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Interview with Simon Verhoeven, Director of Friend Request – In Theaters Today

Evil is Trending

Horror fans have had quite a fun fall so far with the releases of It and Mother over the last couple weeks. This weekend sees the release of Friend Request from the director of Men in the City, Simon Verhoeven. I had the chance to talk with Simon about the new scare-fest. Take a look at the trailer, and read on to learn about the making of the film.

HS: How did you first come up with the idea for the film?

SV: It started with a pretty private situation.  A friend of mine had died in an tragic accident and his
Facebook profile was still online. A couple of days later there was a message from his profile
in my inbox. Of course, it was only his brother sending out a collective message to his friends.
Whew. But, for a moment it really freaked me out deeply!! That’s when I started thinking about
this situation and researching its thematic possibilities. From dead people’s profiles that stay
active to dark, mysterious images on a timeline to Being “friends” with people you don’t know
really know much about.

What drew you to include the occult ideas of the "black mirror"? I think including that in a film with
online horrors is a clever combination.

I am always fascinated by a mix of occult and modern elements in horror films. There are
many ancient, dark rituals that have potential to translate into today’s social media world. The
idea of Facebook, for instance, providing a dark window to someone else’s soul and leading to
a collective worldwide subconscious (plus the idea of your laptop and smartphone being
similar to dark mirrors that were associated with witchcraft long ago) doesn’t sound farfetched
to me. 

How was transitioning into English films? Moreover, how was it directing your first horror film?

The shoot wasn’t easy because we had many locations and I always tried to create a visually
stunning film which is difficult if you don’t have a big budget. The language wasn’t such a big
deal to me since I had studied filmmaking in the U.S. And, of course, I have done horror short
films and developed darker stories in the past. It’s just a world that I always have loved and
lived in! My first films in Europe were comedies, but there is a similarity to the two genres in
my opinion. Both are a lot about timing, heightened reality, about creating expectations and
delivering punches. 

The online social community can be a scary place as it is. Did you research a lot of social media and
things like that before putting together the film?

When I started researching for the film I often got into some occult websites and chatrooms. I
started to become really paranoid for a while. Everything that ever scared you on this planet,
you will find expressed and existing in some way online, too.
And to top it all off social media makes us all feel vulnerable (in some shape or form). We
share our most private thoughts, pictures and dreams with a machine that we don’t really
have control over. There is an uncomfortable feeling about that most of us sense in some way.
Personally I feel, we are all part of one big experiment called the internet. We all use it, we all
pretend to understand it, but there is something still alien about it; something larger than us.
The internet might come across completely technical, but since millions of people put their
thoughts, dreams and souls into this machine each day there also is a subconscious,
mysterious, uncontrollable, supernatural side to this system that I find rather scary.

You've gathered quite the talented cast of young actors. How did they all come together? What was
the casting process like for the film?

The casting process was pretty long. We saw many people in L.A..We got super lucky with
Alycia Debnam Carey early on; she is simply  an outstanding talent! From then on we built the
cast around her and, of course, it was a pleasure to work with all these young actors: Connor
Paolo, Brit Morgan, William Moseley, Brooke Markham, Sean Marquette, and Liesl Ahlers.
They’re all amazing and intense!

When directing a horror film, do you try to keep things light on set or do you like a convey an air of
gloom and doom on set?

Shooting a horror film is often so dark and emotionally exhausting that people sometimes
need to balance that. On set, actors or even crew members suddenly start to laugh for almost
no reasons just to release the tension. So there always is a big laugh around the corner as
everybody on set is highly concentrated. But, still and tense most of the time. I think it is ok
and even important to be silly together sometimes. Otherwise, the whole experience of
shooting gruesome killings and so on is getting too dark and starts wearing people out too too

How difficult was it transforming Liesl Ahlers into the demonic Marina?

It took a couple of hours every day in the makeup truck for Liesl! What a trooper. We all really
liked her demonic alter ego. I think (if you ask me) Jaco Snyman, who developed her look, did
a great job!

Scene 143A; INT Laura’s Apartment – Living Room; Olivia (Brit Morgan) crawls, Marina (Liesel Ahlers) follows.

How was shooting the film in South Africa? Was it difficult to make it look convincingly like Southern

I had been shooting commercials in Capetown before and I always thought to myself, “Wow,
this really could be California!”
But, the problem is in the details. Yes, it ‘looks’ like California in some areas, but the street
signs, the license plates, sometimes even the plants, are all wrong. Plus, they have left hand
traffic. So while it looks rather easy, you have to work hard all the time to really create the
illusion! I think we pulled it off well.

How excited are you that the film is finally getting a wide release in America? 
To me this is still rather surprising since the film already came out some time ago in Europe! So
all of this is still a bit unexpected to me. But, of course, it is super exciting to have a wider
release with a movie in the U.S. I can’t wait for fans to check it out!  

Thank you to Simon for taking the time to talk to us. Friend Request is in theaters everywhere today! Check it out!

Matt Storc

(Chicago Events Coordinator) Matt Storc is a screenwriter and director from the great city of Chicago. He enjoys sharing movies with people almost as much as he enjoys making them. He also does a killer rendition of the other guy's part in Shaggy's "It Wasn't Me" at karaoke."

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