LORD OF MISRULE: Folklore And Mythology With Director William Brent Bell

Creating the jester, drawing on local lore, and more!

By Max Evry · @maxevry · December 8, 2023, 7:00 PM EST
9. Lord of Misrule

A kind of modern-day spin on previous folk horror films in the Wicker Man-vein, Lord of Misrule pits a woman of the cloth named Rebecca (Tuppence Middleton) against a small-town conspiracy responsible for her young daughter's disappearance. As she probes deeper into the odd community around her, she -and the audience- can feel the village walls closing in around her, building to something truly sinister.

Director William Brent Bell, responsible for hits such as The Boy and Orphan: First Kill, has crafted an eerie, atmospheric piece of folk horror that delivers real chills as it ratchets up the tension in fine slow-boil fashion. FANGORIA had the chance to speak with Bell about how he crafted this clever post-Midsommar flick.

Both this movie and The Boy films take place in the United Kingdom. What makes a nice Kentucky boy drawn to stories that take place across the pond?

I've almost always cast a UK actor in every movie. To me, they're funnier, and they're smarter. When they talk in another accent, I totally get tricked by that. If it's something informational, I buy it more. It's just a weakness of being an American. We had a chance to go and make this movie in the UK with the UK cast and crew… In all seriousness, they're always ridiculously well-trained on every level. As actors, they are so well trained, they come up from such a good background that it just makes everything better, from my perspective. I'll also say that a lot of my heritage is from that area, so I have grown up with a lot of stories. I'm pretty attracted to the lore, the mythology, and the entire world of the UK. It's so rich in history.


Tuppence Middleton has to sustain this level of anxiety over her missing daughter while not giving in to the irrationality of seemingly everyone around her. Was that a tough needle to thread for her as an actress?

Yeah. She very much threw herself into it and was just putting herself in the position of "what would you do if the person closest to you was taken?" The scariest thing about it is, "What could be happening to them?" They talk about it almost being scarier than someone dying, not knowing what's happening to them. So, for her, that informed every moment for both of us. She was really involved in shaping the final draft of the script. We looked at almost every scene from the perspective of, "What would you really do if you were her and you were a parent? How long would you wait? Would you change your clothes? Would you worry about your hair? And would you trust these people around you just because they're trying to be nice?" You know, they had their own reasons.

You mentioned Tuppence had some script input. I'd previously seen Tom De Ville's script for The Hallow, which also had elements of folk horror. How much of Lord of Misrule was already on the page when you got it versus what you extrapolated or elaborated on?

When I first read it, so much of it was on the page. He's a very visual writer. He was really writing this love letter to folk horror and where he's from. The movie opens the way it does in the script, and that's what hooked me at first. I was like, "Are we going to see this little girl try to kill a bunny rabbit? What is happening?" While we're intercutting her mother, who's the local parish priest or vicar, I was also really impressed with his mythology.

It's familiar in many ways, but it's super unique. There's nothing really like it. So much of it was there, bringing it to life was just taking things to another level with the costumes, the different masks, all that stuff. He really brought the lore of that region to life on the page, and then I think we were able to bring it to life in the movie.

The movie deals with the dualism between Christianity and Paganism. Why is it ultimately important to the story to show how those two things intersect?

Well, in a way, they don't intersect. That's kind of the thing — they clash. They don't believe in the same gods, and in this story the Christian church came down on this town of Barrow some 300 years ago, kind of squashed what they were doing. They were praying to a spirit God, which is against the Christian church belief. We had trouble even shooting in the parish church there. We did, but they were very specific about what we could say or what we could do so that we wouldn't be openly praying to a pagan god in that church.

For this town, they've held this belief against the church because they believe that the Christian church ruined their town 300 years ago, and they've slowly built back to where they are. Now, they find a way to maybe finally one-up the church forever by hopefully turning one of their own into one of theirs, which is kind of what the story is about.

The Wicker Man was obviously a huge influence in this movie. Christopher Lee's autobiography is even called Lord of Misrule. How important was that film for you both as an influence on this one and just as a horror fan in general?

I was a fan of that movie when I first saw it as a kid. I loved it. For me, what was weird was when they did the remake. I still remember seeing that in theaters, which was so disappointing. It ruined for me what the original was.

Wicker Man DVD

So when this script came around, and I saw the parallels, I was so scarred by the remake… it just didn't fulfill. So I decided to ignore both of them and just trust the impact the original had on me. I didn't go back to either of those movies. I just tried to focus on making everything as original and just really authentic to what his script was, not worrying too much or thinking too much about other ones that came before it.

Were there other folk horror films you drew from for inspiration? I know that's been a big pet topic in the horror community since Severin put out their big box set, All the Haunts Be Ours, last year.

What I love about it is how it lays out lore for local areas, the kind of mythologies that have existed for centuries or more. When we were first developing and I first got the script, it was around the time Midsommar came out. Initially, the script was set in the summer, and I felt it mirrored Midsommar more in some ways. I was kind of like, "Where Midsommar took a right, we want to take a left, we want to do everything we can."

I mean, obviously, it's a subgenre, it's a type of storytelling, but I wanted to do everything I could to avoid it feeling too derivative of that film. So that's why we set it in an autumnal Harvest Festival. I love those types of colors in that time of year, the mood of it.

lord of misrule jester

It's a big thing in horror to create icons like Chucky or Jason or even Brahms, some visual for the audience to identify with. How hard did you work to make that jester mask into something that could become the identifier for this film and potentially future films?

It was in the script, written as you would expect: a jester with a hook nose or something like that. And I was really inspired by Mordred from the 1981 Excalibur movie. That style of mask isn't just a mask you're putting in front of your face, it's almost a helmet. Having local crew there and Libby Irwin, who was the costumer, we worked weeks sketching this thing and trying to figure out what to do, and it just evolved and evolved.

To me, it was something that I was like, "If we get this right, it is the icon of the movie," literally the face of the movie. Then, having the hat where it attaches, but then as the story progresses, he takes that off and becomes a bit more serious, if you will. It was amazing. When Ralph Ineson first put on the mask, it transformed how it looked. His eyes changed the entire way that it looked and it became very much his at that point, but that was super important. It's one of those things that we work really hard on in the movie, and when it turns out right, it's just so rewarding. I love it. I love the way it turned out. They did such a great job.

Movies of yours like Wer and Separation and now Lord of Misrule had a smaller release than some of your bigger movies. Are you building a filmography with a "one for them, one for me" mentality?

Well, I don't know if I ever thought of it that way. Yeah, I mean, I guess I do, in a way. This, to me, was a type of movie that had to be done the right way and had to be done a certain way, so it definitely was a "for me" kind of thing. But you just never know. In the respect that you're talking about, something like Wer, which we did directly after Devil Inside… we made Devil Inside outside the studio system for no money. We never expected that it would be released. It was never really meant for a wide audience, yet that's what it got.

With something like Wer, it's kind of a similar thing. I believe any movie that's well-received will work for an audience. It doesn't matter what the cast is, it doesn't matter what the style is, even, if it's authentic to what it's trying to be. It's not really what I think about it, but it really depends on the movie. I just want to make sure that we do that particular movie the way it's meant to be done.

Lord of Misrule is now playing in theaters and is also available on VOD.