot on that landscape because it is so striking. People from Washington or Oregon are familiar with the area, but people from other parts of the country really have no idea where that is."
The film is a dread-inducing thriller that gives the audience just enough information to ratchet up the tension, but leaves enough ambiguity to leave the audience off balance and on edge.
"It's an information game. What does the audience know now, what do they want to know and what do they think they know?" Williams said. "I would rather want to know more than be told too much. I don't want to know where Han Solo comes from - I want a mystery about people. I like knowing bits and pieces about characters, and wanting to fill-in the gaps myself."
Although "If There's a Hell Below" touches on timely subjects such as Edward Snowden and the ever widening grasp of government surveillance, Williams says these elements were secondary to crafting a compelling thriller.
"Hitchcock would set movies during the Cold War, but they weren't political films," Williams said. "But channeling that sense of anxiety, paranoia and dread into a minimalist, rural thriller was how the story came together."
"If There's a Hell Below" screened during the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival.