INTERVIEW WITH A FILMMAKER: Director Preston DeFrancis Talks ‘Ruin Me’, Extreme Escape Rooms, and the Slasher Resurgence

T: We understand that the idea for Ruin Me sprang from interactive horror experiences that you attended. What role did these experiences play in the writing and shooting of Ruin Me?

P: Trysta and I, along with our creative producer, Aaron Galligan-Stierle, had a great time attending both extreme haunts and escape rooms to help us research this project. I can honestly say we never attended a bad one! The people responsible for these are such talented, creative folks. What we did come away with, though, was the fact that we were never actually scared at one of these. So we started to imagine what it would take to really freak us out. And that’s how the idea for Ruin Me was born.

Ruin Me’s fictional extreme haunt, Slasher Sleepout, is very much its own thing, not quite like any single one that exists (at least that we know of!) But we knew we wanted to bring in the puzzle-solving aspect. We also knew we wanted to dramatise the experience you have when in an escape room, which is constantly asking yourself – “Is this part of the game or not?” If you’ve ever done one of these things, you find yourself questioning every item in the room, trying to figure out if it’s something you should use or not. For instance, I remember one escape room in which I was convinced a little box on the wall must have held the key to the solution, and I started monkeying with it, and the organisers were like, “Don’t touch that, that’s the air conditioning control!”

T: Why do you think we’re seeing a resurgence of interest in slasher films at the moment, and particularly in films that, like yours, play with the tropes and expectations of the genre? 

P: The structure of the slasher film is such a powerful paradigm. It speaks to us on a primal level – the fear that our friends and loved ones will be taken away from us, and we will be left alone to defend ourselves against a powerful evil. That structure, I think, will always be around. At the same time, that paradigm has been used quite a lot in horror films, so I think that filmmakers like me enjoy taking what has gone before, acknowledging it, and then trying to turn it on its head.

Doing that can be a lot of fun for us who grew up watching these, and I think that’s one reason we are seeing a lot of “meta” slashers right now – the 80s VHS kids are now adults and getting to put our own stamp on what we loved when we were young.

It’s an interesting challenge to do slasher film these days, especially in terms of how meta you get it with it, because you are kinda damned if you do and damned if you don’t. By that I mean that if you just go completely straight with it, the audience may be like, “Oh, we’ve seen that before.” And if you get meta with it, the audience may be like, “Come on, just give us a basic slasher!”

For us with Ruin Me, we really wanted to ultimately make it about one character’s journey. So that was our guiding light.

T: Ruin Me is a film that keeps the audience permanently off balance. Can you describe the significance of keeping the viewer guessing?

We tried to be hyper-aware that audiences are smart and have seen a lot of movies before our movie. So they are going to be trying to guess from moment one what the answer to this puzzle is. So we tried to plant moments throughout the movie that would lead the viewer down a certain path, thinking they have it all figured out; and then pull that rug out from under them; then lead them down a different path, only to pull that rug, too.

It’s a tough balance, because then we hope that the ultimate solution is both surprising and emotionally satisfying, given everything that has come before.

T: The film sticks to a single perspective throughout, making Marcienne Dwyer’s lead role very challenging, can you explain the reasoning behind this decision? 

P: Maintaining that single perspective was an artistic guide for us. It helped inform everything, from where the camera would be placed to what a music cue would sound like. Our goal was to put the audience in the shoes of Marcienne, who plays Alexandra, our heroine. She has no idea what is going on, things may or may not be really happening, so we wanted to firmly give the audience that same experience.

That’s also another way that our film is unique in relation to many other films in this genre. Grounding the film so firmly in a single character’s perspective is not something that a lot of other slasher films do, and honestly excited us artistically more than anything else about this project.

The hardest thing for Marcienne, at least from my perspective, was that she was in EVERY DAMN SCENE of the movie! That meant she was the first actor on set every day, and the last one to leave every day. She never had an “easy” day where she could just come in and coast, or where she could go enjoy swimming in Lake Michigan with other cast members who weren’t called. She had to bring it every single day – and she did!

T: So what are your future filmmaking plans, and do you have any upcoming projects? 

P: My day job is working as part of the writing team for television shows. I was an associate producer on Manhunt: Unabomber, which aired on the Discovery Channel in August and is now available on Netflix streaming. In terms of this team’s next film, we are working on a script called After The Summer, about a 21-year-old college student who gets interested in a murder in the small town in which her family has a summer home, and decides to lie to her parents and skip her senior year of college to investigate. Her sleuthing puts her in great danger from… well, I can’t tell you any more than that…

A huge thank you to Preston DeFrancis for talking with us!

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