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FRIDTJOF RYDER

Fridtjof Ryder

Fridtjof Ryder is the writer-director of the film Inland. He wrote the script just before the first pandemic lockdown and dropped it through Mark Rylance’s letterbox; three years later, the film made its debut at the 2022 London Film Festival and will be released in cinemas this summer. Featuring a VoiceOver by Kathryn Hunter and a bruising central performance from newcomer Rory Alexander, Inland follows a protagonist named in the credits only as the Man after his return from a psychiatric institution to the house of his friend and mentor Dunleavy (Rylance). Over the next few weeks, he struggles to come to terms with the mysterious disappearance of his mother – whether to a new life, to violence, or to the forest, we – and he – don’t know.

Interview by Nell WhittakerPortrait by Ravi Doubleday

NELL WHITTAKER Where did the script begin?

FRIDTJOF RYDER The first draft got spat out really quickly over two or three months, but the script shifted and morphed pretty much up until the shoot began. Over a year and a half of writing, whatever interests you starts to bleed in. It was more thriller-y at the beginning. I thought that Gloucester, where I’m from, would be a great place to set a folk horror – it’s such a strange town, a bit rundown, a bit grim, but you feel like there’s stuff underneath the rubble. The film got more ambiguous and grew up a bit in the process of writing. I became more interested in touching those genres. 

NW The film sits in between folk horror and the bucolic, in the way that the suburbs sit in between, always threatened by and threatening the woods. In the film, the woods are this incredible aural and visual presence. How do the woods function as both physical space and metaphor?

FR There’s so much stuff about England and psychogeography, the intellectualised side of homeland and rural myths and what the connections mean. Then there’s just being in a forest when you’re ten, running around playing Robin Hood, and the tactile feeling and sense memory of that. It was a correlation between reading books like [Robert Macfarlane’s 2019] Underland, which is connecting myth and folklore to place, and also wanting to give the feeling of being there. Sometimes you write something, then you work out what it is afterwards, and there was a lot of that – I know what the feeling is, I’m going to write the feeling.

NW The mother is this absent presence in the film. It reminded me at some points of [Cormac McCarthy’s] The Road, where the mother is also absent and which also focuses on the relationship between a man and a boy. Is the film similarly apocalyptic at all, or working with the crisis of climate and of natural devastation?

FR Mark always talks so much about the return, trying to get back to the state before. I wanted to make the film like a circle, so that you could watch it on repeat. The ending spins back round to the beginning, even in terms of the mother missing and then the son going missing. The apocalypse feels present always, being a fairly young person and wondering what the fuck you’re supposed to do. The film is also about that confusion, that sense of being lost, represented by the main character. I was trying to keep it open, wanting to have this sense that everything is too much. It’s only by getting back to being naked and going into the forest that it gets quiet.

NW The politics of the countryside are also subtext but not addressed directly. There’s an interesting moment when you discover that his friend has left to go to London to become a museum guard – he’s going to be adjacent to culture, but unable to participate in it. It speaks to the depopulation of the countryside into these precarious urban jobs. What are the political dimensions of the community and the lives that the film describes?

FR I’m lucky as my parents are artists; I had an upbringing that was very open, but there’s a really interesting mix in my friends from home. Everyone’s like, “Fuck, I have to go to university” and everyone’s going to Bristol or everyone’s going to London. But there are also the people who want to stay. There’s a real strangeness for me as coming back home now is a choice, but the people who stayed are always there. There’s a sense that all of us are abandoning ship and running off and going to cities or whatever, wanting to get into arts-related jobs.

NW The film plays really well with the idea that a space has a social identity, but that the relationships between the people there can be very fraught. Something I also loved about the film was the amount of time spent in cars. In lots of nature writing a few years ago, there was a lot of discussion about walking, this idea that to walk is to stitch yourself into the landscape. But my experience of lots of rural settings is from a car, which can be a kind of glass box. Were you thinking about the car as a kind of eye, a mode of perception?

FR That came from the fact that I’m setting something in my hometown, and some of these places are real, so you want the sense of going between them. I have so many memories of mates getting their first cars, someone driving a bit drunk, stuff like that. We would go to the Forest of Dean for the weekend, with little nooks and car parks in the middle of nowhere. You’re just driving through this expanse of green, and then you stop somewhere and get out and have no idea where you are. In the film, the car always becomes the lead up to the crescendo. You start with him in that space, a thin space opening out into nature and into the world. The car became a bottleneck for whatever event once he’s out of the car to happen.

NW Nature has always been a surface on which to project ideas. These can be deeply conservative – there was a drawing of the Green Man on the coronation invite – but then the countryside is often also talked about in leftist circles as a radical space, places of rural organisation.

FR There is imagery that is so worn, images like John Barleycorn, May Day, the equinox, the Green Man. It felt really important not to lean on those ideas, to refuse Green Man imagery in the film. Can we do something with the forest where the forest becomes an entity and an organism, that is partly the mother, partly something else? How do you do this just through sound?

NW At what point did you understand that sound was going to be so integral, and was the creation of that soundscape highly organised or more opportunistic?

FR It was play. For me, I was also learning sound. We had a really mad sound team, graduates from the NFTS, which was created after Dominika [Latusek] came on board, and she said, I get it and I have four people who will do it with me. You can create an image and it will translate directly into a film, but sound is so weird. Often it’s two steps removed: you do the thing that you initially thought would work and it just doesn’t; it grates too much or it’s too direct. You have to let the sound find itself. The most random sound, some metal scraping, somehow becomes the forest. You get to the point of simplicity through reducing.

NW There are highly stylised, non-naturalistic scenes in a kind of strip-club environment. How did the location come about?

FR It was a case of, what can you do with the money you have to make it feel most striking? How simple can we make this space? Can we just have it like a sketch? Can we make the space completely liquid with no borders at all, where you don’t understand how you get in, and you don’t understand what is inside? That’s the first big jump. Before that, it could almost be a social-realist film. I like the idea that the first time you go in you’re like, what the fuck – it’s the first beat to mark that the borders between things are melting, that things can be really shocking. After that, as the main character loses touch to some extent, you’re constantly unsure as to what level you’re operating on. That space said, OK, this film is going off into something else now.

NW It feels like magical realism, in that you establish a set of structures that you’re responding to and they’re unchanging, even if they’re not what you’d recognise as being part of ordinary reality. Those folkloric and fairy-tale imports I think the film wears very lightly, but something that kept coming up for me was like the idea of the changeling.

FR That was something Mark and I talked about loads. Maybe the main character is the Other, maybe he’s a child of the forest – maybe that is actually the home he’s come from. From the beginning, he’s called into the forest, and he’s always coming back to the edge of it. He knows where he wants to go.

NW What was it like to shoot?

FR Well, it was home. The house all tangled up in the forest is the house of a teacher who I had at school, who the character of Dunleavy is partly based on and who let us use the house because, ironically enough, it was getting smashed down for new-build flats. For the people who were from Gloucester, there was a lot of, “I know a space; I shot a short film there when I was 15” or “I know a cool corner”. The film built itself up in relation to space. We were just all on this old farm; Mark came down and was in a caravan. We were all camping or staying in parents’ gaffs nearby. We were just around that house all the time, right next to the forest, driving to different locations and then coming back to the base at night. In the evenings we had fires and we became like a theatre troupe. Everyone’s just in it for three weeks, then you come up for air and you’re like, what the hell have we done? ◉

Inland is released in UK cinemas June 16
www.inlandfilm.co.uk