Remy Brecht and DS Bullock Image courtesy of filmmakers

Isolation is a key element in horror, so if you’re claustrophobic, “Welcome Back” might not be your cup of salty water. That’s because this spooky short from first-time directors DS Bullock and Remy Brecht, premiering Oct. 11,  as part of this year’s all-Maine horror-thriller anthology series Damnationland, centers around a young woman whose experiences with loss and grief send her plunging into the silent darkness of an isolation tank, where visions, sounds, and possibly something otherworldly are waiting. Lucky for partners Bullock and Brecht, they weren’t going into their first film alone.

Already used to working together in various bands around Maine, and as deejays on WMPG’s goth industrial spooky show “Dead By Dawn,” the pair found working together on “Welcome Back” was just another joint creative endeavor, although one they had to be prodded into by Damnationland co-founder and Portland filmmaker Allen Baldwin. “Allen sort of put the screws to us,” laughs Bullock, explaining that they’d “made the mistake” of mentioning to Baldwin their vague plans to someday do their own Damnationland film. “I’d been working as a producer on various Damnationland movies for five years,” says Brecht, “When Allen heard we had an idea he immediately said he was putting us on this year’s schedule, which threw us in the deep end, but it was really the sort of trial by fire we needed.”

Brecht (who’s also been instrumental in putting together the annual Damnationland soundtrack albums, featuring all-Maine musicians) and Bullock’s idea, as it turned out, centered on float tanks, whose meditative qualities both filmmakers are well acquainted with. “We’re both big float tank enthusiasts in real life,” explains Bullock, “I really enjoy meditating, and sometimes need to shut out outside sounds and stimuli, so the tanks are perfect for that.” The pair — scary movie enthusiasts that they also are — then started thinking about the horror possibilities of being alone, sealed off from the world. “We sort of worked backward from there.”

Talia Quinn as Riley in the float tank in “Welcome Back.” Image courtesy of the filmmakers

Of course, a film about an isolation tank needs an actual isolation tank, and Brecht and Bullock were fortunate that the operators of Float Harder (floatharder.com), their Portland float tank location of choice, were all in on the idea. “We had no idea if they’d be interested,” says Brecht, “but we really had our heart set on it.” Explaining to the proprietors that, in “Welcome Back,” “the tank itself is not seen as menacing,” Brecht says that their protagonist’s sometimes frightening inner journey “could have happened anywhere, it just happens to occur there.” The pair also note that the staff in the film are never portrayed as malevolent or predatory, so forget about any “Altered States” mad scientist monkeyman fantasies.

Says Bullock, “We wanted to tell a sort of ghost story, or suspense story. We’re big fans of super-stylized ’80s sci-fi thrillers, like ‘Blade Runner’ and David Cronenberg movies. Inner horror, I guess you’d say.” As for the tank, Bullock explains, “We wanted to play with isolation, with being completely alone, and vulnerable, and naked in the dark without any kind of stimuli. You can have some pretty profound experiences.”

Realizing their singular dark visions was a process the two neophyte filmmakers were initially daunted by. Thankfully, their relationship with Damnationland meant they had plenty of connections, help and support.

“We owe our movie’s entire existence to [Damnationland co-producer and ‘Welcome Back’ cinematographer] Charlotte Warren,” says Bullock. “She’s such a giving and open and collaborative person who took under her wing a couple of first-time moviemakers with big ideas and maybe not a lot of talent. She went over and above, and we have to give her each a kidney at some point.”

The duo also is effusive in praising Damnationland for creating a welcoming an inclusive place for everyone in the Maine film community, something they were excited to pay forward in making their first film. “It’s not the point of the movie or anything,” explains Brecht, “but we felt it was important as we have an all-female cast and a good percentage of our crew are LGBTQI people as well. This was new territory for us and we were lucky to be able to lean so heavily on so many people with specialized skill sets.”

“Welcome Back” will screen as part of this year’s historic tenth Damnationland on Oct. 11 at Portland’s State Theatre. The show starts at 7:45 p.m., and tickets are $12 in advance or $15 at the door. For information, check out damnationland.com.

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.

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