Future Islands’ leader Sam Herring makes his big-screen debut

Posted by Brian Howe on Mon, Jan 13, 2014 at 12:54 PM

Sam Herring in Tears of God
  • Sam Herring in Tears of God
2014 looks to be a big year for Sam Herring, a North Carolina expat currently based in Baltimore. His darkly emotive synth-pop band, Future Islands, is leaving Chicago’s Thrill Jockey label and joining the roster of legendary British indie 4AD to release new album Singles in March. Less expectedly, Herring also makes his acting debut in Tears of God, an art-house horror film by a local team that is currently seeking funding via Kickstarter.

Tears of God is the first full-length feature by writer/director Robert Hillyer Barnett and writer/producer Diamando Proimos, who previously collaborated on the short film Holy God Holy Mighty Holy Immortal Have Mercy Upon Us. Though not a direct sequel to the short, says Barnett, the feature “exists in the same universe, perhaps 15 years after the first film. The short was more naturalistic, while this is more theatrical and mythological.” 

But why cast a musician in an acting role? According to Barnett, a 26-year-old resident of North Raleigh, he and Proimos attended a Future Islands show as they were finishing the script for Tears of God. They both thought that Herring, known for his theatrical performance style, would be perfect for the role of the preacher. “[The character] is addicted to ergot and is extremely passionate as the world crumbles around him,” Barnett says, “and Sam’s performances with Future Islands are completely wild and histrionic and full of passion.”

When Barnett and Proimos ran into Herring at a bar after the show, they took it as a sign and offered him the role. “We shot all his scenes already,” Barnett explains, “because Future Islands is going on tour and Sam couldn’t do February, when we shoot the rest of the cast. Since he doesn’t interact with the other characters—each of his scenes is a sermon, almost like a chapter title—we were able to shoot them all last weekend.” The scenes, like the rest of the film, were shot in the mountains of Asheville.

Herring makes his silver screen debut alongside a cast of established actors, many of them from the Raleigh area. Perhaps most notable is Kate Lyn Sheil, who is set to appear in the upcoming second season of Netflix series House of Cards. Barnett and Proimos met her at the premiere of Amy Seimetz's Sun Don’t Shine, in which Sheil played the lead. “She’s totally underrated, explosive, manic and physical,” says Barnett. “We’re insanely happy we got to cast her.”

The plot of Tears of God concerns a young woman named Ida who “confronts the source of the demonic scourge plaguing those around her” following her father’s death, according to the summary on Kickstarter, where you can view a teaser video for the project. “We’re not attracted to campy splatterhouse,” Barnett says. “We’re extremely influenced by European horror films of the ‘70s and ‘80s, where there’s actually great filmmaking and performances. But it works in the horror aesthetic. It has all the gore and genre conventions, but does it in a pretty unique way.”

The funding campaign, just getting started, still has a long way to go to achieve its $23,000 goal—which Barnett says represents about half the film’s budget—by Jan. 29. But when trying to fund a film in a local culture where music is more entrenched, you can't go wrong by casting a musician of local origins and national renown. 

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