“The Den” is a thriller horror movie about a young college student studying social networking on random video chat rooms similar to Chatroulette. And then unexpectedly, she witnesses a murder in one of the chat sessions as strange events follow the incident.
The film stars Melanie Papalia, David Schlachtenhaufen and Matt Riedy. It marks the directorial debut for Zachary Donohue.
Latino-Review had an exclusive telephone interview with actress Melanie Papalia on her experiences with the film and Chatroulette. She recalls the creepiness of socializing on the Internet and the reflections back towards the movie.
“The Den” is playing in select theaters and available on VOD.
Read the interview transcript below.
Latino-Review: What attracted you to the script for “The Den?”
Melanie Papalia: I think one of the main things that attracted me was that it’s not often a movie was driven by a female character from beginning to end. It just seems really original. It’s a story of this girl who gets trapped in this vortex of Internet hell. This found footage thing has been done so many times, but there’s something about this script that just made it really original. It’s all the things that Elizabeth goes through.
I thought it would be so fun if I could pull it off. Once I auditioned for the movie, I met all the guys behind it who were really cool and very open. Everyone wanted to make something great. So I thought, “Hey! I think I could add something to this.” It just seems like a really good collaboration.
Latino-Review: Did you do any special research for your role? Did you have to go on Chatroulette site yourself?
Melanie Papalia: [Laughter] I did. I actually never have been on Chatroulette before. To be honest and call me naïve, I never really heard of it in passing or gave a second thought to. So when I got the movie, Zachary [Donohue] texted me to tell me to spend some time on these sites and really try to get into it. It was interesting. I felt like I was creeped out with some of the stuff I saw.
I’m glad that I did that, because it definitely gave me materials to use when we were shooting. You see some really messed up stuff on there. It was creepy too. There were some of these guys who were sitting in the nude in the dark doing all of this sick stuff. You know you have the computer as separation and you’re not in the same room or in the same country possibly. It just feels like they are right there with you. It was really unsettling about it.
I decided that I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it at all.
Latino-Review: Oh, really. I’ve never done Chatroulette myself. So most of my experience is watching you in the movie.
Melanie Papalia: I actually clicked on something where it was a bunch of girls in Germany ready to go out. That was kind of funny. It wasn’t really engaging you. I think we depicted [these scenes] well in “The Den. People who engage you are typically by themselves. Everyone online seem to have their own agenda.
So while these people in groups are doing their own thing, but with their camera on. You’re not talking to them, but they are the most non-threatening people. So you just observe them for a second.
As Melanie, I would not be trolling Chatroulette in my spare time. Let’s just say that.
Latino-Review: So what was the most interesting thing you saw, just out of curiosity?
Melanie Papalia: Interesting, in a disturbing way, I really do think it’s the men sitting in the dark just staring at you in the camera. It’s interesting, because you thinking “What are going through these people’s heads right now?” They don’t know you, but there are some kinds of “not right” thoughts going on. It definitely creep me out. I took this thing while we were filming. This really is what our movie is about.
Latino-Review: Oh, I see….
Melanie Papalia: Not saying that any of these people are murderers. [Laughter] I’m sure they’re not. But, there are really unsettling stuff that maybe I was creeped out sort of like being violated. I’m going into it and thought, “Here I am sitting in my apartment with my laptop. They’re not in the room with me or anywhere near me.” It’s just hard to not feel like they’re not with you. You kind of get sucked into this little world where it’s you and them. You sort of forget that you’re on the opposite ends of the planet. It’s just weird. Very weird.
Latino-Review: I’m just going ahead and assume you didn’t make any new friends then. [Laughter]
Melanie Papalia: [Laughter] Hell, no. No, definitely not.
Latino-Review: So your overall impression, just like the movie, is that it’s a very dangerous place to be at, right?
Melanie Papalia: I hate to say that, because I feel that a lot of people use [Chatroulette]. I don’t know how many people use these sites to meet new friends. I don’t feel like it’s the safest thing. You don’t know these people. You don’t know their friends. You don’t know their families. You don’t really know what their agenda is.
So yeah, I don’t feel like it’s the safest thing. But maybe I’m just being paranoid just like this movie. [Laughter] Someone is going to read this interview and say, “Hey! I met my best friend on this site.” [Laughter] But, yeah, I will not be doing that.
Latino-Review: [Laughter] The way on how it was filmed using different camera angles, it seems like you used a lot of computer screen captured software. Was it really filmed that way or did you guys did a standard filming process? I can’t really tell while I’m watching the movie.
Melanie Papalia: We actually filmed in a way that I’ve never filmed before. We had some GoPro cameras rigged on top of laptops. We definitely do it all in just one way. Like some of the shots I’m sitting at the computer. We actually had a laptop there for me and there’s this little GoPro or a camera on top of the computer.
We had some pretty cool camera guys who were coming up with interesting things. A lot of the stuff in my POV like running around or when I do get taken, I was wearing this really heavy helmet with a GoPro attached to it. So I’m running around with my movements of me running.
And then we had some of the stuff like it’s supposed to be off of my cell phone during the day time. That was actually me holding a camera in my hand. A lot of it really was, especially with the camera on the laptop, difficult [to maneuver]. There were wires and they were twisting around me. So many times instead of thinking of acting, I had to think like a camera person too. Like laying the laptop on my bed and having the camera in my face. It was challenging. Definitely challenging.
We had all these camera guys coordinate all this out for me. We worked it out, but there are so many times I was wrapped around these wires and cords. It was something that I’ve never done before.
Latino-Review: That is kind of interesting. You were practically in every single scene in that entire movie. How do you feel about that?
Melanie Papalia: It was really, really challenging. A lot of days I showed up and go on with “How the hell I’m going to pull this off?” It wasn’t the longest shoot since we shot for a few weeks. Throughout the day, we just had so much we had to do. I think filming this movie was kind of the first for everyone involved. There was a lot of stuff when we showed up that we prepared in a certain way, but it just didn’t work. So we had to throw it out in a second and come up with something else.
Thank God I had great producers and a great director who was willing to help me. It was overwhelming. When I get there, there wasn’t really enough time to worry about it. It was just fight or flight. Just jump in and do it. I just hope I don’t screw up the movie and suck. [Laughter]
So you just hope that “Please don’t fire me.” [Laughter] I’ve never been a camera girl and I’m just an actress. [Laughter]
Latino-Review: Actually, you were great in this film.
Melanie Papalia: Thank you.
Latino-Review: You’re welcome. I was going to ask you were that if you liked doing these horror films. It seems like it came natural for you for some unknown reason.
Melanie Papalia: The funny thing is that when I was a little kid—my favorite movies were horror movies. When I was a little girl, my dad would let me rent anything I wanted, including anything that I’m not supposed to be allowed to see. It’s pretty screwed up for people back then. It was a godsend for now, because I have seen every horror movie ever made. I’ve seen every scary movie that meant to scare the shit out of you. I probably know them by heart.
I grew out of it in my teens. As a little kid, I don’t know why, I just love them. I certainly would like to do a movie where I scare the shit out of people. When this came along, it was something else that attracted me to it. This was my opportunity to actually scare people, but in a real way. By having seen horror movies, I could’ve looked at things as if I wanted to change this or that.
And add the fact that we wanted to making one that meant to be real. During most scenes, we would ask ourselves like “How would this happen in the real world?” We’re not filming this for hype or the drama of it. We’re trying to make it real. I try to look at it from the outside point of view. If I was the audience, then what would scare me. I know I ask myself this question a lot during filming. Having seen a lot of scary movies, I feel that I’m a good audience for them. And hopefully I could pull it off on the other side.
Latino-Review: Yeah, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. Actually, I was standing up the whole time watching it.
Melanie Papalia: I’m so glad. That’s awesome. It makes me so happy to hear that. A lot of people who have seen it so far really liked it. I feel that people who didn’t really like found footage movies would give this film a chance.
Latino-Review: I understand this is Zachary Donohue’s first directorial movie. How was it working with him on this movie?
Melanie Papalia: He was really, really great. He gave me a lot of freedom. He was open for me trying anything I wanted to do. I really enjoyed working with him. He’s a very supportive director. There are a couple of things I do that were uncomfortable, but he’s very supportive. He just cares I think he’s going to be great director.
Latino-Review: And just to wrap it up, what are you future projects?
Melanie Papalia: I have a movie called “Frankie & Alice” that comes out on April 4th with Halle Berry. My next movie is called “Extraterrestrial,” which will be premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival at the end of April. And that’s about alien abductions. Another scary one.
Latino-Review: Just like the title of the movie. Thank you for speaking with me. I wish you good luck and I see good things after “The Den” for you.
Melanie Papalia: Of course. Thank you so much and thanks a lot for the interview.
“The Den” is playing in select theaters and available on VOD.