What if there is another dimension where the past, present, and future collide, and what if there was something watching us from that other side? The thin line between our world and a spatial dimension is explored in Astral, and with the new horror movie coming to select theaters and VOD and digital platforms beginning November 23rd from Vertical Entertainment, we caught up with co-writer/director Chris Mul in our latest Q&A to discuss shooting his film in two weeks, working with a talented cast of young stars (including Frank Dillane from Fear The Walking Dead), and his research (and unnerving real-life experiences) of astral projection and shadow people.

Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us, and congratulations on your first feature-length film, Astral. How and when did you and Michael Mul come up with the idea for this movie?

Chris Mul: I remember Michael first came to me whilst he was working on his upcoming non-fiction novel about the history of mankind. He was researching religions, esotericism, and spiritual practices, and discovered the principle of astral projection—so naturally he decided to try it himself. It was during this time that he had begun to suffer from frightening bouts of hallucinations and sleep paralysis. He’d told me how he recalled being paralyzed and feeling a presence breathing down his neck and snarling, while other times shadowy figures would simply stand in the recesses of the room, watching him.

We were actually living with other people at the time, and curiously, they described seeing shadows, too. For everyone, myself included, there was the feeling of an ominous presence in the house. It was only at this point that he had decided to tell us what he’d been doing. When Michael had described in more detail his experiences, we felt that astral projection would make the perfect narrative device for a supernatural thriller.

Astral projection is such a fascinating backdrop for a horror film. What are your thoughts on astral projection in the real world?

Chris Mul: Astral projection is often characterized as a pseudoscience, and there is no known scientific evidence that the objective phenomenon exists. And yet, people all over the world experience some of the things we highlight in the film.

When we were researching, it was obvious to us that the phenomenon of shadow people was very real, we just had to find a way to explain the astral dimension existing in a realm beyond our perception. This is where we came to the idea of the The Fourth—a dimension where past, present, and future are available at once.

Combining the pseudoscientific practice of astral projection with the science of a higher spatial dimension allowed us to show audiences that the real fear of Astral is in its unnerving reality.

Where did filming take place, and what was your shooting schedule for Astral?

Chris Mul: We’ve actually had a number of compliments on our university location, which was Royal Holloway University, just outside London in the UK. They’ve had Thor and Downton Abbey shoot there, so they’re pretty well-equipped for filming. But they were amazing to us and very accommodating.

We managed to squeeze everything into 12 days across two locations. One of which was the university and the other a house in London. We shot at the end of the summer, before students returned to the campus and that really helped us to move freely during the shoot. Frank [Dillane] actually mentioned one of the reasons he was excited about the shoot was seeing how we would actually manage with only two weeks.

You worked with a great cast on this movie, including Frank Dillane, who many know as Nick Clark on Fear The Walking Dead. What was it like to collaborate with Dillane and his co-stars to tell this story?

Chris Mul: I have to thank my casting director, Alice [Purser], for that. Our cast was unbelievable and so talented. There is no way we could have shot in 12 days without having complete faith in them. Frank has actually suffered from sleep paralysis himself, so that was a big factor in his decision to be a part of the project.

We’ve had a couple of people mention the chemistry between our younger actors, which I have to put down to my decision to spend time socializing with them. We weren’t able to do any rehearsals, so I suggested to them that we go to the pub and they get to know each other. My producer and I treated them to a few rounds, and it was really nice to see them work so well together on set after that.

Do you have any favorite movies or books that inspired you while making Astral?

Chris Mul: Michael and I are big fans of the horror genre, but the films that inspired us were far more psychological and Hitchcockian in nature. Using films like The Babadook (2014), The Shining (1980), and Paranormal Activity (2007), we strove to develop a horror that operated on a different, more emotional level, sans gore or obvious gimmicks.

We wanted to create a horror which had audiences question their own experiences. We’ve all had moments of fear in a dark and empty room, and during our research, we discovered the widespread nature of the shadow people phenomenon. Moreover, the Romanticism and Renaissance artwork we chose to incorporate into our opening credits further illustrates the scope and associated fear of the subject.

Looking back at your time on set, is there a favorite or funny moment that stands out?

Chris Mul: I would have to say the clairvoyant scene. That was actually the one Michael and I found the easiest to write, and yet the most consuming to our time on set. We had two days to shoot that scene and realized something wasn’t working a few hours in. Thankfully, my producer, Christos [Kardana], took everyone who wasn’t necessary out of the room and we collaboratively worked through it with myself, Michael, Christos, the DP [Charles Heales], and actors. It made the world of difference and has to be my favorite scene.

Funnily enough, that was my favorite funny moment, too, as I remember watching Frank joke around and take a selfie with the Demon Ram, laughing in-between takes.

What do you hope viewers take away from Astral?

Chris Mul: In short, it's realism. When we set out to make Astral, we didn’t want to make a generic horror filled with fabricated jump scares. We wanted to build a narrative which was both frightening and conceptually possible. A large number of horror films use a clearly defined antagonist, tailoring its image to evoke a specific emotional response in viewers. For the most part, in Astral, our antagonist is nebulous.

Many religions, legends, and belief systems describe shadowy beings, but their interpretation often varies. By keeping our antagonist indistinct, we could stay true to those creatures who have long been a staple of folklore and ghost stories.

Fear doesn’t come from watching things jump out of the dark, it comes from wondering what might jump out of the dark. We hope that audiences leave Astral convinced, instinctively, that what they don’t know will most assuredly hurt them.

With Astral coming to theaters and digital platforms on November 23rd from Vertical Entertainment, what other projects do you have coming up that you’re excited about, and where can our readers follow your work online?

Chris Mul: We actually have a couple of projects in the works at the moment. The first is a story concerning humanity’s progress and the ethical responsibility we have regarding technology. At its heart, it is a journey of human emotions, motivated by the central question of what makes us human.

The second is a more intimate, biographical, man against nature drama/thriller, where our isolated protagonist resorts to desperate measures in order to survive. Both lean towards solitary characters and allow us to focus more intimately on their development.

Thankfully, the success of Astral has allowed us an opportunity to develop these projects through our company Craven Street. So definitely check out our website and social media accounts for more info—and watch this space!

*Above photo from Alexander Crane via IMDb.

  • Derek Anderson
    About the Author - Derek Anderson

    Raised on a steady diet of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books and Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Derek has been fascinated with fear since he first saw ForeverWare being used on an episode of Eerie, Indiana.

    When he’s not writing about horror as the Senior News Reporter for Daily Dead, Derek can be found daydreaming about the Santa Carla Boardwalk from The Lost Boys or reading Stephen King and Brian Keene novels.