Zoe.mp4 reimagines the serial killer movie
The indie thriller from Vancouver’s Jeremy Lutter features a killer who thinks she's helping her victims out
Vancouver-based director Jeremy Lutter said when he first got the script for his new film, Zoe.mp4, it was a "real page-turner."
The psychological thriller, written by Ryan Bright and Jesse Boyko, is a new take on the serial killer movie. In Zoe.mp4, the killer, Alina — played by Emily Tennant — isn't motivated by hatred or rage or sexual perversion, but by a sort of deranged altruism. She thinks she's freeing her victims from the mundanity and disappointment of their lives. The film's title comes from the name of a woman, played by Julia Sarah Stone, whom she kidnaps and plans to kill — a young architect she meets in a diner.
Lutter said when Bright and Boyko first brought the project to him, they envisioned it as being all found footage and from the serial killer's point of view. "It was just going to be the three of us," he said. "Like, 'I'll hold the boom, and you'll hold the camera. It'll be so simple.'"
But Lutter felt the script was too good to do on such a small scale.
"It just kind of grew.… I got into it," he said. "I didn't really want to shoot the film on my own, so I asked my [director of photography] friend if he was interested, and then he was like, 'Oh, you should really, like, try and get some fancier cameras.' And then we did. And then I came back to Ryan and I was like, 'Guess what? It's not found footage anymore.…' I laughed when we arrived on set with our 20-person crew or whatever, and I was just like, 'I thought it was just the two of us?'"
Lutter said while some directors get excited over the technical details of filmmaking and "geek out over lenses or whatever," he considers himself an actor's director.
"I think that movies are really about plots," he said. "They're about emotion. [Whether you're] engaging with the story has everything to do with [whether you're] engaging with these actors. I will do anything to make an actor have more time on set or just make sure that it's the performance that we both want.… I just think it's magic when an actor does a scene and it comes to life."
That approach makes sense for a movie like Zoe.mp4, where so much of the film is just two characters interacting with each other in a room. He said he and Bright had worked with Tennant on another project, a short film called Reset, and he could tell immediately that Alina was written with her in mind.
"I messaged him back and I said, 'So Emily is the serial killer, eh?'" he said. "Emily's an amazing actress. She's completely underappreciated. I don't know why she's not a famous Hollywood type."
He has equally high praise for Stone, who told him she took the part "because it scared her." As Zoe, Stone spends much of the film tied to a chair.
"She can't use her arms or her movements," he said. "And she said, 'I was scared about how I was going to do that.' But she wanted to do it to grow and as a challenge, and I think she managed to pull it off."
The fact that so much of the film happens in one location was a challenge for Lutter, too, who said he was constantly experimenting with camera angles to make the movie visually interesting and create tension.
"I was a bit scared about how to shoot a movie in one place and still make it look interesting," he said. "I watched a lot of David Fincher's [Netflix series] Mindhunter. Most of that is just in an interrogation room, but he makes it look compelling."
Another challenge in making the film was the production schedule. The whole thing was shot in just 13 days. Lutter said he compensated for the lack of shooting time by doing theatre-style rehearsals with the two leads.
"Usually [in film], it's like, 'Oh, we can just do that again.' But there's something in rehearsing that's good — that theatre got right, I think," he said. "You're either having a rehearsal on set and paying everyone to sit around or you have the rehearsal before."
The next challenge, he said, is getting the film in front of audiences. It's currently on the festival circuit, but still doesn't have a distributor.
"I made the film because I was in love with the story and wanted to see it done," he said. "I'm not the hugest person on making plans … but I think it'll find an audience somewhere."
Zoe.mp4 will screen as part of the Whistler Film Festival, from Nov. 29-Dec. 3, check the website for details.