Director Chloe Wicks’ short horror Cubicle is another great example of utilising your resources to their full potential and the creative benefit of restrictions. Shot in one day on a budget of £160, Cubicle tells the story of a young woman taking a pregnancy test only to be interrupted by, what seems to be, a man and a woman getting up to some risky business. From there, Cubicle ventures into the uncomfortable, and in its brief runtime sinks its hooks in and doesn’t let you go. DN spoke to Wicks about Cubicle ahead of its presentation at this year’s edition of The Shortest Nights festival.
How did you come up with the initial idea for Cubicle?
I didn’t! The brilliant writer Stefan Kaday did. We’ve been developing ideas together for a few years. We’re both really interested in parenthood and the anxieties that surround that. I’ve been wanting to make a short for a while about someone taking a pregnancy test, just because it’s such a charged moment – whether you want a baby or not. Stef came up with a more fun, twisted idea than the drama/comedy versions I’d been thinking about.
I love that shift from comedy to horror at the beginning of the film, it’s played so beautifully by Charlotte Hamblin – was it always set out that way? Did much change in the script from its first inception to production?
Yes, our intention with the film was always to start from a place of uneasy comedy and then shift into horror. Charlotte has a lot of natural comedy about her so she was the perfect actor to navigate that shift.
In terms of the script changing, I think initially the character never left the cubicle. We were intrigued to extend it beyond that confined space so that it became more of an investigation into her mind, playing with what she thought was going on outside her cubicle, only to then suggest to her that she might be imagining it – and then to flip it again at the end.
How did you work with Charlotte to develop her performance, there’s next to no dialogue in the film, did that prove much of a challenge?
Charlotte is brilliant and completely got the tone of it, so the main focus was just in shaping what each moment needed to tell us on a plot level because she had basically nothing to react to. We’d do a long take with me standing a few feet outside the cubicle, narrating the various noises that were happening so that she could react to them.
One of the hardest things about the performance was actually continuity. In such a confined space, it was starkly obvious if an arm was in a slightly different position or if her hand was touching the wall or if the toilet roll was hanging down longer than before. We had a tiny crew of six people with no art department or costume or hair/make-up (basically we just had camera & sound) so it was a group effort trying to keep an eye on the length of the loo roll and Charlotte’s physical positions!
Did you have many visual or thematic inspirations, certain filmmakers or films?
Sounds weird, but I thought of this film as a kind of horror Amelie visually. Not very highbrow but I actually found the toilet location to be the most significant visual steer – as soon as I saw their green colour and the red lights, that felt immediately suggestive of the slightly heightened, dark tone we wanted to achieve.
I also thought there might be something creepier about presenting this young woman as a fairly timeless character, someone with visual echoes of another era. Charlotte’s got lovely short, curly hair that feels quite timeless plus her clothing and the red lipstick gives it an old fashioned vibe too, whilst still being set in 2019.
Budget/space/actor limitations feel like a really good route into being creative.
I read that the film was shot in one day on a budget of £160, what restraints or advantages did this give you?
I love short, small shoots. You get this intense burst of creative energy and the stakes are low, so you feel freer to be bold and make something weird. If it’s bad, you can put it in the bin – which I did do with another short, several years ago. Budget/space/actor limitations feel like a really good route into being creative, even when you’re conceiving of projects that can be bigger or longer. I really like obeying unities of time, place, action; I think it suits short films as a medium.
What was your approach to constructing the visuals of Cubicle, the whole film is set in such a confined space, how did you plan where to put the camera?
With the cinematography, Simon Rowling (DP) and I wanted to use a wide-angle lens for all of it to enlarge the space and make the character feel isolated. We took the cubicle door off its hinges so that we could place the camera on sticks in the door frame. I was keen to make the character look vulnerable and cornered so we constructed a shot from above which I love, plus a shot of her legs and feet looking exposed.
What’s in store for you in the future, in regards to new projects?
I’m developing a feature, a period film set in the 17th century. Contemplating making another short. I’d love to make a feature length horror at some point – this short has definitely given me a taste for it.
Cubicle screens as part of the programme at this year’s The Shortest Nights festival, tickets for which are available here. For more, be sure to check out DN’s full coverage of The Shortest Nights 2019