For the release of FRIEND REQUEST, Craig spoke with director Simon Verhoeven about what it’s like going from comedy to horror films as well as what being an actor brings to the table in terms of directing.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Hi Simon, thank you so much for speaking with me today. To start things off, what attracted you to the idea for FRIEND REQUEST?
Simon Verhoeven: A distant friend of mine had died and his Facebook profile was still online. A couple of weeks later there was a message from his profile in my inbox late at night. Of course, it was only his brother sending out a collective message to his friends… but, for a moment it really freaked me out deeply! That’s when I started thinking about this situation and became fascinated with its thematic possibilities: dead people’s profiles that stay active; dark, mysterious images on a timeline; and being “friends“ with people you don’t know really know much about.
NC: What has it been like changing genres from comedies to horror?
SV: I think there are some similarities between the two genres. A lot is about timing, about creating a heightened reality and certain expectations and delivering punches, so it did not feel that different to me. But, the tension on set and the mood is different. If you always film gruesome killings you need to balance that with jones and laughter, much more than filming a comedy!
NC: Given your comedy background, was it important to weave a lot of humor into this tale?
SV: I think there actually is not that much humor in this film. Ha! Here and there are small moments, but looking back I think I should have created more of that… Maybe since I came from a comedy background I wanted to go somewhere else and tried to avoid these comedic moments bit too rigorously.
NC: How has being an actor yourself helped to inform your directorial style?
SV: I always try to have a very intimate, open and honest relationship with actors. I know a lot of their experience, their insecurities, and doubts. After all, even the biggest stars often feel very insecure on set. So I see it as a main part of my job to encourage them again and again, so they feel free and confident enough to follow their impulses, to really get into the moment, and to add to life to the character.
NC: Where did the distinct visual style come from during some of the more art based moments?
SV: I wanted to create a beautiful, dark world on the profile of Marina. To me and many others, dark art is very beautiful. There are absolute masterpieces online, Gifs, animations, drawings, photographs, that’ll blow your mind and most of them are totally overlooked by the commercial world! There is an amazing level of artistry and skill in the horror community, I believe. I wanted to capture some of that in the film for sure.
NC: Do you believe social media to be as much of a plague as this film makes it out to be?
SV: No, not a plague but something that we haven’t yet learned to master in a healthy way. And especially social media makes us all feel vulnerable in some way. We share our most private thoughts, pictures, dreams with a machine that we don’t really have control over. We expose ourselves to strangers and strange powers constantly! We become friends with people that in reality really aren’t our friends at all. There are many other interesting and scary aspects of social media, too, of course.
Personally I feel we are all part of this one big experiment called the internet. We all use it, we all pretend it is totally normal, but there is something alien about it… something larger than us. The internet might come across completely technical, but since millions of people put their thoughts, dreams, souls into this machine each day there also is a subconscious, mysterious, uncontrollable, and almost supernatural side to this system that I find fascinating and scary.
FRIEND REQUEST is now in theaters nationwide from Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures.
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