We chat with influential filmmaker Darren Lynn Bousman about his latest film, the excellent “Death of Me”, and his latest immersive Halloween event.
Darren Lynn Bousman is one of my favorite directors, and I feel so lucky to again get a few minutes of his time. His new film Death of Me will be out on October 2nd, 2020, and I suggest you all find a way to watch this amazing and very disturbing thriller (read my full review here).
Darren Lynn Bousman is, of course, widely known for his contributions to the Saw franchise on Saw II, Saw III, Saw IV, and the upcoming, highly anticipated Spiral: The Book of Saw. In addition, films like Mother’s Day, The Devil’s Carnival, Abattoir, and St. Agatha, have made the horror world just that much cooler and seriously gorier.
INTERVIEW WITH DARREN LYNN BOUSMAN
Vicki Woods: The last time we spoke was at the Overlook Film Festival for your film St. Agatha. I have been excited to see Death of Me ever since I heard about it, and I gotta say, I loved it! You were on your way to Thailand not too long after that correct?
Darren Lynn Bousman: Thanks! I was originally on my way to Thailand soon after, but it was delayed. It’s crazy, I’ve been very lucky in my career, that I feel like I do a film and then I go right into prep or production on another film without a break in between. Yes, I went straight from St. Agatha to this!
VW: Lucky and talented too! So, tell me a little bit about Death of Me and where the inspiration for this logic-defying story comes from?
DLB: I love movies that deal with faith, religion, and belief. If you go back and look at my last few films like Abattoir, The Devil’s Carnival, and St. Agatha they all have faith and belief as the backbone for all of them. I love those types of movies, but I’ve always been a fan of the genre “bad things happen on vacation”.
In Death of Me, Neil (Luke Hemsworth) and Christine (Maggie Q) are a married couple who go on vacation, wake up one morning not remembering anything from the night before, but find out something terrible happened. There are a lot of those types of movies, even comedies like National Lampoon’s European Vacation, where when you go to a foreign land, and no matter how safe you feel, the wrong step or turn can put you in a place out of your element. You’re a stranger in a strange land. So, I love those movies as well.
Death of Me has both elements. They are strangers in a strange land, fish out of water. It had murder, black magic, and the religious thing going on for it — and I dug it, I was a fan.
VW: What was different about shooting in a country like Thailand, as opposed to Canada or the US?
DLB: I’ve only shot two of my films in the US, so my comparison would have to be the difference between shooting in Canada or Bangkok, and the answer is everything. It’s so crazy, I realize now that it never gets easier, because the minute you think you’ve figured stuff out, in filmmaking or producing, you’re presented with a completely new thing, like going to Thailand and trying to shoot there.
It is so different there than shooting a movie anywhere else. From the crews to the way they design sets, everything about it is different. The biggest challenge by far was, since part of my job as a director, is that I direct. I view things, I say things and people do things. But when you’re working in Thailand, you’re talking through translators. So, let’s say that I was doing the Spiral movie and I walk up to Chris Rock and say, “Chris, this is what I want you to do”, and he would totally understand me. But in Thailand, I’d say something, maybe talk for a minute and a half, they then need to translate that back to the crew, and things get lost in translation, so the time it takes to translate my thoughts could take a long time.
We also had some challenges with the makeup. It was so hot, and the humidity was so high that the appliances would just sweat right off! It was also hard to get supplies since at times we were really far from civilization. We had to make a lot of changes on the fly.
Even with all that, it was a very rapid turnaround. We prepped it in two weeks, and we shot it in like three weeks. In some respects, it was like going back to guerilla filmmaking, which was kind of exciting.
VW: Wow, it was so beautiful to watch. You would never know that it was shot that quickly, or that there were any problems in communication.
DLB: Yes, we had an incredible DP, crew, SFX team, and extremely talented actors. We also had amazing locations in Bangkok and shot at an incredibly beautiful place named Krabi, which was literally in the middle of nowhere.
VW: Did you have anything creepy or supernatural happen during the shooting that wasn’t in the script?
DLB: No, but there were definitely moments of unease. There is something in Thailand, and I’m probably going to say this totally wrong, and I don’t mean to be insulting if I don’t say it right, but there is a thing called spirit houses or ghost houses. Basically, they were boxes that sat out in front of every residence, including businesses. And every morning you go out and bring an offering to it. Like an orange or incense sticks, and basically, it was done to keep the spirits outside. So, the belief there was just insane and beautiful. And you would drive down the street and see all these houses kind of like mailboxes, but they were a home, a little house. That was amazing to see.
From a standpoint of supernatural, I’ve been on movies where weird crazy unexplainable stuff would happen, and thankfully this was not one of those. The scariest thing was the size of their fucking mosquitos. They were the size of bats, and they were unrelenting!
VW: In the film, there is a scene where the character of Neil does something really crazy, that I won’t mention, and my question is how did the people on the island make him do that? It was not something he would do on his own. Or was it a hallucination, too?
DLB: So, it’s based on a real thing, Nam Mun Prai (a black magic oil). One of my favorite things about this movie is, if you go back and look at any hallucination or act of violence, they are being manipulated. So, the character Alex Essoe plays, Samantha, who is the owner of the Airbnb, is constantly giving them things to eat and drink. And the scene just before the one you are talking about, Neil is walking in finishing a smoothie, and he tries to give one to Christine and says here you should have this, and then he finishes it.
The idea on this is if you go back and watch something like Rosemary’s Baby, and see Ruth Gordon’s character — and this is a flat homage to it — and she’s giving Rosemary the tannis root, or shakes… it’s a form of manipulation and control. In the scene you’re talking about, Neil has had these drinks and he’s zoned out, pretty out of it, and we see the fisherman lean over to whisper something. With that idea, Nam Mun Prai, which has a real hallucinogenic property to it, makes you susceptible to outside influence. So, we’ve obviously taken creative liberty and say it makes you so susceptible that you are able to do really horrible things.
Another thing I dig about this movie is that we give the audience two pathways to go down. If they want to believe in the supernatural, it’s got a supernatural tone. Or if they want to believe that everything is practical, they are just being manipulated by this island, you can believe that too — because we get this whole idea from the eating, drinking, and drugs that are being given to them throughout the film.
VW: I loved the casting. Everyone seemed so perfect for their roles.
DLB: The casting was great. Luke, Maggie, and Alex are all incredible pros. Luke was such a funny guy to be around, and I was a huge fan of Alex’s and was excited to work with her. One of the things we wanted to make sure about, is when you’re doing a movie set in a different culture, in a different place, you want to be respectful. The last thing I wanted to do was a movie where all the islanders are savages, out killing, and doing horrible things.
So, we wanted to make sure the community was populated by different types of people. And it kinda started with Alex. Here she was coming from the western world, living over there due to the healing properties of the island and became one of the converts to it, and one of the main manipulating influences on Christine.
VW: Can you tell us about your newest immersive event, One Day Die?
DLB: It’s my favorite thing that I do now, these, kinds of, immersive shows, where the audience is engaging and interacting with the experience itself. I would love to do things in person right now, like with the Tension Experience, but obviously, that’s not in the cards, we can’t do anything in person. So, you do things remotely, and you try to make it as interactive as possible.
In the case of One Day Die, it’s a seance at home. You are doing a sort of Halloween séance. You buy tickets, and you get a box sent to you from this nefarious character named Ian Oddeye. He sends a box to your house, but you cannot open the box until the event begins. At that time, you will use the contents of the box to interact with the story. So, it’s part horror, part puzzle, part escape room, part narrative.
You will spend about 90 minutes in this world that’s being constructed by filmmakers, screenwriters, and magicians. The guys creating the box are two heavyweights in magic, so there are a lot of really cool things that will happen during your interactions with it.
We are going to keep this thing going as long as people are into it. It’s a very costly thing to put together during COVID. We have special protocols in place with the box building, and every time we sell a ticket then we have to make the box, and the boxes are not easy to construct. There are things inside, if you get a box, that are pretty insane. We now have a factory of just people making boxes and getting things ready for this to start in October. It is cool, scary, and unique, and I know people are gonna love it! I’m really excited about this event.
VW: Death of Me is an amazing film that I know all horror fans are going to love. And One Day Die sounds like a great way to spend a night celebrating the Halloween season. Darren, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me.
DLB: Yes, it was great talking to you too, and I hope to talk to you again soon, probably about Spiral!
Tickets for One Day Die are available at https://access.onedaydie.com.
I have my box coming in the mail! How about you???