“Not all trauma smells the same”: Luna Carmoon on Hoard

Luna Carmoon’s Hoard is a strange, fetid and deeply original dumpster dive into the childhood memories of Maria, a south-east London teen in foster care. Here Carmoon explains how her 20-page short story evolved into a debut feature, and why she’s always wanted to make films for ‘gross girls’.

Luna Carmoon, director of Hoard (2023)

There’s a squalid, sticky feel to Luna Carmoon’s first feature, Hoard, which follows little Maria (Lily-Beau Leach) and her loving oddball mother Cynthia (Hayley Squires) as they skip-raid for treasures to add to their cluttered south-east London home – a hazardous ‘catalogue of love’. It’s a cosy fairytale nest, but Carmoon lets an unsettling feeling seep in with the slow creep of warm bin juice. 

Eight years on, we find Maria (Saura Lightfoot Leon) – now a laconic teen in a foster home – entering a reckless, imbalanced affair with 29-year-old care leaver Michael (Joe Quinn). Something is unlocked that floods Maria’s life with traumatic, olfactory childhood memories. 

It is a visceral, original work, one that wears Carmoon’s cinephilic influences – Alan Clarke, Ken Russell, Volker Schlöndorff, weird 1980s British TV specials – with pride. Ahead of Hoard’s release, we spoke with the director about her love for ‘scrapbook’ cinema, watching Cujo (1983) with her nan, and why she’s always wanted to make films for ‘gross girls’. 

When you voted in our Greatest Films of All Time poll, you made a comment about your appreciation for ‘scrapbook’ cinema that doesn’t spell things out. How did you bring that perspective to Hoard?

I think – especially with debuts – there is such stress for it to be perfect to secure yourself this career, especially if you are a working class [filmmaker], and you’ve got nothing to fall back on… Execs and filmmakers feel like they have to make things polished and new and sharp in so many ways that there’s this whole other essence lost… When you watch something like Out of the Blue [1980], there are scenes there that don’t carry the story. They’re simply there, and you get the essence of what [Linda Manz’s] routines are. And I wanted that with Hoard.. It’s not a perfect film. I intended it to be that way. 

Where were you at, in life, when you began writing Hoard? I know it started life as a 20-page story.

Not to be dramatic – I keep seeing outlines like ‘she was going to kill herself!’ – but I was, and it really was a very mundane thing. Maybe it is just too out there, but at times, for me, the end of my life is just as mundane as making a cup of tea. I don’t think that’s a dramatic thing, I don’t think that’s a sad thing. We don’t know where we’re going to go. At that moment in time, I was very down. I just wanted to expel something from me and leave it behind, and be full of all my essence and all my feelings. I wrote this 20-page story, and it wasn’t going to go anywhere, it really was just my sanctum and safety during Covid…

Then I just wrote it into a script, and it just became this cathartic, beautiful thing. I adore the story, I hope one day I’ll just upload it on one of those really terrible old-school geocache websites… There’s a lot of dark humour that pulsates throughout it that I guess has entered the film.

Saura Lightfoot Leon as Maria in Hoard (2023)

It’s common in films now to see a character say or do something extreme, and then we’ll get a counterpoint or explanation for it later on. I appreciate that Hoard doesn’t do that. Extreme things happen, and then they just are. Did you come under pressure to tone down the film’s more extreme moments while making it?

You do all the time, but I think I’m a bit of a harder bet to do that with because I am actually from these worlds… I see a lot of films that are based on working class experiences now and they’re naff. They’re really tacky and cheesy. And everything’s spelled out for you. you know, upper middle class kids making these films that feel like a safari… Certain topics are not being discussed. And it feels more embarrassing to not have bad characters really be bad. It is all like a weird puppeteering of the world that we actually live in. Closer to fascism, maybe. It’s true! Things are being diluted to a point that we’re pretending that these things don’t exist… 

I don’t like Michael, I think he’s disgusting. I don’t condone him. And there is no way, in that situation, that Maria has autonomy. It doesn’t matter how confident she is. She doesn’t have autonomy in that situation at all. But it also isn’t the core of my story. Obviously, we have to sell it in that way because of Joe [Quinn], to get bums on cinema seats, but which is incredibly frustrating, because it literally is about womanhood, and it’s about mothers and daughters and how we are with each other. Isn’t it ironic that that’s how you have to sell things?

Do you think the conversation around the relationship is being pushed as the selling point?

Well, I don’t think it is, but I just mean, it’s ‘Joe and Saura’ when really it should be ‘Saura and Hayley’. But that’s the world that we live in. And unfortunately women hate women as much as men hate women. It’s a shame that women are massive mascots for male fandom, but they aren’t like that with women fandom. We see that with every romantic TV show that comes out, even something like Normal People [2020], how far women propel someone like Paul Mescal, but they’re not with Daisy [Edgar-Jones]. It’s a sad bitterness. But what I think is amazing is that so many of Joe’s fans are going to go see this thinking it’s a romance and what they’re really going to come out with is a slice of womanhood. 

Lily-Beau Leach as young Maria and Hayley Squires as Cynthia in Hoard (2023)

You mentioned before that having an authentic south-east London accent was an important thing in the film for you. Saura, who plays Maria, is Dutch, but captures it well. How did you approach it?

I’ve watched so many films [where] people have south or east London accents and the films are so grim and flat and I wanted something that was absurd with people that sounded like me. I’m not saying I’m the first to do it all. I love Alan Clarke. I love Ken Russell. I love all the Woodfall films, but it feels like, since the 1980s, we haven’t had a lot of stuff that feels fantastical in the ends, in rougher places… I also made [Saura] watch Alan Clarke’s [1975 BBC play] Diane.

Maria and Michael often communicate in animalistic grunts. Why was it important that they communicate on that level?

They are two people in survival mode… They say that when you go through trauma, you sort of stay the same age that it happened to you. And they’re very much products of that… They are just animals and they both smell this same kind of scent on each other that is of course very different – not all trauma smells the same. 

Luna Carmoon

I read that, when you were a kid, you used to watch around three films a day. What kind of films did you watch?

All of these recorded VHS tapes – I’m basically just trying to recreate them. I have no idea what they are at this point. I spent most of my time with my nan and my granddad. Honestly my nan’s bedroom was like Valley of the Dolls (1967) – pink satin curtains, lilac walls. And there were dolls hanging from the ceiling, dolls everywhere. But her whole bookshelf was Stephen King, the supernatural, the Bermuda triangle. My nan had me watching Chucky [Child’s Play, 1988] and Cujo [1983] when I was like six years old, and TV movies like Sybil [1976]… disturbing supernatural TV specials. They’ve just seeped into my bloodstream and now I’m trying to recreate them. 

My nan, she liked shit horror, like Rosemary’s Baby 2 [Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby, 1976]. She was honestly just this gorgeous woman. She looked like Sophia Loren and Ingrid Bergman mixed together. And then when she turned 30, she was like: ‘I don’t give a fuck anymore’. She read this Dennis Wheatley book called The Devil Rides Out and she got obsessed with horror. Just never left the house. Summer days she would shut the curtains, and we would just watch horror movies – sweating, watching Cujo [1983] in her bedroom…

Every day, pretty much, from the age of 14 I would watch three films a day. And some days I would plan to bunk off school…. I was trying to search for the most sort of gross coming of agers and I remember watching Wetlands [2008]… I was probably just horny and bored, and that’s how I got into weirder films. Like most girls, to be honest. 

Around age 10-15, I sought out extreme films too – it seems quite common at that age, because you want something to chime with that gross, horrified feeling that you have all the time. Something that gives you the language to articulate it before you have it.

Something that makes you feel human. I remember seeing some of that stuff and being like: oh, like, I’m human, this is normal. I always was like, if I ever get to make a film. I’m going to make films for gross girls. Somehow, I still am exactly the same as I was when I was 14.

 ► Hoard is in UK cinemas from 17 May.