In studying my family's Lithuanian heritage, I was fascinated by the tales of pagan folklore and traditions. Lithuania was the last country to be converted to Christianity, so it remained the final pagan nation in Europe. This event ended one of the most violent and lengthiest processes of Christianisation in European history. This anti-religious sentiment is one of the key themes in the film.
When I was given the opportunity to travel to Europe, I began plans for shooting parts of a low budget film with a small local cast and crew in Germany and Lithuania.
After intensive studying on cults including The Family (Australia), The Temple of Set and Baltic Paganism, I began collaborating with Mia Kate Russell on a screenplay to begin the process. We both agreed that the film should contain strong female characters, common in current horror films. We used the historical Russian psychic and occult figure Madam Blavatsky, as well as Baltic Folklore tales as a reference for the cult leader- Ragana (Jane Badler). Other female characters had names or characteristics taken from various Baltic goddesses and deities.
Initial shooting began in June 2015, working with a small cast and crew in Munich, Germany. Then we flew to Lithuania, where with a slightly bigger team, we filmed in some unique pagan locations that were centuries old. Despite the lack of budget, we gathered some impressive footage, that was unlike anything usually seen in Australian independent films.
Upon return to Australia, we realised that we still had a lot of work to do turning the footage into a feature length film. The gaps were filled in by a very loose narrative with input from David Thrussell (Snog, Black Lung) and Hussein Khoder. It was built around the heavy use of symbolism and dreamy visuals. Due to a lack of funding, the conventional elements of the script disappeared. The project then became rooted around a mixture of dark occult influences including Crowley’s- Book 4, Black Metal themes and ancient Baltic tales.
I knew that this experimental style might not resonate with mainstream audiences. However, I sought solace in the fact that modern directors such as Malick, Refn and Cosmatos continue to make films that are based around visuals and symbolism, rather than cohesive narratives. It was important that the images we captured in Europe, could be seen within the framework of a feature film, no matter the cost.
There are many rituals seen in the film, some staged and some completely authentic. While some may dismiss ritual practices as old fashioned, these acts are an essential part of the human condition that are sadly disappearing in modern society.
Mark Bakaitis, 2019.