The Sabnock

The Sabnock

A 25-minute short gothic thriller, to be adapted into a 5 x 60-minute limited series

A family of exorcists and healers live off grid in a remote farmhouse, practising folk magic to visitors from near and far. But are the younger generation as committed to the old ways as they seem?

This self-contained short will double as a proof-of-concept for a proposed limited series, exploring the wider world of the characters. The short currently has a completed screenplay and the series has a detailed set of story outlines.

Synopsis

Standalone short

A car pulls up near a remote Cornish farmhouse. An elderly Scottish couple walk the long drive up to the house. A young man meets them at the door. The older man explains that his wife is unwell, possibly possessed. The young man says he’ll go fetch his mother, and tells the couple to put all phones, watches or computers in a metal box outside the house before they come inside.

The house is frozen in the nineteenth century. While the Scottish woman is being attended to by the young man’s mother – a painful, torturous form of exorcism – the young man drinks nettle tea with her husband in the kitchen next to a wood-fired stove. He explains how they grow their own food, even the tea, and how they believe the modern world might interfere with their magick. His mother, grandmother and half-sister all have the gift, he says. He and his step-father just “feed the chickens.” From the next room we hear the Scottish woman’s groans.

The next day, the son rebuilds a stone wall that has fallen in the grounds of the property. He and his half-sister talk about their aging grandmother’s hopes for her to have children. Their grandmother would rather she “married someone in” – bringing an outsider into the family tradition, like her father, but she is more pragmatic. She boasts of sex with many men in an evening at Solstice festivals, and wonders if she could just try to make this a more regular occurrence. Her brother suggests she speak to her grandmother.

Later, he goes to a nearby village to purchase some building materials. He carries bags of cement and sand in a wicker basket on his back. While there, he secretively retrieves a plastic bundle from under some rocks. He has a quiet pint alone in a pub. Looking over his shoulder he takes out the bundle, which contains a phone, which he charges in a socket in the pub.

At dinner – with mother, father, grandmother, son and daughter – they ask him about the village. Nothing unusual. Did he go to the pub? A quick pint, yes. The grandmother does not approve, but the father, who married into this life is more forgiving. It’s clear the daughter would never be allowed the same.

Late at night, the son sneaks out. We see him in the back of a taxi. Then, at a local rave. He feels euphoric, losing himself in the throb of heavy electronic beats. Suddenly, he sees his sister entering the building. She’s wearing modern shop-bought clothes and make-up. He hides, shocked, unsure what to do. He never suspected his sister could be living a heretical double life, just like him. He wonders should he approach her. She is chatting to a man at the bar. He takes some photos of her on his phone, then slips out.

Another visitor arrives at the house. This time they are attended to by the daughter. We see more of the ceremony, which takes place outdoors this time. The son watches judgementally from the house as his half-sister practises holy rites with his mother and grandmother. He imagines his half-sister is just playing a role.

Sensing that his way of life is under threat, the son confronts his half-sister. He has printed copies of the photos he took of her, which he claims have been sent to him anonymously. He blackmails her, but she isn’t scared. If he shows them to mother, she can accuse him of being the one who took them. She lets her half-brother wonder if she might have seen him at the rave that night as well. Maybe she did.

Soon after, the son discovers money missing from the safe, to which only he and his father have access. He goes looking for his half-sister but she’s not in her room. He goes to his parents, but only his mother is there. She says his step-father and sister went for a walk together. He goes after them.

He discovers his step-father and half-sister up the lane. She has an old suitcase, and a bag with the family’s money. Her father is helping her escape. The son marches them back towards the farm. He accuses them of treachery, of disloyalty to his mother, and destroying the family tradition. His step-father is repentant, to his daughter’s frustration. Soon she has no choice but to become repentant too, for now at least. As her father begs for forgiveness, his step-son murders him with a blow to the head from a stone. The sister is petrified.

Order is restored. The family light a funeral pyre in the grounds of their home, and move around it in a slow circular dance. Through the flames the son and daughter eye each other. This isn’t over yet…

midsummer, fire, burn

Synopsis

Limited series

The series will move between the family’s cottage and the nearby city of Bristol, to where the daughter has run, in the hope of finding safety and stability.

Episode 1 incorporates the scenes and storyline from the short, described above. It expands on these by revealing a little more about the grandmother, the family matriarch, a character whose story we will return to. It also adds another element: the daughter’s dreams, in which she believes she is able to visit the past. This will also play a significant role in the story to comes.

So we learn about exorcisms at the house, we learn about sex and relationships in their world, we see the son sneaking off to the rave, we find the daughter is doing it too. We then see the daughter in her dreams, visiting the house in Victorian times, a hive of activity, and in a large cage behind the house: a Siberian tiger. The daughter makes a run for freedom with her father’s help. There’s a confrontation.

The son murders the father!

Unlike the short, there is no epilogue, credits roll as the father lies dying.

We open with the daughter in a flat in Bristol. She is talking to a journalist – whom we’ll call the author. The author is in her late thirties, a little alternative in her outlook, anti-establishment and curious about the daughter and her story. We don’t initially know how we got to this point, but we can tell that the daughter did eventually escape.

The author would like to write a book about the daughter and her experiences. She seems to be winning the daughter’s trust, and has offered her a room to stay in while they work on the book. The author’s husband, an Anglican vicar, is less sure about the arrangement. He is sceptical about the daughter’s claims, and urges his wife to be cautious with her.

The daughter talks about her dreams and we introduce a central question, are the daughter’s dreams and magic powers real, and more importantly, does the author herself believe?

We also learn that the author and her husband are struggling to conceive, which causes tension between them. We learn that the daughter escaped and ended up at the offices of a local Bristol newspaper hoping to tell her story, but some of the story doesn’t add up. The author convinces the daughter to let her write a short piece in the newspaper, based on their conversations, to test the waters for her book idea. The story is published.

The next day, as the author leaves work, the son is waiting outside the newspaper office!

The daughter tells the author the story of how they came to own a tiger. She narrates the story of how Queen Victoria visited the family for a séance, and she presented them with a tiger as a thank-you gift. This is family lore, but the daughter insists she has seen it for herself in lifelike dreams, which we see played out on screen.

The author is growing sceptical, but perseveres, wondering what kind of book she’s going to get. The daughter has hinted at other murders, besides her father, darker goings on in the more recent past. The daughter becomes slippery when pushed on details. We don’t know who she’s protecting. The author tries to coax her to recall.

Along the way, the daughter becomes a little more friendly with the author’s husband.

Meanwhile, following their confrontation the day before, the author meets with the son secretly. She hopes to get closer to the truth. She thinks the son will dispel the myths and give her the hard truth, but he does the opposite, and backs them up. He believes in his sister’s powers, and wants the family’s tradition to continue, but a new generation must be born on their sacred ground. The author begins to become more forensic with the daughter, being drawn in my the son. The author lies to the daughter about her contact with the son.

The author and the son become close. Her fascination with the family, with the charismatic, magical tradition they represent is quickly transferring onto him. He is staying in a cheap hotel in town. One night she comes over to talk.

The son and the author have sex!

Coming soon…

Coming soon…

Locations

A number of potential locations have been identified for the family’s isolated home.

Creative Team

Actor

Sam Baker Jones

Sam starred in director David Walter Hall’s feature debut Passing Through and has appeared recently in DI Ray (ITV) and The Walk In (ITV), in which he played the young version of Stephen Graham’s lead character. Sam will play the son of the family in The Sabnock.

Writer-Director

David Walter Hall

Winner of the Brenda Blethyn First Feature Award at the 2023 Ramsgate Festival for Passing Through, Dave is a playwright-turned-filmmaker with a history of combining the gothic and the intimate, including his “mesmerising” (The Scotsman) first play Cross Road Blues, about a blues singer’s pact with the devil, and The Last Priest, the true story of 18th century Catholic priest and closet atheist Jean Meslier.

Producer

Fiona Watt

Fiona is an actress, voice-over artist and model with a background in business and marketing. She is working with David Walter Hall as a producer on a number of film projects.

Composer

Jonny Phillips

Jonny is an award-winning composer and guitarist who previously wrote and recorded the music for Passing Through. The music for The Sabnock will feature acoustic guitar and the ethereal sound of the hurdy gurdy, a traditional folk instrument once popular across Europe.

Cinematographer

Mike McMillin

Mike is an American cinematographer based in London with an extensive CV of commercial, documentary, narrative work and music videos. Apart from the night club sections, he will be shooting The Sabnock on Super-16 film.