CS Interview: Director Darren Lynn Bousman talks Death of Me
Just in time for the film’s debut in select theaters and on digital platforms, ComingSoon.net got the opportunity to chat with director Darren Lynn Bousman (Spiral) to discuss his latest horror genre effort Death of Me starring Maggie Q (Fantasy Island) and Luke Hemsworth (Westworld).
Warning: Some Spoilers Lie Near the End of This Interview for Death of Me
Bousman credits a few things for drawing him to want to step behind the camera for the tropical island-set project, one of the major being his being a fan of producers Lee Nelsen and David Tish, with who he has “had a couple of projects” in development with them that never came to fruition.
“When they called me asking if I wanted to do this movie it was very easy to say yes, they’re such genuinely nice dudes,” Bousman warmly opined. “In a place where there’s not a lot of nice people, it was great to work with two producers who were legitimate fans of the genre and were just sweet guys all the way around. Then, they sent me the script and I thought it had a really unique high concept premise, which was basically in its essence a horror version of The Hangover. You wake up one morning and you forgot the events of the night that transpired before and try to retrace your steps of what led you to this horrible discover that they find on the video. I thought that was such a great high-concept premise and the ability to go to Thailand was exciting, I love going to different places, I love working in different places and expanding the repertoire of knowledge of how other people make movies in other places, so I thought getting to go to Thailand was something to jump at.”
Though scouting the area of Thailand and finding some of the most beautiful locations he’s seen, shooting in the southeast Asian region proved to be “one of the hardest physical shoots” Bousman’s ever been on as well as being “the fastest movie that I’ve ever done” with only a 20-day shooting schedule.
“The thing that was crazy is that you always learn stuff when you go to different places, I’ve shot in Japan, I’ve shot in Barcelona, but with Thailand what was different was the traffic is insane, there’s no way to describe it,” Bousman described. “I’ll give you an example, we arrived in Thailand and we flew into Bangkok and we were driving to our hotel, the hotel was a mile away, but navigation said it was take two-and-a-half hours through traffic, so we ended up having to get out of the car and just walk to the hotel because of how challenging it was to get there. Now imagine a film shoot where you’re trying to do multiple locations, multiple whatever, and you have a 10 or 11-hour day, sometimes you would be in a car literally three-and-a-half hours to get between locations and then you have to shoot the day and then it’s three-and-a-half hours back.”
When he and his crew weren’t fighting “crazy bat-like mosquitoes that carried dengue,” of which he had no knowledge of prior to traveling to the area, Bousman and his team had to work around “one of the hottest months of the year,” which proved to create a number of creative and practical challenges for the returning Saw director.
“From a comfort standpoint, it was a rough shoot, but making movies is not about being comfortable, so that’s just me being a little crybaby on that,” Bousman chuckled. “I’ll give you an example, obviously I’ve made a lot of gory films and this originally had a lot more gory scenes in it, but when you’re shooting a movie as quickly and as rapidly as this, dealing with heat can be a challenge. We’d put prosthetics on someone and they would walk to set and five minutes later the prosthetics would sweat off them and it might’ve taken an hour-and-a-half or two hours to put those prosthetics on. One example is there’s the women with the kind of crazy faces in this, they were only allowed to keep those things on for about five to six minutes before they’d have to take them off and take a 15-minute break because there was so much heat and sweat that would occur.
“Shooting in a place like Thailand, wherein my previous films you were either in a soundstage or in a controlled environment, this was not a controlled environment, and I think that also makes it kind of look cool,” Bousman recalled. “A lot of the places that we filmed in, there was no production design, we literally put the camera up and would get the people that lived there to be in the film and interact with Maggie and Luke and that was exciting, I had never had a process like that before. Finding these great little streets, we would talk to al of the people that lived there and we’d say, ‘Hey we’re shooting a movie, can we shoot outside your place?’ and then 15 minutes later we were shooting a scene there. But the locations were beautiful and that’s what matters, Thailand has some of the most beautiful locations I have ever seen. It was so crazy, because you’d walk down some streets like you were on Rodeo Drive and then you’d walk down other streets and it was just like you see in the movie, the villages by the water, the docks that kind of connected all the houses, it was just a unique terrain which was exciting to film in.”
When it came to building his cast, rather than begin with his leading star, Bousman actually turned to casting a key supporting role in the film and set his sights on Alex Essoe, the Starry Eyes breakout actress most recently seen in Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep as Wendy Torrance.
“I was a huge fan of Starry Eyes, I thought she was just fantastic in that, so she was the first piece,” Bousman explained. “Luke came along right after that, I met Luke for coffee and there’s just certain people you click with immediately and he’s one of those people. He was just down to earth, he was fun, he was busting balls almost immediately, so I really really enjoyed working with Luke. Maggie, I’ve been a fan of for years, I’ve watched her from her TV shows to her movies to even the comedies that she’s done and so I wanted to cast somebody that wouldn’t play the character as a victim. I didn’t want this victim kind of mentality and Maggie has such a strong presence already that she was a natural fit for this because she’s already quite the badass. She didn’t want to play the victim either, she wanted to constantly be questioning everything and constantly be moving forward instead of being stuck in this victim mentality, so I think Maggie, when you meet her as a person, she’s very much that already. The locals that we cast out of Thailand were some of my favorites, a lot of those people we found, we found literally just walking the streets and I would find somebody with a unique look that I loved. We would just go up to them and say, ‘Hey, would you want to be in this movie?’ and we would get them to agree to be in the film, so a lot of the people you see on camera speaking Thai were just people that were found in Thailand days before just based on the look and authenticity of them.”
In addition to Death of Me, this year also saw Nikita and Designated Survivor star Maggie Q travel to another evil island in Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island reimagining and when looking at having both films in the same year, Bousman jokes it must “be a hard life going from one exotic island to the next exotic island” for the 41-year-old star.
“I think Maggie did Fantasy Island right after she left us and I literally think it was the next week she went from us to there,” Bousman recalled. “She’s an in-demand actress and beautiful actress and is awesome, so I think that’s random happenstance.”
In looking at the film past just its thrills, Bousman noted that he’s “tried to stay way from the shock gimmicks” of his past films and that he found there was a lot to this film he found scary, namely in that “none of the town views themselves as villains.”
“They’re doing it as a long tradition and as a necessity to protect them and I always think that is much creepier than someone is just a serial killer or is being crazy,” Bousman explained.” When you’re looking at this movie and you’re going back and realizing is kind of in cahoots planning this event, they’re doing it to protect their sons and their daughters and their grandparents and their elderly. Some of my favorite scenes aren’t even inherently violent, they’re just reaction shots, like when Maggie and Luke walk through the village looking for the bar and all those people are sitting there having lunch or dinner, they all turn to her and smile. There is a genuine appreciation for what she’s about to do for them, because she’s about to save their lives and I just thought that was an interesting premise, one life could be taken to save a thousand, does that make you selfish if you’re trying to save yourself and letting all these people possibly die? I always thought that was a cool hook and I just loved their faces and if you go back through the movie and look at their faces as she walks by them, they smile and bow to her and give her gifts or nod or hug her and it’s this creepy ‘What the fuck, what the fuck is going on?’ I just really responded to that, there’s some really great moments in the movie with the local actors showing their appreciation of Maggie, which ends up having a nefarious purpose.”
In Death of Me, vacationing on an island off the coast of Thailand, Christine and Neil Oliver 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.
The film stars Maggie Q (Nikita, Fantasy Island) as Christine, Luke Hemsworth (Westworld) as Neil, and Alex Essoe (Doctor Sleep) as Samantha.
Death of Me is directed by Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw films) from a script co-written by Arli Margolis, James Morley III, and David Tish. It is produced by Tish, Lee Nelsen, and Charles Dorfman.