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Canberra Today 10°/15° | Tuesday, April 23, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

‘Classic horror’ marks Craig’s feature film debut 

Director Craig Alexander and Canberra actor Hannah Mackenzie, who plays Jane… “You can have a lot of fun with something that couldn’t happen in real life.” Photo: Shelly Higgs

Inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s short story, The Body Snatcher, the in-demand Canberra actor and videographer, Craig Alexander, has embarked on his first feature film, Snatchers, to be shot exclusively in Canberra during April.

“I love classic horror,” director Alexander tells me when I catch up with him and co-director/producer Shelly Higgs for a chat, adding that he’d been hunting for a classic horror story to adapt for the stage, so thought about such Victorian tales.

The story he ended up with is that a pair of orderlies in a hospital, Mac and Fettes (the latter name comes straight from Robert Louis Stevenson) decide to target the black market in fresh organs.

They manage to steal the beautiful Jane Doe, “a snatcher’s perfect 10,” they think – and make it to a secluded warehouse in Fyshwick.

As they try to extract the organs, Jane wakes up.

But hang on, you may say, isn’t that one of the oldest twists in the business? 

True enough, but the old yarns are the best ones, and the script uses the situation of not-so-dead Jane to depict Mac and Fettes embarking on what he calls “a twisted game of survival.”

Alexander says he was attracted to the idea of the exploitation of the body as “an extreme extension of killing”, but even more, he was attracted to the idea of turning it into a film.

He has form here, having in 2020 during covid, created a livestreamed production of Saint Nicholas, by playwright Conor McPherson, at The Street Theatre.

Mixing theatre, music and cameras with live editing to provide a journey through the distorted mindset of a critic-turned-vampire, it blurred boundaries between theatre and film.

“It’s been my lifelong dream to make a film,” Alexander says. 

Snatchers is still very theatrical, says Higgs, a long-time dramaturg and director at The Street, noting the use of a surreal dance sequence for the actual body-snatching.

The seduction of cinema is powerful, Alexander says, but doing a feature film is “a lot bigger than the things we’ve done… working with more people and a dozen stakeholders can be difficult to navigate but rewarding… I’m learning a different language.”

“Film people panic when they think something’s theatrical.”

But not to worry, Higgs says. Imogen Keen, the chosen designer for most productions at The Street, including Saint Nicholas, will bring depth to the film’s visuals. 

“We are asking the crew to trust us that a warehouse in Fyshwick will look like an apartment,” she says.

“The story needs to feel real,” Alexander says, but it’s darkly comedic. “You can have a lot of fun with something that couldn’t happen in real life.”

For this, their first film, they begged, borrowed, stole and engaged investors, and are now hoping that Screen Australia will come up with post-production costs. 

“It’s a low-budget film, but we want to get it out there so that we can leverage for more,” Higgs says. It’s slated for a 2026 release. 

The locations will be HQ Thirty-Four in Fyshwick and Narrabundah College, the latter got up to look like a rundown hospital. They’ll be shooting in the school holidays with student extras made up to look older 

Alexander says it’s not a cliched story and Higgs, putting her dramaturgical hat on, agrees, praising the “real rigour” in the script.

“Our goal is constant surprise,” Alexander adds. 

The oddest question in the film is whether Jane Doe actually dies, then wakes up – or what? This may or may not be actual, Alexander suggests, but they’ve had a lot of fun with the Jane Doe character, who shifts from being exploited to becoming a powerful manipulator. 

Jane will be played by Canberra actor Hannah Mackenzie, who starred as Emily in Clare Young’s Venice Film Festival entry, Love Forever.

Alexander is playing Mac, while Justin Hocking from Melbourne, known for “a feral quality” in his acting, plays Fettes.

“The roles sit in dark spaces – it’s harder to do than you’d think, ” Alexander says.

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Helen Musa

Helen Musa

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