Sean Ellis’ spooky thriller premieres this weekend as part of the digital 2021 festival.
The Sundance Film Festival is known for producing bittersweet dramedies about modern life, deep-dive docs on subjects you didn’t know you needed to learn about, and profound dramas that plumb the depths of human existence — but it would be a mistake to sleep on its genre offerings, too.
One such film is Sean Ellis’ Eight for Silver, which will premiere this weekend as part of the 2021 digital edition of the iconic indie fest. The deliciously eerie horror film takes place in rural 19th-century France, where a mysterious, possibly supernatural menace threatens a small village. Boyd Holbrook stars as John McBride, a pathologist who comes to town to investigate the danger — and exorcise some of his own demons in the process.
“I really love stories that are in a particular place and time, and [I loved] playing off this classical folklore,” says Holbrook, who was drawn to the filmmaker’s “arthouse” approach to genre cinema. “I’m a big fan of films like Hereditary… Scary films, if they’re done well, are so good.”
The film draws some of its unnerving atmosphere from the shoot’s French countryside location, about which Ellis and the producers were “adamant” in their choice, the actor tells EW. “The time of year that we were shooting, it had the fog all the time that’s always setting over the countryside,” he says, recalling days when the sun came out and production had to stop until the clouds rolled back over the landscape. “It has this presence of something lurking behind the shadows.”
One of the film’s mysteries is the question of what haunts Holbrook’s character, whom he describes as having the energy of “a modern-day detective,” but with “a deep river inside of him” of past sorrows. “The film checks a lot of boxes in genre; it’s sort of arthouse, noir, horror. But it also, pretty surprisingly, has an emotional rhythm to it, given the characters’ perspectives and their journeys,” he says. “It was really grounded [in] that deeper emotional quality that I guess you particularly don’t get in an average slasher film.”
Which makes it a perfect fit for Sundance, known for launching films that defy expectations and make you feel something. “They’re pioneers in independent cinema, and I think Eight for Silver is a really good match. [It takes] a familiar folklore and, whether it’s modernized through its filmmaking or just reinvented quality, I think that’s what Sundance represents in a lot of ways — just keeping cinema alive and fresh,” says the actor, who has debuted multiple films at the festival in past years. “Hopefully it’s something that will resonate, and the audience [will] simply be entertained and walk away with, ‘Wow. That was cool-ass film.'”