Walking the film set for Don’t Click – the upcoming supernatural techno-horror – I was struck with the incredible amount of detail that went into building the world of a crumbling student apartment. The grime was perfectly settled; abandoned dishes and bits of garbage were cohabiting with sentimental tchotchkes, with records, DVDs, and books that told me everything I needed to know about the characters. An odd wave of nostalgia hit me, thinking back to every university party apartment I’d ever wandered through.
In sharp contrast, there’s a much darker set that alludes to a world of pain, torture, and plenty of suffering. The floor of the large, dark, sparse room is splattered with blood — which appears to be very fresh. The few furnishings tickle my imagination with ideas of what the heck went on in here.
Don’t Click follows Josh (Valter Skarsgård) as he returns from a late night out to find his college roommate, Zane (Mark Koufos), missing. All that remains of Zane is his laptop with the screen flashing on a graphic pornography site. The flashing intensifies and Josh blacks out. He suddenly wakes beside Zane in a dank, surreal cellar with no way out.
“That kind of starts them off on this adventure – adventure sounds fun, but it’s not,” Skarsgård explains. “It’s sort of this alternate reality setup in which Josh has to try and figure out why he’s there, how he gets out of there, and what’s going on.”
“I’m not going to go into much detail,” he added, “but it’s a lot darker than I’m making it sound.”
As Josh tries everything he can to save both his friend and himself from a vengeful entity that begins to take control of their bodies and minds, he realizes his biggest challenge to escape may be himself.
“[Josh] kinda gets thrown into this whole world that he’s not really accustomed to, which is why it’s very confusing to try and figure out what’s really happening,” said Skarsgård, “It’s not something he – or really it’s not something anyone would expect – but definitely not Josh. He’s just there to party and get through school, basically.”
Naturally, as a horror film, Don’t Click serves up plenty of blood and brutality. Actor Mark Koufos experienced the wild world of filming a horror movie as his first feature role. “It was a bit crazy,” said Koufos, “I actually couldn’t physically see or talk for a few days just because something happens to me. It was a first for me.”
“It’s great that for my first film I’m doing so many things that many actors haven’t done,” Koufos continued. “To do this all as my first is… it’s great! It’s great. Really, just to see how a horror film is filmed, it’s been really fun.”
As you can imagine, it takes a lot of setup to create that brutal, bloody world. Skarsgård touched on the experience of shooting an elaborate scene in a horror film, and how much work goes in to one quick shot. “The scene’s going to look so fast and be over in a few seconds almost, but shooting one set up can take a whole day because there are so many moving parts and everything that’s got to work together,” he said. “And blood. A lot of blood.”
Of course, Skarsgård comes from a family with a rich catalogue of work in genre film. But has that translated to a love for horror? “I kind of have a love-hate relationship with horror,” he admitted, “because it scares the crap out of me, but that’s kind of why I like it — that’s the point of watching it”.
As for Koufos, “When I was younger, absolutely not, I was so scared by everything.” But there was a turning point when that terror developed into an appreciation for the genre. “You saw the beauty of it”.
For Howard, it was her love of the genre that drew her to Don’t Click. “I love horror movies,” she said, “so immediately I was like “yes I’m going to do this”.”
“When I say [this character] is who I am, this is not actually who I am,” Howard joked, “but a part of me resonates with her and it was a way for me to get out feelings and emotions that I’ve had cooped up for a long time”.
Don’t Click was developed from a short film into a feature-length film by screenwriter Courtney McAllister, who worked closely with director G-hey Kim to find the right tone for the film.
When it came time to develop the short into a full feature, McAllister explained that there was a lot of room to play. “The short itself is actually only 4 minutes, so it’s a micro short,” said McAllister. “We had a lot of room to grow and expand the story. The intro of the film is very much inspired by the short, and then we had the rest of the story to write. We’ve got the intro,” she concluded, “and now we can write the rest.”
The story uses the techno-thriller elements to shine a light on some pretty gross online behavior. “[Zane] has this weird fantasy with something that’s pretty unethical and brutal,” actress Catherine Howard explains. “In today’s society, we do so many immoral, unethical things, but we don’t have any repercussions from them because it’s all in the dark.”
When asked what they hope audiences will take away from Don’t Click, the stars were all in agreement about the film’s cautionary tale.
“That they think before they click – that they don’t click, sometimes.” Said Skarsgård, “Technology has brought us so much good, but I think this highlights what can go wrong as well.”
Koufos continued, “It will show people how technology controls our lives now. It does. It completely controls our lives,” He said. “Sometimes you need to put your phone down, or video games; it could be an addiction that could lead to something worse that you don’t think would actually happen.”
“Stop doing brutal things!” Exclaimed Howard, “if you’re a bystander in something that you’re watching — if someone is either being emotionally abused, physically abused, psychologically abused — if it’s happening you’re not just watching it. You’re part of it.”
“The screen completely mediates your experience and your interpersonal relationships,” explained McAllister. “While it has a lot of benefits it also can be like a shield. You just go on and be more cavalier about the things you can say and not really be held accountable even though it’s pretty horrific.”
“I do like this natural shift where we’re going into socially conscious horror movies and something with a bigger message or allegory of some kind.” Said McAllister, “Having that be an integral part of the storytelling now. I hope that people walk away with it not just having been terrified – which I also hope! – but I hope they noodle it a bit more”
After wandering backstage to check out some of the props and look at how everything comes together (and stumbling upon an extremely realistic torture chair), my day came to a close.
The team behind Don’t Click are passionate and dedicated, but perhaps most importantly, they’re excited. It’s a promising project, and I think horror fans are going to be just as excited when they see it.
Directed by Centennial College Film Graduate G-hey Kim and based on her short film of the same name, Don’t Click is produced by Bill Marks (WolfCop, Hellmington) and executively produced by George Mihalka, Christopher Giroux (Bite, I’ll Take Your Dead), and screenwriter Courtney McAllister. The film stars Valter Skarsgård (Lords of Chaos, Fun House) and Canadian rising stars Mark Koufos and Catherine Howard.