Tara Subkoff makes her directorial debut with #Horror, a film based on true events about cyber bullying gone horrifically wrong. The film follows a group of privileged preteen girls, whose obsession with a disturbing online game goes too far and a virtual terror becomes all too real. The film stars Chloë Sevigny (American Horror Story), Timothy Hutton (American Crime), Natasha Lyonne (Orange is the New Black), Balthazar Getty (Twin Peaks), Taryn Manning (8 Mile), Stella Schnabel (Rampart) and Sadie Seelert. I had the pleasure of taking part in a virtual roundtable with Tara Subkoff and Chloë Sevigny. You can read the interview below where the two talk about #Horror, the horror genre, cyberbullying and more!
Tara Subkoff: First of all, thank you so much! It’s been my dream to make a film. I think since I was a little kid and my mom was making movies and showing us how to cut the film together and paste it, I’ve always wanted to make one. I come from doing a lot of other visual other sides of things, art, fashion, so I think for me, I’m a very visual person and it was a super important esthetic part of the film that it looked right. I’m such a huge genre fan, from being a kid with my brother, we watched everything growing up that we weren’t allowed to watch. We had to go to friends houses, my parents were actually quite strict, so we weren’t allowed to watch anything rated R. I think horror is my favorite genre honestly, cause it’s so visual.
Q: The backdrop of the film almost seemed to be a character in itself. Why did you decide to choose winter and where was it shot?
Tara Subkoff: Because I must be a masochist (laughs), no i’m joking, that’s my New York sense of humor but I grew up in Connecticut myself and so did Chloë [Sevigny] and I think winter is a huge part, one of the most scariest and claustrophobic times in Connecticut. Winter is very scary. Being outside is scary, the harshness of it, the starkness of it, the isolation and growing up in Connecticut I feel like I remember winters really well, everyone would have a cold and chapped lips and then kids from what I remember at that age and being bullied myself at that time, girls were the meanest in the winter time (laughs). I think it was boredom or lack of nice weather. To me, it is part of the plot in kind of an obvious cliché way but I’ve always wanted to shoot it at that time. I also, I worked with real twelve year old girls who had required a lot of tutoring and stuff and we shot all through their Christmas break. With minors, you can only shoot for so many hours a day so we were able to shoot longer hour days and it was a low budget movie.
Q: The girls are absolutely fantastic in the film, how was it directing girls to be so mean and terrible towards each other?
Tara Subkoff: I workshopped them two weeks before we started shooting and I come from doing some improve acting and I really love this woman Silvana Gallardo, who has passed away but I used some of her techniques. Also, I would totally give it up to Chloë. One of the first scenes they had was with her because Chloë had to shoot first and I think that…number one, they were all blown away, star struck and impressed but I think that how natural and organic Chloë’s talent is, she really has this brilliance and talent that’s so rare with actors today. I think it comes from another time like classic forties film stars…
Chloë Sevigny: Aww shucks…(laughs).
Tara Subkoff:…I think once they were working with her, they really had to rise to another level and they did. I think that when you’re so young and you’re around things, you pick up on things easier. They really did, I swear Chloë, they were so much better after working with you.
Chloë Sevigny: Even though you work with someone for so long and they rehearsed, being around someone else who was comfortable around the camera, probably helped them kind of be more at ease.
Q: The movie is revolving around cyberbullying and we have access to so many things like gaming and social media, where it’s very easy to hide behind a screen, can you talk about what you’ve learned about cyberbullying and being aware?
Tara Subkoff: Sure…firstly the film is loosely based off of three different real life incidents that I exaggerated much, much more. Very close friends of mine whose children were twelve at the time, were going through very bad cyberbullying and one of them even went to boarding school in another country and it followed her there and I thought that it was horrible, it was truly a horror story. For me, it’s much more scary than a ghost. Statistics on cyberbullying, over a hundred and fifty-thousand youths attempted self-harm last year because of cyberbullying. Seventy percent of kids feel that parents. teachers and schools don’t handle bullying affectively. I’m part of this organization called Bridget, where we developed an app that just launched and has gone not ten schools in New York, which is a platform that schools can put into every kid’s phone where they can report bullying, then it erases off of their phone, so no other kids can tell that they reported it. It’s already saved some lives in a specific school.
Chris Salce: I have a question for Chloë, you have done a good amount of horror projects over the years. You’ve slowly but surely became like a modern queen of horror
Chloë Sevigny: Have I? (laughs).
Chris Salce: I feel like you have…
Chloe Sevigny: This is only my first horror project…well, ‘American Horror Story’, ‘American Psycho’, Tara’s [film]…yes…
Chris Salce: What is it about horror that has attracts you to the horror genre?
Chloë Sevigny: Well I think it’s specific per case. With Tara’s film, I think the message that she wants to say is very important and of course she’s a very close friend of mine and I believe in her as an artist and a voice, I like to support female filmmakers and I just knew that she was going to do something special and something that we hadn’t seen before and I wanted to be a part of that.
Tara Subkoff: Thanks Chlo!
Q: To Chloë, I read a quote from an interview with Rolling Stone in which you said that you find that the internet gives some people freedom but you just find it terrifying.
Chloë Sevigny: It’s true. I just feel that being in the public eye and having to deal with the repercussions of bullying, even as a forty year old woman. I remember when the internet first started moving and my publicist said that the first rule to being a public person in the public, don’t read the comments. And I feel like there’s sort of an anonymity there where people feel like they can just go off and they’re protected by their anonymity and I think a lot of darkness comes out of that. I think there are certain online publications like Rookie and others for teenagers, where they refuse to print anything negative. When ever there’s a negative comment, they erase it and I think that that is a great thing that a lot of other people or platforms that are geared towards younger people, should try to imply.
Q: Did that effect your opinions on the events in the movie and did that make you want to play the role of Alex Cox more?
Chloë Sevigny: I mean it did, I think the role of Alex…she more exemplifies kind of the lack of presence in parents in the household and how maybe the parents can be more involved in what their children are doing. I think that that’s kind of more representative of my role. I think that the absentee of a parent seems more of kind of an epidemic.
Q: What do you guys hope that ‘#Horror’ can show the masses about cyberbullying?
Tara Subkoff: I hope it freaks everyone out! (Laughs). I hope that it raises some awareness to the gravity of it.
Q: When you play a character that is kind of remote to her children and also kind of abusive towards her assistants, you kind of have to level that with something likable, can you comment on how you balanced the character?
Chloë Sevigny: Well I think whenever you play a character as despicable as they are, you have to find something in them that you love and I think that I was synthetic towards her, towards her aging, towards her husband having an affair and there are different things that you can grasp on to make it a reality to see why she’s so selfish. She’s trying to fix herself and she’s not necessarily a good mother because she’s so self obsessed.
Tara Subkoff: I’m just going to add to that because I think that’s such an incredible response and well put but I think that as an audience, I think that we also relate to characters that are flawed. Often times in Hollywood characters are too perfect and they don’t seem real. As humans, we are all struggling and posting on how our lives are so great and perfect on Instagram and we are not. And Alex, as perfect, as beautiful as she looks, she’s deeply unhappy and that struggle makes her lovable.
Q: Chloë, have you learned anything new about your own abilities in acting or personal life after filming this movie?
Chloë Savigny: Well it kind of solidified a lot of things for me. Like when I’m working with a friend or someone I have a lot of respect for, I really rise to the occasion. I’ve known Tara for almost twenty years. Having a trust with the director really frees up the creative process for me as an actress. I feel braver, more excited about pushing things and trying new things because I know that I’m in safe hands with her, a person that I love and trust rather than just a director for hire.
Q: In the scene where Dr. White bullies the girls, as a director, how did you manage that sort of trust between them? The girls looked absolutely terrified.
Tara Subkoff: I think Tim [Hutton] is a great actor as we all know, but Tim really wanted to surprise the girls and not tell them what he was going to do, so we kind of didn’t even rehearse it, we just went for it and a lot of what I used was that first take. I mean I wrote the scene but he brought so much to it and intensity to it that it really shook them up naturally. It was very believable. He went full tilt boogie with it.
Chloë Sevigny: He went full tilt boogie on me at one point too (laughs) but that was the environment that Tara set for us, where we felt loose and can try new things and really push it and sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t.
Q: What are your biggest fears? What’s the type of horror movies that terrify you?
Tara Subkoff: Oh for sure mine is ‘The Shinning’! For me, ‘The Shinning’ is terrifying because the idea of your husband turning on you or your father, that to me is the scariest thing in the world, is what does someone have inside of them. It’s far more terrifying than anything paranormal.
Chloë Sevigny: Mine is a little less deep than horror but I’ve been watching a lot of ‘The Walking Dead’ as of late, I’m staying in a house in Venice working on ‘American Horror Story’ and I’m just kind of in a neighborhood that I’m not really comfortable in and I’ve just had that terrifying fear of the breaking and entering kind of fear. That kind of fear of like someone hiding behind the door or someone pushing you in from behind while you are entering the house. I’ve had a couple of nights where I’ve woken up terrified.
Q: For Tara, there’s definitely a reoccurring theme in the film with body image and people’s disconnection with reality and each other, these issues existed before social media, but how do you think social media as increased the issue?
Tara Subkoff: I think we are in a cultural narcissistic epidemic. We are so obsessed with our phones and ourselves that I think what will eventually happen is scary because I think compassion is done.
Chloë Savigny: I think that also with bullying, you would only have it in school and then go home and be a bit eased of it but now there’s people still looking on their phone and it just continues, it’s like a twenty-four hour cycle. I think that’s the biggest problem with phones.
Tara Subkoff: Exactly and I think that it’s so difficult for parents or teachers to get a handle on it because it’s on their phones and they can’t see it. Then all of a sudden kids just kill themselves because they can’t take it anymore. What I do think is that it really has upped the ante on bullying and it’s given it a whole other realm of terror and horror.
#Horror opens Friday, November 20th in NY and LA and on VOD.