Though it only took six days to shoot on location in the woods of the North Carolina mountains, “Fire Connects Us In The Dark,” it’s a project that’s years in the making.
The first feature film from director Bayly Hunter — shot with twin brother Blake Hunter behind the camera — has been gestating since the pair was in high school. The college-aged Irmo filmmakers arguably have been working up to these sorts of releases since before they were even in elementary school.
“We’ve been into films since we were probably four,” Blake explained. “We watched ‘Jaws’ a lot, like 100 times.”
A childhood Steven Speilberg obsession quickly consumed the duo and the set to work every weekend creating riffs on whatever movies held their attention. Bayly noted that the quick-hit, backyard films were extremely “derivative,” but they honed their skills on film-making tech that expanded along with their ambitions.
“I can’t remember a time when we weren’t trying to make films,” Bayly shared of those early attempts. “We did a lot of slasher movies because they were easy to make and all you needed was a mask or a costume.”
At Spring Hill High School in Chapin, they pulled together a crew of similarly obsessed, teenaged artists and created the rotating crew of production workers and actors that have populated all of their films. Even after the group parted ways for different colleges and opportunities across the South, they continued to come together to make films and shorts.
Bayly typically worked in front of the camera, acting in productions plotted out by Blake. That changed after Bayly was struck by a disjointed nightmare, while in high school. The vision stuck in Bayly’s brain.
One day in 2020, Bayly took a notepad to the Cayce Riverwalk and got the script down while walking. Then the story took shape over rounds of edits with their long-time collaborators, ultimately leading to a real world trip to the remote town of Hot Springs, located near the Tennessee state line.
This clique of Carolinians returned to the world with the building blocks of “Fire,” a terse and experimental thriller following a camping trip deep in the wilderness. In between unnerving slo-mo shots of insects and red, abstracted moments set to cacophonous jazz, tension builds and builds between the three leads against a relatively tranquil backdrop. At issue is a grudge with roots as deep as the old-growth forest that surrounds them.
The triad of unhappy campers rarely raise their voices above a mumble, but that doesn’t keep the situation from feeling dire. As you might expect from a film set so far out from the world, isolation and the presence of several guns only ratchet up the film’s ever-present and anxious thrum.
“It was never a genre we had really attempted,” Bayly said of the film, noting their tendency toward the experimental and shambling. “Every film we have been doing, it was another step up.”
That latest evolution will be on display at The Nickelodeon Theatre this week. The Hunters will debut “Fire” and a short directed by Blake on Dec. 22 at noon. The event is entirely free and will feature a question session with the filmmakers afterward.
“Fire Connects Us In The Dark”
Dec. 22, 12 p.m. Free. The Nickelodeon Theatre. 1607 Main St. nickelodeon.org