April Fool’s Day, a holiday which either elicit’s a feeling of nefarious euphoria or outright dread. Having been on both ends of the spectrum, I’m at a point in my life now where my stance on the holiday is pretty neutral; however, I am understanding of why people are hesitant to interact with anyone during that 24 hour period. With all that said, I was interested to see how Blumhouse/Hulu’s latest segment of “Into the Dark” would celebrate this day in jest.
In anticipation of April’s episode, I had the chance to speak with director Adam Mason about I’M JUST F*CKING WITH YOU. Though not the biggest fan of the holiday, Mason still delivers an episode that brilliantly combines humor and carnage along with commentary on the state of social media and the mask some of us hide behind. During our chat, we talked about everything from the use of comedy to online trolls and why Mason doesn’t consider I’M JUST F*CKING WITH YOU to be a horror film.
Hi Adam, thank you so much for speaking with me today! To start things off, can you tell us a little bit about your segment of Into the Dark?
Adam Mason: I’M JUST F*CKING WITH YOU is about a loathsome internet troll called Larry whose on his way to a family wedding he really doesn’t want to go to…because the love of his life, who dumped him a few years back, is getting married to his first cousin. Anyway – to avoid crushing humiliation he decides to avoid the wedding party and checks into this super seedy joint called The Pink Motel. Here he meets Chester, a self-confessed “purveyor of cocktails and jokes”, who spends the rest of the night playing merciless tricks on Larry, that start off innocuous enough, but quickly descend into murder.
What was it about the Gregg Zehentener and Scott Barkan’s script that interested you in the story? Are you a fan of April Fool’s Day?
Adam Mason: I’ve never really spent too much time thinking about April Fool’s itself, I’m always the guy who just falls for it. The script landed on my desk and I just thought it was hilarious, really twisted and funny. It changed massively during production but there was the seed of a really cool idea in the original draft.
Most of the movies I’ve made have been about duality, and this was another chance to talk about that, as Larry is a protagonist whose surface value is nothing like what lies beneath. And the movie for me is about him being forced by Chester to confront and admit to who he is…which is his godawful alter ego P-Flaw.
There was a wealth of great material in the writers original draft that I thought could be expanded upon, lots of themes and elements that I then started layering in. I wanted to create a morality tale about what happens to armchair-sociopath internet bullies when they meet someone genuinely psychopathic in the real world. I had a lot of fun with that. It was exciting for me to make a movie where I really didn’t like the protagonist. I pretty much hate Larry. He’s all that’s wrong with the modern world, just a weak loser who picks on people from the safety of his keyboard.
I made a decision early on that as director, and kind of God of the ‘I’m Just Fucking With You’ universe, that I was going to try and play the same prank on the audience that Chester is playing on Larry. That was a really unique opportunity for me, and a gamble in a lot of ways, as I knew a lot of people would wonder what the fuck was going on, and probably hate the movie as a result! You’ll notice if you watch it, that the film is pretty much always on the side of Chester, which is a kind of Funny Games move I suppose. It all starts off innocent enough, but as Chester’s true colors start to come out, the movie doesn’t particularly change tone, as you might expect.
The music, in particular, this mind-blowing score by Chino Moreno from Deftones, almost goes out of its way to stay on the side of Chester. And that’s a pretty neat little magic trick I think. The fact I was given the freedom by Blumhouse and Hulu to make choices like that was really exciting to me. They gave me so much freedom to make this film. And I think as a result of really committing to that insane approach – the movie is really original. It actually has something to say about the not terribly pleasant world we live in today. It’s funny, cause now that the movie is out, and I look online, and aside from mostly fantastic reviews, the movie is now getting trolled by internet trolls who don’t like the fact that they are getting trolled by a movie! That to me is just the perfect result.
One of my favorite aspects of the film, besides the humor, was the color palette. Can you talk a little bit about why you chose to go with neon colors as opposed to a more muted palette usually seen in horror films?
Adam Mason: I just never once really approached the movie as a horror film, I always saw it as a comedy, albeit a super dark one. I was actually inspired by films like After Hours, Fear and Loathing, and Weekend at Bernie’s.
The color palette was born out of a lot of projects I’ve done in the past myself, which I’ve DP’d as well as directed. I normally light using a very stripped back approach utilizing largely practical lighting, super fast lenses and a lot of gelled bulbs! When you shoot at night, this gives for this striking image.
The best thing about that approach to lighting is that you can light 360 degrees, which allows the actors to be able to go anywhere they want without the whole thing being about the camera and lighting. I really hate it when lower budget projects become all about that… if you’re not careful the camera can basically take your whole production hostage, so that everything revolves around that. I wasn’t going to let that happen on this one.
This was a pretty intense shoot – we shot the whole thing in 16 days, which is one of the shorter schedules on a feature I’ve ever done. That meant we had to move really quickly, and I knew that because this movie would live or die on its performances we couldn’t be only giving the actors one or two takes, which is usually the way these things go.
So myself and the fantastic DP Lyn came up with this really actor-friendly way of shooting, that was also really visually bold. And I couldn’t be happier with the results. Lyn is a really rare talent, as is the production designer Cecil. Together, they really helped me create a whole little world out of The Pink Motel.
What were some of the themes you were hoping to convey through this story? The biggest one for me was that you never really know who the villain is at first – eventually, it’s obviously Chester but Larry also has an insidious nature to him.
Adam Mason: I like to think that it’s about this vile internet troll who comes across a much, much, much bigger troll, and gets totally troll fucked. To that end, it’s a bit like watching an episode of Jackass or something. As much as I love the internet it’s a really evil place. Every time I release something, whether it’s a new movie, or music video, or whatever, you can just guarantee you’re going to get a load of bespectacled dork-psychos tearing you a new one. It’s just the nature of the beast at this point. You see parents who have been through hell with their kids, getting trolled online.
It’s complete madness! And that’s because the internet is a supposed safe place, much like how people become emboldened behind the steering wheel and suddenly feel like they’re Conor McGregor. I loved the idea of some venous little cocksucking internet troll meeting the Goliath of their world and sitting back and watching what would happen. Larry is basically too weak to do what Chester does, i.e. to someone’s face… even though on the inside he’s really not so different.
And I’m not really saying there’s any greater message behind that because clearly, Chester is an awful human being doing awful things. I just liked the idea of making an amusing parable about why people should be more careful with the way they bully and belittle, because once in a while it’s going to really blow up in their faces.
I also tried to layer some humanity into Larry. Like the whole Cindy Hughes thing. I don’t think anyone really turns as bitter and nihilistic as Larry without some kind of reason. The message there was Cindy hurt Larry, and now Larry lashes out at anyone he can, particularly women who he feels fearful and demasculated by. I’m pretty sure that’s something most trolls can secretly relate to.
Chester and Larry worked perfectly off of one another which is why I think this episode of Into the Dark was so successful. What was the casting process like?
Adam Mason: I made a decision early on to just cast squarely out of the comedy world. I didn’t want the movie to ever feel like a horror film, with horror stereotypes in it. Kier [O’Donnell] came up early on. I think his performance in Wedding Crashers is literally one of the greatest comedic performances of all time. He’s also coincidentally married to a really good friend of mine – and I’d just met him in the past year or so and made a subconscious note to myself to work with him at the first opportunity I had. I think he’s just fantastic. When this script came about, my wife Elizabeth read it, and was immediately like “You know who would be fantastic for this Kier…” and she was right, as always.
Finding the right Chester was a lot, lot harder. We saw countless people and none of them was what Marshall, my wonder producer (and true unsung hero of this movie) and I were looking for. Then this gangly terrifying David Koresh looking dude walked through the door, wearing glasses and a massive gold chain and when he squeezed my hand it was so hard I thought it would fall off. He then did the best audition I have ever seen and promptly left while I was trying to ask him questions. Marshall and I looked at each other, both feeling the same thing, but I was legitimately scared he was a proper psycho. I was actually intimidated by him that I didn’t want to work with him unless I knew he wasn’t really like that. So Marshall and I called around and it quickly became apparent that it was just him being in character the whole time. When I met Hayes [MacArthur] properly for the first time it was literally like meeting a different person because Hayes is a wonderful, gentle, and funny guy, and nothing like Chester at all. It was a hell of a testament to how good an actor he is.
For Rachel, we were looking for someone who would balance out Larry and make him at least a little bit likeable. The fact she seems to love Larry, and the fact she’s the only normal, nice person in the entire movie – is really the only thing in the film telling people to give Larry any kind of a choice. Jessica [McNamee] was so perfect to play this part, she’s a fantastic actress with great comedy timing. I also loved how feisty she is, and that really translated to Rachel through Jessica’s performance in a way that wasn’t on the page at all. Larry is such a man baby, Rachel almost feels like his mum, having to stick up for him to the nasty bully Chester. Those are some of my favorite parts of the movie.
Last, but certainly not least, are there any additional projects you have in the works that we should be keeping our eyes out for?
Adam Mason: Yes, I just directed another episode of Into the Dark called THEY COME KNOCKING which is really awesome and completely different to this one – it’s a super emotional horror movie. I’m also doing twelve music videos and a feature film for Alice in Chains called ‘Black Antenna’, which I’m currently about halfway through, but is coming together fantastically. I can’t wait for people to check out both other movies even though I know the trolls are already lurking…
Into the Dark’s I’M JUST F*CKING WITH YOU is now streaming on Hulu.