Even though The Den largely takes place within the confines of a laptop screen, that doesn’t mean there’s not a lot going on in the film. Directed by Zachary Donahue from a script he wrote with Lauren Thompson, the film is sort of a slasher inspired found-footage piece with a really engaging protagonist.
In the film, “After receiving a grant for her graduate thesis, Elizabeth Benton (Melanie Papalia) logs onto a video-chat site known as THE DEN, on a mission to explore the habits of its users. During one of her random video-chats, Elizabeth watches in horror as a teenage girl is gruesomely murdered in front of her webcam. While the police dismiss it as a viral prank, Elizabeth believes what she saw is real and takes it upon herself to find the truth. Her life quickly spirals out of control as she gets pulled deeper into the darkest recesses of the internet. And eventually, Elizabeth finds herself trapped in a twisted game in which she and her loved ones are targeted for the same grisly fate as the first victim.” Starring Melanie Papalia, Adam Shapiro, David Schlactenhaufen and Matt Riedy the movie is currently on VOD.
I recently hopped on the phone with Donohue to talk about The Den and discuss his favorite slashers! Check it out below!
Your lead, Melanie [Papalia], has to give a lot of herself in the movie. A lot of vulnerable moments and the camera is square in her face most of the time. What was it like guiding her through that?
When we were auditioning for the role, our main thing was “can you bring something to the role where you’re interesting to watch even if you’re not doing anything?” And Melanie really blew us away in the audition. I think the scene where she’s calling her sister is a good example of her being really intense and acting against nothing. Sometimes she would be acting against a pre-recorded video and sometimes it would just be her.
Since the frame is a laptop screen, how do you approach frame composition?
We had a pretty good idea of how each shot would look with the final VFX going into the script. When the screen is divided, there’s an intention behind that. Whether she’s watching a video or it’s something else. For some of the shots, like when she pulls up her gmail, it plays pretty realistically. Using the webcam we wanted to use interesting mise en scene, but we didn’t want to be too stylized.
Lauren Thompson co-wrote this, is this something you guys came up with together?
It was a story that we developed together. She brought in an idea that she had. We’ve been writing partners for three years and when we got to LA she got this random job working for this website that was very akin to chatroulette and her job was to basically go around and spread the word about the site by talking to people who were already on the site. Kind of a customer relations thing. But a lot of the people she would talk to would prank her or just be very sexual. It was interesting in that there was sort of this noble idea, but the internet is the internet.
So you’re commenting on that?
We’re commenting on not only the chatrouletters but just comment threads in general. Like a YouTube comment thread, things get really out of control with trolling and stuff like that. If you read these threads there are some really bizarre people out there. We’re trying to do an all encompassing thing.
There’s a strong slasher element, can you talk about some of the slasher films that influenced you?
I grew up on Friday The 13th and the Halloween franchises. I also love Dario Argento movies, and in some capacity I think there’s a little bit of Dario in this. I think there’s a bit of Scream too it as well. For us I think we were trying to do a Paranormal Activity meets Friday The 13th.