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7 Keys Filmmaker Joy Wilkinson joins stars Emma McDonald and Billy Postlethwaite to discuss love, danger and horrors of vulnerability. 

BY MO MOSHATY, March 9, 2024

7 Keys' delicate dance of intrigue, suspense, and horror shows the dangers within our desperate need for connection.

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Mo Moshaty: What was the inspiration behind 7 Keys?

 Joy Wilkinson, writer-director: I was obsessed with keys for a long time but it was 7/7 when terrorists were in London and they'd closed off the tubes and I couldn't get home and I remembered that I had a key to an old office. I got my brain turning on what situations could happen if I went in there, and further how much access do we still have to places we've been. To old apartments, offices, and the like. How much access do others still have to you? I had worked professionally with a psychotherapist who had said that people on opposite ends of the emotional spectrum can be the best for each other and from there, Lena and Daniel just came fully formed. 

MM: That's such a terrifying thought, that people still have access to you. Codes for front door keypads that we give out, in the days of AirBnB. Just disquieting. The film feels very invasive and dangerous and that really heightens the sexuality of it. 

 

JW: Also people don't get close with their neighbors,and keep to themselves, so it could be your neighbor that's a threat or someone could come in their home. And I think for Lena, who's been cooped up for so long just really goes for the chance for a change of scenery. 

Emma McDonald, lead actress: And for her, not really having a home it was a chance to sort of live.

MM: Lena's character has such a deep longing for connection. As soon as her son leaves with their caretaker, she's back into date mode. Changing her whole persona. What did you want to bring to her character's longing for intimacy?

EM: We all have unique ways of approaching life, and what Joy expressed resonated with me, especially from a mythic standpoint. I've always been drawn to tragic characters, like Salome. From an artistic and musical perspective, Joy's insights were particularly valuable. My interest in keys stems from my time at an estate agency in London, where I observed the fascinating contrast between grand Georgian townhouses and council estates on the same road. As an estate agent, entering various homes became a unique insight into characters. The symbolism of keys, both in my professional and personal life, has always had a sick sort of mysticism for me.  

MM: During this tour of London, the relationship ramps up pretty fast. Being real-life partners, did having everyone watch this intimate connection unfold make it more challenging? Did it add an extra layer of difficulty in bringing that authenticity to the screen?

Billy Postlethwaite, lead actor: No. Emma and I had this theater shorthand from our previous work, and then Joy seamlessly joined in. We formed this trio, plus our awesome DOP. As you mentioned earlier, on low-budget films, everyone pitches in—it's a real collective effort. Adjusting to working together happened fast, especially with our slightly guerrilla-style filming. Sometimes we had permission for these places, but time was tight. We had to get things done and move on. In terms of Lena and Daniel's relationship, it felt different but allowed for a unique dynamic, it was like getting to know Lena, not Emma, which was pretty interesting. It felt exciting, almost like going on a first date again.

MM: There's a significant shift in tone from the romantic whirlwind into suspenseful. Billy, what did you find most challenging in portraying that sinister turn while maintaining an underlying care for Lena's character? And how was it for you, Emma, in seeking that connection, only to realize this might not be "the one"?

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BP: Quite simply, he needs her. Yeah, that deep need—like we all need somebody, but then, there's something specific that sparks in him, and he can't let go.

EM: And her recognizing the little boy in him, desperately needing to let go. But at the same time, there's something that keeps her there. 

JW: People tend to fill the gaps they don't have. So, although it's dark and thrilling, it's very much a love story. The love remains throughout, and I think it's crucial to explore the dynamics of relationships—how much women believe they can save men, how much men want to be saved, and how we fill in the gaps for each other. So, even in this extreme thriller version, it reflects the relationships we have with ourselves. When you navigate through relationships quickly over a weekend, you experience a spectrum. From fun and sexy intimacy to a darker play, things gradually get more dangerous. All these facets of relationships unfold in a short period. I find it more interesting when characters aren't purely good or bad, delving into those intricate layers. Yes, some of it stems from the current world, where things seem polarized, and finding common ground or resolution appears challenging. This story serves as a way to explore how two extremes could potentially communicate and find understanding. We've all had those partners, maybe not as extreme as this, but we've all been in situations where we've felt like we've lost ourselves and things got out of control. It's that classic mythic journey of rebirth. I like to envision Lena as a sort of latter-day goddess, embarking on this journey through London in a kind of Greek way. Almost like a modern-day myth unfolding.

MM: How was it to shift the dynamics so rapidly between the characters, leading to a quick change in who had the upper hand in the story? 

JW: Before filming, we did some workshops together, which is crucial when you know time on set will be limited. Spending time with Billy and Emma in those workshops was valuable. The bath scene initially had a more traditional romantic element to it, but Emma and Billy contributed to transforming it into a more intimate and complex exchange. These collaborative moments are where you can really explore and enhance the depth of the story.

EM: It's like shedding a skin. When they enter that property, they reveal another side of themselves. In that moment, they both truly open up, allowing you to glimpse into their core.

MM: In each house, you start very sexually intimate, much like how relationships often begin. Then, you gradually learn more about each other, taking steps to understand one another. In the bath scene when Emma discloses she has a child, Daniel shows sweetness and tenderness, accepting her. How was it for you to change that dynamic within your character as the story progressed?

BP: Well, with Daniel, I'd say it's like running through different strings of our bow, various aspects that stay with us. That chord is present throughout, playing a different tune at that point, but the undertone remains. He's exploring a different melody, questioning what he prefers, what he's searching for. It becomes a moment of self-reflection, maybe regretting aspects of himself. Regarding this scene, what was beautiful about working with Joy is that while she had a clear vision as the writer and director, she generously allowed Emma and me to contribute ideas, try things, and work them out. It's hard to articulate, but it was more instinctual, working moment to moment, feeling the scene and responding to it. So, in that moment, he's right there with her.

JW: That connection makes us root for them, doesn't it? It creates that beautiful thriller feeling where we're privy to something they aren't, yet we're uncertain about how it will unfold, leaving room for surprises.

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MM: Considering the blend of terror and romanticism in our ending, what are you hoping the audience takes away? Would you say it's ultimately a love story?

JW: Absolutely, it's a love story, a thrilling one. There's a social purpose woven in, but I believe in smuggling these elements within the most entertaining package. I appreciate cinema that plugs into your spine, where you come out feeling like you've been transported elsewhere—like Dunkirk or Apocalypse. Although we didn't have the grand stunts or a big budget, we achieved it on an interpersonal level, tapping into the visceral experience. You come out feeling like you've truly been through it, with all the emotions and experiences. It makes you ponder London, haves and have-nots, property, power, and sexual politics. But first and foremost, you empathize with the characters, understanding that you can be scared of somebody, love them, and potentially redeem them simultaneously, even if just for a moment. Hopefully, that's what they'll take away.

EM: I'd love the audience to take away a sense of mischief at any age. There's strength in vulnerability, and the film explores various forms of love—for oneself, for another, maternal love, and a playful kind of love. I'm particularly excited for an American audience to see it because London plays such a significant role in the story.

BP: I personally feel like London is such a mirror for New York. This movie's like a quick getaway, taking you on a ride with these two characters. It's gonna be exciting, maybe an hour and a half or two. 

JW: Nowadays, I think women can add a whole new layer to filmmaking. Growing up, I loved the realism in Hitchcock and de Palma, but today, it's about bringing in multi-dimensional characters, grounded emotions, and a bit of theatricality. We can explore the details, like that floor, and see how it plays a positive role. What gets Lena into trouble is often what gets her out of it—resourcefulness, you know? We even had a chat about how we shoot it, breaking away from certain stereotypes of trained women you typically see on screen. It added a fun twist to the process.

 
It's about saying, "Hey, this is how women are nowadays." From the get-go, showing a woman shaving her grown-out underarms for a date, speaks volumes about how we change ourselves. Do we really need to transform in certain ways or others? It's a reflection of our lives.

About 7 Keys - 

Daniel has kept the keys to the places he's lived in. Lena wants to use them - on the ultimate tour of London, a weekend of getting to know each other intimately in other people's homes. This risky fantasy soon becomes a deadly threat.

Starring: Emma McDonald and Billy Postlethwaite

Written and Directed by Joy Wilkinson

Produced by Dylan Rees and Cassandra Sigsgaard

Sound Department: Ed Boot, Cael McNally, Will Stanton

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Mo Moshaty is a horror writer, lecturer and producer. As a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist and life long horror fan, Mo has lectured with Prairie View A&M Film & TV Program as a Keynote, BAFSS Horror Studies Sig  and The University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom. Mo has partnered with horror giant, Shudder Channel, to co-produce the 13 Minutes of Horror Film Festival 2021 and 2022 with Nyx Horror Collective and her literary work "Love the Sinner" was published with Brigid's Gate Press in July of 2023 and her two volume collection, "Clairviolence: Tales of Tarot and Torment Vol. One and Two" will be published with Spooky House Press in the Spring of 2024

Mo is the creator and Editor-in-Chief of NightTide Magazine

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