The Nun director Corin Hardy says actor Demián Bichir was genuinely scared witless shooting the scene where his character Father Burke gets buried alive.
Speaking exclusively to Yahoo Movies UK for the release of his The Conjuring spin-off – out now on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital download – British filmmaker Hardy says Bichir was “terrified” but “a trooper” during the gruelling Romanian shoot, particularly for this standout scene which ends with a spade nearly severing his head. Hardy cryptically teased that Bichir was nearly decapitated “for real”, adding that it was an anecdote for “another time”.
Hardy has broken down the “buried alive” scene for us, giving us a unique insight into a chilling moment in one of 2018’s biggest horror hits.
Grossing £285 million at the global box office, The Nun is the most successful instalment of Warner Bros.’ 5-film franchise, and now it’s ready to revisit at home… if you dare.
Yahoo Movies UK: Was this sequence inspired by anything in particular?
Corin Hardy: It was part of building a nightmare around Burke that gets worse and worse. He is awoken in the night, goes to investigate, becomes aware of a small boy who may or may not be a figment of his imagination: a ghost of his past. He follows the boy into the cemetery and is driven into the grave. He is buried alive and then becomes aware that something is inside the coffin with him. Its inspired by trying to create tension that grows and grows.
Did you look at any other films for reference?
I didn’t watch anything specific but have memories of the burial in Kill Bill, and in A Bittersweet Life, and also I think there’s a scene in Wes Craven’s The Serpent And The Rainbow.
How did Demián Bichir cope with the scene?
Haha! He was terrified! Even the one in the studio was still a very confined space to have to climb into, especially when you have the camera suspended above your head. But he was a trooper and very generous with all the climbing in and out, and screaming, and having a spade rammed down into his head – which very nearly happened for real, but that’s another story….
Taissa Farmiga’s Sister Irene rescues Burke in the end – what was your overriding memory of shooting those scenes?
Just that we had a lot of fun making the movie together, no matter how extreme or crazy the situation, running around graveyards, being dragged through water, being shut in a coffin or having a Demon Nun stalk you in the darkness. Taissa and Demian (and Jonas “Frenchie”) were three truly wonderful humans and gifted actors, to have had the honour of putting through all manner of hell, in the name of horror!
How did the scene evolve from the initial idea, to page, to screen?
It did grow actually. Originally Burke was just buried alive, rang the coffin bell and Irene came and dug him out. But I thought it would be more frightening, and possess greater tension, if when he was trapped, he heard something else was in the coffin with him and when he started ringing the bell. Irene comes to the cemetery, but the evil forces mess with her head and she hears more than one bell ringing.
So we play with the pouting fear that the thing in the coffin is imminent and Irene has to use her Holy powers to locate which coffin Burke is in, and then dig him out before the creature arrives.
Do you have a favourite shot in the sequence?
I love the look of that Cemetery with the floating fog, which is one of the iconic staples of classic gothic horror. And the way cinematographer Maxime Alexandre lit it, with the moonlight streaming through the trees and graves with Irene in a white night dress, wielding a spade above her head like Evil Dead, was very satisfying.
What was the most difficult part to achieve?
In the shoot, practically managing the graves, having Burke in one, getting the camera in it to film up on Irene, and then cover it up and have her digging down into different levels of soil. Then logistics like having Taissa barefoot in a Romanian cemetery at 4am, but also in the edit getting all the elements to build up together.
How was the in-coffin stuff filmed? Were there any interesting behind the scenes tricks involved?
We had multiple coffins. The real deep soil hole dug on the location which was in our art directed cemetery that Production Designer Jenn Spence and her team created outside an ancient Convent building in Cris, Romania. Then there was a coffin built in the studio for Demian to be inside, which you could film from the side, like a sideless coffin, this was also the one we looked down on for his shots. And then we built another interior coffin for the reveal of the thing that is in there grabbing him as this element was added later during the edit.
How do you light a coffin that is meant to appear like it’s buried underground?
Well in this case, it was almost entirely lit by the real lighter that Burke carries, then when it goes out, its dark and then when Irene breaks through the lid with the spade, it lets in moonlight. All quite particular and precise, subtle changes.
The Nun is out now on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital download.