Darren Bousman is a horror movie visionary. He’s directed some of the genre’s most successful films; movies like Saw II, III, and IV. He has also done some great cult classics such as Repo: The Genetic Opera and Tales of Halloween. Bousman’s latest entry into the Jigsaw universe, Spiral: From the Book of Saw was supposed to have a 2020 release but has been heeled into 2021 like most blockbusters that fell victim to theatrical pandemic restrictions.
There is good news though, and that comes in the form of his latest movie Death of Me which hits theaters, On Demand and Digital on October 2, 2020. It’s a bit of a murder mystery, if you will, which centers around American married couple Christine and Neil (Maggie Q and Luke Hemsworth respectively). As they vacation in Thailand, strange things begin to happen after it’s discovered that Neil appears to kill Christine on video.
Moreover, neither of them has a recollection of the incident and an approaching storm threatens to keep them stranded before the mystery can be solved.
Bousman sat down with iHorror to explain a little about his career, the future of Spiral, and why Death of Me is sort of a turning point in his career.
We also got a chance to speak with Alex Essoe (Starry Eyes, Doctor Sleep) who plays Samantha; a mysterious American woman in the film who may have an island secret of her own.
Speaking with Bousman, I was a little taken aback by his casual nature. Not that I expected him to be stoic or forbearing, but let’s face it, 2020 has been hard on everybody, especially artists. Instead, the 41-year-old was very eager to talk about pretty much anything. We started off talking about Death of Me’s shooting locations.
“We filmed half of it in Bangkok and another half in a place called in Krabi which was where we filmed all the water shots and those pretty ocean shots,” he explains. “And then the other part was filmed in Bangkok and they could not have been two polar opposites. One is the most beautiful wide-open area possible then you go to Bangkok and it’s packed, and it’s crowded—there were tons of people. It was quite a unique experience.”
This novel shooting location was perfect for the story. Although viewers might think the local lore in the film is based on fact, it’s really not. That’s something Bousman was adamant about.
“So, one of the things that was really critical of myself and the producers—actually all the filmmakers going into this—is that you’re not going in and making islanders as savage, nefarious, terrible people. It’s not a good look.”
He adds: “One of the things we wanted to do was first off, fictionize the mythology so we’re not actually damning a certain belief system or mythology. We created a mythology from the ground up. Secondly, I wanted to make sure that some of the villains in the piece were not just to get islanders being terrible to westerners. So casting played a very big role in this. Casting somebody like Maggie Q who, in the movie, numerous times they think she’s from the island. You know the doctor and everyone asking, ‘you don’t you speak Thai?’ And she’s like ‘no, I’m American.’”
That brings us to a character that lives on the island who is actually an American settler, Samantha, played Alex Essoe. She plays the owner of the Airbnb. Bousman says he made her an expatriot for a good reason, “I wanted to make sure to depict that some of the most manipulating people on this trajectory of this sacrifice were not islanders at all but people that had transplanted to the island.”
Alex Essoe as Samantha
Essoe’s character has questionable motivations. She says that depending on how you look at it Samantha could be good or bad.
“I think, as far as her sort of ideological social circle goes, she’s definitely a hero,” Essoe told me over the phone. “She thinks of herself as a hero certainly which is kind of what is so scary about the fundamentalists, the believers. That is really scary because when you believe in something anything you do in service of that is justified in your mind.”
Creepier still is how Essoe plays the part; a sort of low-key burn that feels altruistic, but maybe a little sinister.
“Actually, one of the things that Darren said that completely clicked it into place for me was very much based on Ruth Gordon’s character from Rosemary’s Baby,” Essoe says. “You know, she’s a sweet little old lady who brings her (Rosemary) stuff to eat and things to wear around her neck to make her feel better. And Ruth Gordon is one of my heroes. A brilliant actress and writer. This woman is so smart and the way she played that character is so smart.”
Bousman agrees it’s scarier to have people in films do seemingly nefarious things for their greater good. “They are not villainous for what they’re doing. They are trying to protect their family, protect their elders, protect their children, and preserve their way of life. And would you not do the same thing if it was not your family?”
That could also be said of another character of questionable ethics, Jigsaw, in the Saw movies. His victims are given choices, all of them gruesome. In Death of Me, there is some graphic violence but it’s not as prevalent as the body horror the director’s known for. Bousman says his tastes have changed over the years.
“As I’ve gotten older and since I’ve had kids, for sure, my relationship with gore is changed,” he says. “I’m a lot more squeamish now than I ever was. I’m affected by those images a lot more than I ever have been. I think because I can put myself in a position of my own children, of my own family.
“That said, you know, I still love horror movies and I still love violent movies. And trust me, Spiral is violent. Death of Me has violence in it. The difference is, I don’t use violence as a gimmick, and I don’t use gore as a gimmick which I used to.”
“When I was making my early films, that was a thing. I remember when I was making Saw 3, Eli Roth and I would always text each other and try to outdo each other. It was a thing between Eli Roth, Rob Zombie and myself—we’d always try to one-up each other. We had this set of ongoing jokes between Saw 3 and 4, and I think he was shooting Hostel 2 and I forget what Rob was doing—he wasn’t doing Halloween, it wasn’t Devil’s Rejects either—I’m not sure what he was doing. And to me it was a gimmick, I used violence as a gimmick. Now I think I use violence as a part to tell the story.”
Unlike Spiral, Death of Me is a smaller production. I asked Bousman if that was more relaxing not to be under the constant supervision of studio execs or other outside voices.
“Nah, this was probably the most stressful movie in some respects because we had no time,” he says. “It was complete, complete rapid-fire shooting. We shot the movie in about 21 days I believe. But more than that there was no prep. I think we had about two weeks to prep everything. That’s not a lot of time. With Spiral we had eight weeks.”
“Like, Maggie arrived on Monday and we filmed on Tuesday; there’s no time on things like this. But I also think that also helps the movie. There’s not a vocal chorus of people trying to try different things. And that’s kind of how this movie worked.”
Death of Me is one of those horror movies that probably won’t get the press it deserves unlike Spiral, but it’s definitely worth a watch. The mystery unfolds in backward order which is fun and adds to the suspense.
“Those are my favorite kinds of movies as well; I’m sure you can tell. I really, really like doing that subgenre.”
As for Spiral, Bousman assures me it’s coming. For now, it’s scheduled for March 2021.
“Spiral was supposed to come out a while ago and then it got derailed like most movies did due to COVID,” he says before we hang up. “I hope that we can figure out COVID quickly and get back because I want to go in and see Spiral. You know, it’s such a cool movie. I’m so excited for people to check that out.”
For now, you can check out Death of Me when it hits select theaters, On Demand and Digital on October 2, 2020.