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The Den Director Zachary Donohue Talks Voyeurism, Found Footage, and Webcams

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The Den Director Zachary Donohue Talks Voyeurism, Found Footage and WebcamsThe film The Den (review) brings a whole new, and much-needed, twist to the found-footage sub-genre of horror. Recently director and co-writer Zachary Donohue sat down with Dread Central to talk about his film.

For starters, Donohue discussed what he hoped to convey to the audience with The Den. “This is unlike any found footage movie you’ve ever seen,” he said. “We wanted to create a movie that felt like you were on your own computer screen.”

He added, “We wanted to convey this voyeuristic sense that maybe you shouldn’t be watching this movie because you’re privy to this character’s emails, her chats. We really just wanted to tap into that idea of voyeurism.”

But more than just peeping in on someone’s life, Donohue also wanted The Den to portray the internet as it actually exists. “We wanted to create a funhouse,” he said. “This is a movie about the internet, and there’s a lot of weird and wild stuff out there. We wanted to generate a lot of scares but say something about the internet right now and present a kinda funny commentary about that. There are some moments in the movie where you should laugh and find [them] funny, not just scary.”

The inspiration for the film came from an experience Donohue’s writing partner, Lauren Thompson, had that was reenacted quite specifically in the film. “Lauren and I both moved together to LA, and she got a job working for this chat roulette site,” Donohue said. “She would go around and poll people about their opinions on the site. So it was a noble cause, but everyone who was on the site was kind of a troll and they would either divert the conversation or just be really weird and silly. She came across this still image of a girl and had a really weird text conversation with her saying, ‘Hey, why don’t you turn your webcam on? It’s a little creepy talking to this disembodied voice…’ Well, she was typing to it so it wasn’t a voice. She was like, ‘This is really weird.’ So we just started playing scenarios out in our heads like, ‘Hey, what if this is a guy, or what if somebody turned on the camera and you witnessed a murder?’ So we really liked that setup. From there we presented it in a traditional slasher formula. And I’ve always been a big horror guy since I was a kid and always wanted to make a movie like Dario Argento or in the vein of Halloween or The Burning.”

Of course the unique thing about The Den is basically the entire film appears to be footage captured on webcams. This obviously would present Donohue with some challenges he wouldn’t get if filming in a more traditional style. He spoke about how the webcam approach affected his work. “When we wrote our first draft, we realized a lot of the scares were sort of the same so we had to generate different things as opposed to just a creepy guy showing up behind the girl’s shoulder,” Donohue said. “A lot of thought went into how we should craft interesting moments that are scary that feel like a traditional horror movie with angles and cutaways. We also wanted to see how we could use the limitations of the webcams to our advantage. It’s pretty scary that a lot of times you can’t see what’s off-frame, and we really wanted to play around with all of the best scenarios for scares with those limitations.”

And although it isn’t exactly a blood-soaked film, The Den does have some impressive effects. “We did manage to get a few good gags in, but at the end of the day, it was really how can we pull off these violent acts while servicing the story,” Donohue said. “It’s more about the story; how does the gore serve the story and feel real as opposed to a regular slasher where Jason cuts someone’s head off and it’s all about that.”

Finally, Donohue spoke about Melanie Papalia. She is the lead actress and the face of The Den. There aren’t many moments in the movie without Papalia in them so it was important to get just the right actress to play the part of Elizabeth Benton. “The casting audition was very intense because really the movie is all Elizabeth,” Donohue said. “So with Melanie we wanted to see if she was interesting when she’s not doing much and when she’s big, when the scares are happening, can she scream well. That’s always important for these kinds of movies. But also, does she bring that intensity that’s going to put the audience on the edge of their seats? I’m very delighted that she took the leap of faith because there were a lot of scenes we were doing where it was very bizarre and unnatural. My direction would be like, ‘Eyes to the left and imagine there’s a thing on the side of the screen. Now move your eyes to the right.’ A lot of small things that, when we were done, she’d be asking, ‘Was that right?’ I’d be able to tell her that it was going to look great, and she’d be really excited about it. Melanie is a very cool person, and she loves horror movies and has always wanted to be in one. It was great working with her because we were both kind of starting out. I’m happy we did this together.”

From director Zach Donohue comes The Den, starring Melanie Papalia, Adam Shapiro, David Schlactenhaufen, and Matt Riedy.

Look for it from IFC Midnight in select theaters and on VOD on Friday, March 14th, 2014.

Synopsis
After receiving a grant for her graduate thesis, Elizabeth Benton (Papalia) logs on to a video chat site known as THE DEN on a mission to explore the habits of its users. During one of her random video chats, Elizabeth watches in horror as a teenage girl is gruesomely murdered in front of her webcam. While the police dismiss it as a viral prank, Elizabeth believes what she saw is real and takes it upon herself to find the truth.

Her life quickly spirals out of control as she gets pulled deeper into the darkest recesses of the internet. And eventually Elizabeth finds herself trapped in a twisted game in which she and her loved ones are targeted for the same grisly fate as the first victim.

The Den

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Scott Hallam