TRIGGERED is an exciting, new thriller-comedy from South African filmmaker Alastair Orr. The film tells the story of a group of friends on a camping trip in the wilderness who awaken to find themselves locked into suicide bomb vests. As the plot unfolds, it becomes clear they are victims of a crazed lunatic who ensnares the friends in a twisted survival game. Only one of the friends will survive the night, and each individual is awarded extra time on their bomb for eliminating the other competitors. I was fortunate to get the opportunity to talk to Reine Swart, Sean Carmeron Michael, and Liesl Ahlers of the film to learn more about what went into making TRIGGERED.
Reine Swart is a South African actress who has appeared in many films and television shows, including SyFy’s Z Nation. She plays the role of Rian—a clever and capable nerd who is determined to survive the night. Sean Cameron Michael is a South African actor best known for his featured roles in shows such as Black Sails and Blood Drive. In TRIGGERED he plays the role of Peterson—a murderous psychopath with a personal vendetta. Peterson is the central villain of the film, and is the wicked mind behind the bomb vest game. Liesl Ahlers is a South African actress who is best known for her appearance in Friend Request. She plays the role of Erin—a guarded young woman with the drive and determination to survive Peterson’s wicked game.
I’m interested in your first impressions of the character when you read the script, because all of the characters are given a label on their vests. Rian’s is “Nerd,” and I just wondered how you felt about her label? Do you agree with it? How did that label influence your portrayal of her, if at all?
Reine Swart: My backstory for Rian would be that yes, she is a nerd, but she’s also very ambitious and she works very hard. So she’s going to maybe own a company, and a lot of people are going to work for her one day. She’s very positive about herself, even though she is a bit nerdy. Her ambition drives her, and she has a lot of really strong characteristics. Building that backstory for her really helped me think and act like her. I think she can be a bit irritating to the other characters because she likes to correct them and tell them how to do things. She’s not shy or anything, she’s very strong-willed.
This film was shot entirely at night, out in the woods. How did that environment play into the mood of the film? What were your favorite aspects of filming in that environment? What were some of the challenges and benefits?
Reine Swart: It’s actually a very good privilege to get to do that because you don’t have to use your imagination much. Everything’s there—it’s already dark, already scary. Those feelings come naturally in that setting. There were spiders and snakes so I didn’t like that, but if I needed to be scared I’d just remember there could be a spider on my head, or something. There’s a lot to use, which is really great.
Sean Cameron Michael: My first scene was a moment where the kids first wake up with these bomb vests strapped to their chests, and I sort of come through the woods and make a grand entrance. On the first take of that, I slipped in the mud and fell on my ass. It was supposed to be a really eerie, scary entrance and I was sort of sliding all over the place. Shooting in the rain and the mud was definitely a challenge. But it definitely did help set the mood being in a forest at night.
Sean, your character Peterson is a very layered character. He has a lot of strong feelings about Millennials, and about how shallow friendships have become in that generation. Have you related to any of his thoughts on Millennials?
Sean Cameron Michael: Well first of all, I’m very lucky enough to have a Millennial niece, so she keeps me on my toes and up to date with that generation. Peterson is a very flawed and damaged character—his son has died of a drug overdose, and then his wife commits suicide as a response to that. Through a series of events he ends up finding the other kids responsible for all of that. Thankfully, I don’t share the same opinions as him—I mostly just used his tragic background as his primary reason for feeling the way he does about Millennials.
What were your impressions of Peterson, and the overall script? How did you prepare for the role?
Sean Cameron Michael: The first time I read the script I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The script is really clever, with a lot of really funny one-liners. It just seemed like such a fun project. As for Peterson, I was very curious about his motivations and reason for doing what he’s doing. He’s so insane, and so crazy. I was very attracted to the entire project, really. It’s a very commercially-appealing script, but also something that seemed like it’d be a lot of fun. It was also such a pleasure to work with Alastair Orr and the ensemble that he had put together.
TRIGGERED is a very intense film throughout. Liesl, as an actress, is there anything you have to do to keep your energy levels where they have to be for your role? What do you do to get into that headspace?
Liesl Ahlers: There is a lot of intensity to the film, from the setup to the dynamic between characters. What really helped me was the environment—middle of the night, shooting in the woods, real spiders crawling up your legs. I mean, it was very real. We had smoke machines going, and just the whole atmosphere and environment on set really helped me a lot. Wearing the vest helped as well, it was kind of tight around my body and uncomfortable, so it helped me get into what my character would be feeling. I think had we shot in a studio it wouldn’t have been as easy to lose myself in the story. If we were to trip and fall, Alastair, the director, would keep it in the film. So we wanted it all to feel very real.
As this is kind of a horror/thriller film, were there any key performances or films you drew from for inspiration, or anything you referenced for playing Erin?
Liesl Ahlers: I have this thing where I tend not to watch films that could be similar to the film I’m going to do because I don’t want them to impact me in any way. One of my favorite horror performances though is Jessica Biel in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, who weirdly enough is also called Erin in that movie. But no, I didn’t really watch anything to prep, I just wanted to go into it fresh.
Lastly, did you have any favorite scenes, or scenes that were particularly challenging to shoot?
Lisel Ahlers: The fight scenes were definitely pretty strenuous. When you’re doing take after take of someone trying to stab you, it can get fairly tiring. As for my favorite scene, I sadly can’t say without spoiling the movie, but I really enjoyed shooting with the prop guns, that’s always a lot of fun.
For more on TRIGGERED, check out our review here. TRIGGERED is now available On Demand and Digital.