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Interview – Darren Lynn Bousman Talks DEATH OF ME, Interactive Horror and SPIRAL

It almost feels like a lot of us have grown up with the name Darren Lynn Bousman. Not only has he always supported us here at Dread Central, he helped continue the Saw legacy helming parts II, III, and IV, gave us the goth love letter to Rocky Horror with Repo! The Genetic Opera, and his latest delves into folklore horror with the vacation nightmare Death Of Me starring Maggie Q, Luke Hemsworth and Alex Essoe.

In our conversation below, Bousman had some wonderful words to say about the community here at Dread Central, his new venture into immersive horror this Halloween for one of the first online experiences of its kind, One Day Die, and his return to the world of Saw with the now May 21, 2021 release of Spiral starring Chris Rock.

Death Of Me, a departure of sorts that still has Bousman’s signature style, debuts in theaters and On Demand and Digital on October 2, 2020.

Synopsis: Vacationing on an island off the coast of Thailand, Christine (Maggie Q) and Neil Oliver (Luke Hemsworth) awake hungover and with no memory of the previous night. They find footage on Neil’s camera, and watch, horrified, as Neil appears to murder Christine. With twenty-four hours until the next ferry and a typhoon threatening the island, Christine and Neil attempt to reconstruct the night’s events—and are snared in a web of mystery, black magic, and murder.

Dread Central: I was wondering if you had any Halloween plans? I know growing up in Kansas City, you would go to every haunted house.

Darren Lynn Bousman: I do, I’m actually really excited. I have an immersive, interactive experience opening this Halloween called One Day Die which I’m really excited about. It’s this really macabre, cool, at-home horror experience that you can participate in online. It’s gonna be a busy Halloween.

DC: Yeah, I guess that’s an offshoot of your Tension Experience, the immersive play you were doing. I know that you had potentially partnered with the Russo brothers in Vegas, I’m sure those talks have stalled a little bit since the pandemic. Do you still see interactive theatre as the future? Is it a more distant future now?

DLB: No, I absolutely do. I love making movies, it will always be my passion. My number one passion. But the thing that I’ve always had with movies that frustrated me as an audience member as well as a creator is movies are passive. You watch them and they happen and no matter what you do, they still happen. You get up and go to the bathroom, they continue; you talk through them, they continue; you yell at the screen and they continue. You can’t interact with them. I love entertainment that’s interactive, that you as an audience member control it and are a part of that narrative. So, it started about four years ago with the Tension Experience where I started trying to figure out how can you take a narrative and make the audience the critical role. They are absolutely critical to everything about it. We’ve done one every year and we planned on doing something live this year but we can’t so we adapt. So now, this thing is taking place online.

DC: I think it will get a really good response. Getting to Death Of Me, how was filming in Thailand and that experience? You tend to work with the same group of people, was that a more difficult proposition shooting there?

DLB: It was extremely difficult. It was the first movie that I’ve ever made that I had none of my crew on. I have almost a repertory of people that I work with both as actors as well as crew members. I felt like a stranger on a strange land but I guess that’s what the movie is about as well. It’s people that are basically being taken out of their comfort zone and have to fend for themselves without anyone. So, I think it actually worked for me.

DC: You mentioned your actors. With Alex Essoe and Luke Hemsworth and Maggie Q, you have these actors that really commit to scenes where they’re inflicting or enduring a lot of pain. Does it seem easier to convince actors to embrace the extreme a bit more when they’re aware of your horror resumé? At least your resumé early on in your career?

DLB: First off, I’m such a huge fan of Alex Essoe. I was a huge fan of Starry Eyes, I thought she gave a tour de force performance in that. There are certain actors you just click with immediately and that was Luke Hemsworth. We just bonded immediately. Maggie was a little more complicated because she was in every single scene. Since we shot the movie out of order, she’s running and changing her appearance ten times in a day. Thailand was such a unique experience I think for all of us. The conditions were kind of extreme…so it made the horror come out a little easier. Dealing with heat and rain and mosquitoes the size of bats and not speaking the language. When you’re punching out mosquitoes, trying to communicate, trying to beat the rain, it just lent itself to more of those horrific scenes.

DC: Would you consider this folklore horror? You’re dealing with this small Thai subculture that believes in this kind of ritual. You did The Devil’s Carnival which plays with Aesop’s Fables. Is that something you like to inject?

DLB: Yeah, I think you can see some influences of things like Wicker Man which are very folklore horror. I love doing things about people’s beliefs and what people believe in. It’s so fascinating to me. So we found a story that dates back a few hundred years, longer than that, where this community would take pregnant women and would bury them in the sand while they were alive as a sacrifice to the town. It would basically give the town good harvest and all of these things. It’s one of those things when you read about you’re like, ‘That’s not true. Who would fucking do that?’ But then you look back through cultures of the last thousands of years and you find these types of stories. I think that just fascinates me, I just love exploring people’s belief system.

DC: And it’s still around today, there are still pockets of it for sure. You’ve said that you were really drawn to this story because it shows the power of belief and how all-consuming it can be. There isn’t really a lot of horror that explores belief unless it’s more Christian in nature or it’s a foreign couple that meets a violent end deep in the jungle somewhere, right?

DLB: Yeah, what’s different about this movie or what I like about this movie is some of the more tense sequences aren’t guts being ripped out, which does happen in this movie or people stabbing themselves which happens in this movie, or people getting shot in the face which happens in this movie, but it’s the quiet moments of them just looking or watching or smiling at her or bowing to her or hugging her. You see this town, they’re not villainous. They are not evil. They are not doing this because they are bad people, they’re doing it because they believe in this and they were brought up to believe in this and this is the culture that they have lived. To me, it’s scarier to reason with people that are not monsters than it is to reason with the monster.

DC: There’s still a respect there which I’m sure is a hard line to walk sometimes. Before we run out of time, I do just want to thank you for always supporting us here at Dread Central. We really appreciate, it’s just really cool that you’ve always been a fan of the site.

DLB: You guys have been around and been supportive of filmmakers and independent artists since I’ve been making movies. It’s awesome. It’s one of the last vestibules standing of these types of things. It’s endured, it’s lasted and I think that’s such a commendable thing. It’s where we get our horror news from.

DC: We’ve got a lot of great things coming down the pipeline so it’s an exciting time. I think it’s fair to say, you might disagree, your films are not as extreme now that you’ve had kids. Has it been a challenge to return to the world of Saw now that you’re beginning to steer away from more intense graphic horror? It took some convincing to get you to return.

DLB: Well, it took convincing to get me to return until I talked to Mark [Burg] and Oren [Koules] the producers and I met with Chris Rock and then I was like, ‘Oh, how can you say no to that?’ Here’s what I think. When I was 25 making Saw II, being crazy and insane and bloody was cool to me. It was a gimmick, violence was a gimmick. How can I disgust the audience? I remember that Eli Roth and I had a text chain going about who can outdo one another. He was shooting Hostel and I was shooting the Saw‘s and we’d just texted each other going, ‘I did this today!’ and he’d go, ‘Well, I did this!’ That’s changed for me. I think that’s easy to gross somebody out, it’s easy to do something that will make an audience cringe. But to engage them on a different level or a deeper level, those are things that have become harder. You’re right, having kids has changed me, it has. It’s not made me weaker. You’ll see in the Saw movie there’s some disgusting gut wrenching things that take place in that film, in the movie Spiral. But it’s just done differently, I’m not approaching violence as a gimmick and I used to.

DC: Did working on Spiral feel almost like an alternate universe version of the franchise? It’s not just about the graphic nature of it anymore because there’s such a story that’s built on top of it now.

DLB: I think that the world has changed a lot, I mean fuck, 2020 has changed everything a lot. From when we started making those movies back in the 2000s when there was the Splat Pack and there was torture porn…to where we are now. The world has changed. I think that coming back into Saw, you have to know who the audience is. I couldn’t go make Saw a romantic comedy, couldn’t do that. You know at its core it’s got to challenge the audience, it has to be intense, it has to be ballsy. But I also don’t think you have to show bones popping out and compound fractures to do that. There are some great things with the Spiral movie, for example, that are, to me, cringe inducing that don’t involve the same tricks that I did ten years ago. Again, there is a lot of blood in Saw so I’m not saying that. I’m just saying that coming back into it I think all of us have grown up a lot, from the producers to the actors to the writers. And then Chris brought such a unique flavor and taste to it that I think the audience is really gonna dig it because it’ll have everything they love about a Saw movie. But it approaches everything a little differently. It still has that flavor and continuity that you’ve come to love from that universe.

DC: Do you know if there’s any kind of new trailer or new footage coming out around the holiday, around Halloween?

DLB: I don’t. I’ll tell you, it was such a crazy last couple of months when we finished the movie. We were rushing the movie, it was going to come out in May, I was in Toronto in March doing the final on the picture and color, and we hear they’re going to close the border from America to Canada and we were rushing to get done. It’s a hard thing to try and put something out and push something out when there’s so much time that has to pass before it actually is released. So, I don’t know what their plan is. I’m guessing it’ll be starting in the next few months pushing that May 21 release date.

DC: Thanks so much for your time, man. I’m in San Francisco right now so we’ve got some orange skies and worrying about the fires. I was just wondering if you felt there was an undertone of a climate change warning in Death Of Me or is that something you chose to not really lean into?

DLB: I don’t know. I’ll tell you, I saw pictures today of San Francisco and it absolutely looks like Blade Runner there so stay safe, that is insane and 2020 couldn’t get worse…it just fucking did. Death Of Me, it tiptoes around a couple of under-the-surface topics that we never specifically say. I want to kind of leave it for the audience. But I think that the whole thing is a storm is coming to destroy this and what has to happen to stop that storm from coming. We obviously take it to the extreme in what we say that is they have to do but I think the writers definitely did try to layer something in there if you look beneath the surface of what it actually is. Here is this horrid thing that has to be done to stop a storm from coming. Hopefully, people will check it out and they dig it and follow us onto next year and take a look at what we did with Spiral which I’m also excited for everyone to see.

Saban Films will release the horror / thriller Death Of Me in theaters and On Demand and Digital on October 2, 2020.

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Written by Drew Tinnin

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