ANN MASSEY O’REGAN spoke to award winning Irish film Director Stephen Gaffney to discover more about the Dark Web and the man behind the troubling horror film ‘Red Room’ that has been leaving cinema goers disturbed.
ANN: What made you decide to become a film maker and what is it about dark concepts and harrowing storylines that holds your interest?
STEPHEN: I always wanted to make films since seeing The Exorcist. I was about 10 at the time and it absolutely terrified me. I became a bit obsessed with it, looking at documentaries and reading the book. I decided at a young age that I wanted to make films that would impact people in the same way The Exorcist affected me.
I started out making two shorts in 2013 before studying film in Ballyfermot College. Throughout college I directed music videos and then my first feature ‘Bully’ in 2015. It was after Bully I decided to drop out of college. I felt I learned a lot more through making a feature than any film course could teach me.
How do you decide what kind of or film to make?
I make the films I would want to watch myself. I’m not a huge fan of comedies and I hate musicals. Dark thrillers, gangster films and horror are my favourite genres. I would never make a film that I would not watch myself. That’s the very first thing that enters my mind when I begin to write a screenplay; would I watch this? If the answer is no I scrap it.
Most of my films have some sort of personal experience attached to them. That’s not to say I am a serial killing, bullying drug dealer though. I put elements of personal experiences in the films. I have a very dark sense of humor and this usually seeps through even the hardest of story lines. This usually happens a lot on set, a serious line in the script could be delivered differently by an actor and I would find it hilarious and decide to keep it in.
‘Deep Web Films’ is your production company so what is the ‘Deep Web Films’ concept?
The Deep Web is also known as the dark net. It requires an encrypted browser to access and is untraceable. Needless to say, this is where a lot of cybercrime takes place. I made a short film called the ‘The Deep Web’ about an online child predator. Doing research for that film was how I found about the dark net / deep web.
The whole thing fascinated me. It was like illegal Amazon; you can buy drugs, fake money, hire hit men, nearly everything illegal is freely advertised on websites that can only accessed anonymously through the encrypted browser.
Doing research on the Deep Web in general is tiresome and somewhat disturbing. Red Room research was most definitely the most disturbing I ever did. I held back a lot on what Deep Web Red Rooms actually are, the film is a watered-down version of what ‘services’ are advertised online. Even then the film is still hard hitting and during a recent screening a lot of people were left white in the face.
Your films are very much relating to psychological impact and the use of the internet as a conduit for heinous events. Do you think this area is underrepresented in film why did you decide to hone in on it?
Two things always struck me online:
On Facebook and Twitter there are tons of extremely violent real life videos. I can’t scroll down my timeline without seeing some sort of violent content and what really sticks out to me are some of the comments on these videos. There are people who literally are desensitized to real life violence and they leave crude comments, usually jeering the people who died or got extremely hurt. I don’t understand how certain people could think like that.
The second thing is a person who was close to me committed suicide due to online bullying through private messages. This was another major reason why I concentrated on cybercrime in my films. We take the internet for granted but there is a huge dark side to it all that I don’t think is explored in film enough.
As for people being desensitized to violence, that’s where ‘Red Room’ began to expand from a general gore film that I had planned for years to something more of a reflection on society today.
‘Red Room’ on the surface seems to be a horror shocker, yet not so much about those committing the atrocities but those watching for kicks. What made you take this avenue?
I tried to imagine what the thought process was behind the people who thought it was funny to watch someone being seriously injured or killed. I just expanded on the idea of the people who get enjoyment from video violence and incorporated with Deep Web Red Rooms.
Doing research for the film, I often looked through the heartless commenters’ profiles, some are obviously fake troll accounts yet others were real profiles with family and children. This really shocked me that these seemingly normal people could be so passive to real violence. It really boggles my mind.
I had to hold back on some of the violence which seemingly happens in real Red Rooms, although the film does touch on it. I could have taken it a lot further but I didn’t feel comfortable myself even trying to write those scenarios.
The film was made to be more of an endurance test for the audience. The film concentrates on these people paying to watch violent images while the audience are doing the exact same thing by watch the film. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it is as violent or disturbing as A Serbian Film or Murder Set Pieces, but it is hard hitting.
People will complain about the violence and I am okay with that, because after they complain about the violence they will be glued to their smart phones watching real violent images and videos without batting an eye lid.
Fans of the horror genre will find extreme dark humour in parts and yes, I did make this for horror fans. Texas Chain Saw Massacre was an influence and when writing Erica and myself decided to focus a lot more on the watchers instead of the victims. It was a different, more interesting and unique.
What is it about horror that keeps viewers fascinated and are you a horror fan yourself?
I am a huge horror fan. Ironically, what got me interested in horror was the ‘Video Nasties’ list from the 80’s. Being told you aren’t allowed watch a film because it was too horrific just made the films even more interesting.
I watched nearly all of them and was actually let down by most. One of the infamous films is rated 15 today. It really backfired on the English government publishing a list of banned films which essentially turned out to be every horror fan’s shopping list.
I think what horror fans enjoy is basically being safely scared. Seeing a horror film in the cinema and anticipating the jump scares, feeling tense, crazy plot twists, trying to watch the over the top violence without looking away is all a huge adrenaline rush.
Do you think the horror film market has become saturated with poor quality movies and bad remakes and are Indie films the way forward in ensuring quality and originality?
I can’t say that all remakes are bad, some of them are good; ‘The Hills Have Eyes’, ‘The Thing’… I do wish they would stop making them though for the sole reason that the money could be put into some great, original script that is most likely in a producer’s bin now. Poor quality B movies, however, go hand in hand with horror. It’s all about finding that hidden gem.
Indie films are the way forward, most recently I watched ‘The Devil’s Candy’ and I absolutely loved it. Most of these films break barriers and give us original content. I think it’s great that we live in a digital age where if a film is not picked up for distribution the makers can upload it themselves to VOD and still have an audience. I’d pick an Indie film over a mainstream film any day.
What is the best thing about making your own Indie horror movies?
Being able to write and actually make a horror film without any limitations really let me express my frustration with most horror films today, being made teen friendly to make more money at the box office. That has always really annoyed me and It felt great being able to just make a horror film without limitations.
‘Red Room’ is next being shown at Horror Expo Ireland in Dublin on 29th October 2017. More screenings can be found at: www.facebook.com/redroomfilm/
For a teaser of ‘Red Room’ watch here: