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Christopher Webster [Celluloid 11.08.17] horror

[Editor's note: This interview is transcribed, but you can now subscribe to Quiet Earth's podcast on iTunes or via RSS!]

Joe Lynch's latest film, Mayhem, slides into theaters and digital platforms November 10, so we sat down with the hard working horror director to discuss the film, why Steven Yeun is so awesome and whether or not its a zombie movie.

In the film, Steven Yeun plays Derek Cho who discovers that the law firm's building is under quarantine for a mysterious and dangerous virus. Chaos erupts throughout the office as the victims of the disease begin acting out their wildest impulses. Joining forces with a former client who has a grudge of her own, Derek savagely fights tooth and nail to get to the executives on the top floor and settle the score once and for all.


Quiet Earth: I remember when DREDD came out, there was an interview with Alex Garland where he said that it was 'extremely irritating' that he had to do interviews where people asked him about THE RAID and the similarities between the two films, particularly because there was an implication that his film somehow lifted its plot from that film when anyone who understands movie making would know that would be impossible given how closely the films were released.

Do you feel the same way now that MAYHEM is following so closely on the heels of THE BELKO EXPERIMENT which appears on the surface to be in the similar wheelhouse?

Joe Lynch: It's a double edged sword. Obviously every filmmaker wants to be the one who came up with the genius idea that no one else has done and you're totally standing on your own pillar of uniqueness. But at the same time, if I'm going to get compared to THE RAID? Fucking A, man.

Look, those types of bottle action movies, and MAYHEM is actually one of them, are films that I enjoy! I love pressure cooker films like Assault on Precinct 13 or Die Hard. I mean, I essentially made one with Everly which is 'Die Hard in a room'!

In terms of The Belko Experiment, I had read it and for a hot minute I was actually up for it. I read that script, and this was after I had committed to Mayhem, so I read it to see how similar it really was, because I didn't want to make something that was completely derivative, of course, but after reading it I realized that the two films had a decidedly different tone. Belko was not exactly the fun roller-coaster ride I wanted to make, be more comedic, or a straight satire.

So, I actually felt a lot better about making Mayhem after reading Belko, because there are a lot of stories out there to be told in all kinds of tones. And especially as we see corporations becoming more and more influential, I think we're going to get even more.

Speaking of there being lots of stories out there, what about your own story? Before you broke into filmmaking full time did you have to suffer the horror of the 9 to 5 grind like the rest of us?

Dude, when I got this script I was working the 9 to 5 grind! Movies don't make the kind of money that sustains filmmakers anymore. We are the working class shmoes and not the guys we all grew up thinking were reading scripts by the pool between movies.

All that shit is dead. If you want to make movies, you REALLY got to want it. They're not throwing money at people making movies anymore. So as soon as my last film, Everly, was done, I was developing stuff but I had to find other work and I ended up at a corporate space just to do that, so when the script came around it actually hit me on a personal level because I could absolutely relate to Derek. I was thankful for the job, but inside I wasn't fulfilled creatively.

In that sense, when Mayhem came to me I really felt I needed to tell the story, not just make another movie so I could throw in a bunch of homages and whatever, but I knew there were people who shared the frustration and would respond to the material in the way that I did.

It's no secret to anyone who listens to your podcast, The Movie Crypt, that you're a big Walking Dead fan. Is that why you wanted Steven Yeun?

I was such a huge fan of him specifically. I loved the show from the beginning. It's the show I've wanted since I was twelve. But it's the characters that makes it so palpable.

Watching Steven go from the hapless pizza delivery boy to a real leader and a flawed protagonist by the end is an amazing transformation. Every time he was on screen I responded so positively to what he was doing.

So this weird circumstance of events and timing gave us a soft greenlight where we could go out and find our Derek. And it just happened to be the same week as the famous dumpster episode where it seemed like Glen was dead. So, I remembered being heartbroken. Everyone was freaking out online. But I also thought, "what if Steven was my everyman?" It's so rare to see someone have that level of likeability where everyone is on board, hearts broken when his character dies.

Knowing Mayhem could be terribly dark at time and knowing that the characters would have to make dark choices to survive, I knew I needed someone like Steven, who could seem conflicted but you go with it.

I went in the next day and said, "What about Steven?" And it wasn't a stretch because the producers also produce Walking Dead, but to their credit they said, "Hey, that's not a bad idea!"

How important was Steven to getting the project to ultimately go, then?

Normally, if you're budget is much higher, you are more responsible for the returns so you need to find someone with a certain level of cache, that you can guarentee and return on investment. You know that Willis or Cage will bring a certain return just from being on the poster. They can get movies made just on their name.

Since our budget was modest, we weren't cast contingent which gave us the flexibility to take chances on people who were not big names in the movie world, but had a decent following and were perhaps more what we were looking for.

Do you consider Mayhem a zombie movie? It's a-typical in some ways, but also in that vein. Was it hard to articulate?

I just had this debate with my kid about mummies. Are they zombie just wrapped up? Discuss.

The point is, you can look at a film like 28 Days Later and discuss whether it's "a zombie movie" based on the rules that Romero laid out. That's a very specific design. Of course there was a model before that as well. The earlier zombies were slow moving, but they didn't eat flesh, they were cursed in some way. So these things evolve and, you're right, it's a very particular sub-genre.

I don't consider Mayhem a zombie movie at all. It's in the wheelhouse of a pandemic film, where there's an outbreak, it's an outbreak movie for sure, but the thing that excited me the most about it was the virus in this movie has a very particular symptoms and we got to detail what phase 1 is like and phase 2 and so on.

The thing that I loved about the script in general is, in a regular zombie movie, 9 times out of 10 your leads are NOT infected. There are a few exceptions (Otis, Warm Bodies), but mostly they are not. And when I was reading Mayhem, I was like, "Hold it. By the end of act one, EVERYONE is infected? Holy shit!"

It became a new idea and also a challenge to ensure the audience will continue to side with characters who are under the influence and doing terrible things. I thought it was really cool.

It also does what good horror should be doing, which is transgress storytelling tropes in ways that other genres just can't do due to the nature of it.

Horror is a great playground for that, yeah.

Talk a bit about the release. You're working with SHUDDER right?

It hits iTunes and digital and theatres November 10. Then it hits Blu-ray at the end of the year before moving to SHUDDER in February.

I'm really excited about that because I love shudder myself. They saw Mayhem as being something they can push and that's awesome. Of course I also want to see my films on the big screen as you can imagine so we worked out this awesome deal between RLJ and SHUDDER where we got to have our cake and eat it, too.

I would suggest seeing it in the theater. It's engineered to be seen in a crowd and we've had some success winning audience awards at fests so something must be working. But if you can't get to the theater and you don't want to be a jerk and pirate it, you have a ton of options to check it out at the same time.

There's nothing more frustrating than hearing about a movie and not having anywhere to see it because it's in limited run. This way, everyone can check it out which is great.

Thanks Joe!

Anytime, man.

Outtake: Joe Lynch reminisces about Wrong Turn 2 and working on studio films:

Recommended Release: Mayhem

Follow Christopher Webster on Twitter.

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