Sting director Kiah Roache-Turner talks about how Alien inspired the design of his monster-sized spider

One cold, stormy night in New York City, a mysterious object falls from the sky and smashes through the window of a rundown apartment building. It is an egg, and from this egg emerges a strange little spider…

The creature is discovered by Charlotte, a rebellious 12-year-old girl obsessed with comic books. Despite her stepfather Ethan’s best efforts to connect with her through their comic book co-creation Fang Girl, Charlotte feels isolated. Her mother and Ethan are distracted by their new baby and are struggling to cope, leaving Charlotte to bond with the spider. Keeping it as a secret pet, she names it Sting.

As Charlotte’s fascination with Sting increases, so does its size. Growing at a monstrous rate, Sting’s appetite for blood becomes insatiable. Neighbours’ pets start to go missing, and then the neighbours themselves. Soon Charlotte’s family and the eccentric characters of the building realise that they are all trapped, hunted by a ravenous supersized arachnid with a taste for human flesh… and Charlotte is the only one who knows how to stop it.

With the new horror film Sting crawling into Australian cinemas on July 18, Nick L’Barrow had the opportunity to chat with the films writer and director, Kiah Roache-Turner about how Alien inspired his design for the spider, the Tim Burton-style opening credits, and the movies that were formative to him when growing up.

Kiah Roache-Turner: I can tell you’re a film fan. You’re a film nerd like me! I know we’re gonna like each other.

Nick: It’s instinctive, isn’t it? A film-based kindred spirit! I really appreciate you taking the time to chat today. I saw Sting at the Gold Coast Film Festival earlier this year, and it was so fun to watch it in a cinema, with a crowd. And I think that’s the key with horror films like this, because it’s a reminder that horror can be fun. It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. I’m curious to know how you approach horror as a filmmaker. Can they be as fun as they are scary?

Kiah Roache-Turner: Yeah, I think so, man. It’s funny because a lot of horror these days, that really A-grade horror, is very bleak or artsy. Sometimes, almost inaccessibly.

Sting was kind of like me looking at A24 and Blumhouse and wondering if I’ve got one of them in me. That’s kind of what I was trying to do. But ever looking at it, I can’t help but make it a little bit funny, you know what I mean? I like to have fun with my horror, and this was a dark and bleak as I could get!

It’s something Steven Spielberg does so well. Jaws and Poltergeist, even Dual, which is effectively a horror film with a truck, they’re funny! There’s a lot of visual slapstick that he chucks in there. A little bit in the way that Hitchcock used to do. He was always into murder with a smile. I’m more into the Sam Raimi-esque, let’s have fun and horrible things happen on the screen at the same time.

Nick: I can see that Raimi influence in Sting and Wyrmwood too. You create these insane worlds, but their so much fun!

Kiah Roache-Turner: As I try desperately to be Ridley Scott, I’m Sam Raimi!

Nick: That’s not a bad thing at all! And even though Sting is a lot of fun, you’ve taken a lot of care with the family and drama aspect of the story, especially the relationship between Charlotte [Alyla Browne] and Ethan [Ryan Corr]. How important is having the dramatic component as a core part of the story?

Kiah Roache-Turner: It’s very personal in a way because I am a stepfather. I kind of have a similar relationship with my daughter, to what you see in the film. We don’t argue that much! We get along really well! But she is a beautiful young girl who I love very much.

I think she’s a better artist than me! We both draw. She helps me with my scripts. Like, I’ll tell her a concept and she’ll go, “That’s good. But it would be smarter if you did this.” She’ll help me with all of that stuff.

So, it was pretty important to me because this is one of the first times I’ve put my family in there. I just had a baby. I wrote this in the middle of COVID, so we were all stuck together in the house. Tensions were high! And I wrote a lot of that stuff into the script. It was really important for me to do it that way.

And it’s funny, I started watching the film with audiences, and I was wondering whether I had put too much drama in here! Like, are we spending too much time with the family? And I was talking to some people afterwards who were like, “Yeah, more kills please!” But most people thought it was the best part of the movie! It’s a real story about real dramas that are occurring, and you just throw a giant spider in the mix!

Nick: I feel like you’re in an interesting position as a filmmaker, because you write, direct and edit your projects…

Kiah Roache-Turner: Well, in this case it was co-edit. I’ve co-edited on the last two films, but before then I would do all my own cutting. I definitely shoot as an editor. I’m more of an editor than I am a filmmaker in that respect.

Nick: That’s interesting, because I wanted to know how much of your process is utilising those three filmmaker elements together to create a film, and how much of it is keeping them separated in their own stages of writing, shooting, and cutting?

Kiah Roache-Turner: Yeah, I like to do a little bit of everything. I came from a place where I used to do everything on my short films. I would, you know, write, storyboard, cut, do all the effects, do the sound design. I wouldn’t do the score, but I would assemble the score. The graphics, the titles.

And that’s because when I used to work in high stakes advertising for like six years, I did everything myself. The good thing about that, is that if you’re a low budget filmmaker, and you know how to do everything, you know shortcuts, it just makes things a little bit easier.

So, in terms of that, like as a filmmaker, I’m not just concentrating on the writing and directing. I can concentrate of all sorts of aspects of production that otherwise, you know, other directors would just leave up to producers, cast, crew, whatever. And it’s good because it allows me to do more for less.

Nick: I absolutely want to talk about Sting, the spider this movie is centred around! It’s incredible work from WETA, but I’m curious to know how the design Sting evolved from your initial ideas and concept of the spider to what WETA created for the film.

Kiah Roache-Turner: I always wanted it to look like a spider. I always kinda wanted it to be “red-backy” because I wanted it to have the black, reflective skin that H.R. Geiger’s design for Alien had. To me, that’s what I always found abhorrent about spiders. It’s not their fluffiness, it’s the one’s that look like Geiger’s Alien on your tabletop! They’re the ones I hate!

And Alien is my favourite horror film of all time, along with Jaws. And The Thing. And The Exorcist. I’ve got a top five, but Alien is definitely up there! There’s just never been a creature more horrific than that design that what Geiger and Ridley Scott did together. I wanted to kind of riff on that.

The only way to do that was to have it look like a red-back, and it was great because I got to talk to Richard Taylor at the WETA Workshop, and he’s like a god to me! I’m like a stammering, nervous dude, and he’s like, “Kiah, tell me, what design were you thinking of doing?” And I say, you know, a red back. And he goes, “What kind of red back?”

So, I explain what I want, and he goes, “Well, that’s fantastic, because we’ve actually done a bit of work on that kind of stuff before.” And he pulls out these mandibles out of this top drawer that he already had made up!

He was like working with a Muppet! You know how a Muppet is just the most positive, beautiful thing that you could imagine? They’ve got so much energy! I’d never met him in the flesh, and we did everything over Zoom, but he talked with his hands a lot, and he had this beautiful sing-song New Zealand accent. He’s always positive and always happy. He’s just got this beautiful Labrador personality! You talk to him, and he just puts you in a better mood.

He designed me this brilliant puppet. And it’s funny because even though I said I wanted it to exactly be like a Redback spider, he pointed out that some of the drawings I sent him had this dog-like mouth! So, he would just pivot and create me the mouth.

Nick: I just love the idea that these guys at WETA just have drawers full all of these monstrous creations! It seems like a wonderland of horror!

Kiah Roache-Turner: It’s insane! I’m trying to develop something else with him, a monster thing. And I’m describing the monster to him, and he is like, “Yes, I’m hearing you. Does it look like this?” And he pulls this thing out and I’m like, “Yeah, a little bit like that!” He’s done it all 1000 times!

Nick: I’m fascinated by filmmakers’ decisions for what they’re opening credits are going to be. I love what you did in Sting with the spider going through the dollhouse. So, I’m curious to know what your process in creating such a captivating, fun opening credits that hooks audiences in?

Kiah Roache-Turner: Openings are everything. George Lucas said, “Wow them in the beginning, and wow them in the end, and you’ve got them forever.” I think he said, like, a version of that. And I believe in that! You got to have a big bang at the start to keep them there, and a big bang at the end so that they go out thinking the film was really good!

I’m really glad that you talked about the opening sequence in the dollhouse specifically, because that was my older brother’s idea! He doesn’t make films, but like, he’s obsessed with films. I’ve been watching films and talking about films in a really deep way my entire life. So, I sent him the treatment [of Sting] years ago, and his only note was that I should have the spider crawl through a dollhouse so that the size of the spider seeds the fact that it’s going to grow later on! Dude, I was taking that! I’ve always wanted to do a really bad ass opening credit sequence and now I have my Tim Burton opening credits scene!

Nick: Tim Burton is exactly what I thought when I was watching it! And you mentioned that you and your brothers are movie obsessed, to the point where I read that you would skip school and watch up to six movies a day! What were some of those formative movies for you that lead you down the path of becoming a filmmaker?

Kiah Roache-Turner: Yeah, it always goes back to the same ones, man. Star Wars. Raiders of the Lost Ark. Blade Runner. Apocalypse Now. Those four. Then you thrown in a little Fellini, 8 ½. Blue Velvet. All of that stuff, but those first four were formative.

Then you get a bit older, and you get into Goodfellas and Taxi Driver and stuff.  But, like, when I was 8 or 9, and saw Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, the world building and the sheer fun and adventure… you can just watch those films over and over again. That’s like going to church for me.

And then Blade Runner and Apocalypse Now taught me about the art of cinema. Insanely good filmmaking.

Thank you to Kiah for his time, and to StudioCanal for organising the interview. Sting is in cinemas July 18.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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