Naturally being able to rely on your intuition to help guide you to make the right choices and form meaningful connections is a powerful personality trait some people possess that can greatly empower their lives. But for those people who lack the ability to trust their instincts, their lives unfortunately won’t leave them feeling fulfilled. The meaningful examination into both types of people is grippingly presented in the new horror film, ‘The Girl in the Photographs,’ which was directed by Nick Simon, who also co-wrote the script with Robert Morast and Osgood Perkins.
The crime thriller, which was distributed into select theaters and on VOD this weekend by Vertical Entertainment, was created by a versatile and talented cast and crew who quickly bonded over their mutual admiration for the story and characters. While the drama’s actors, including Kenny Wormald, Luke Baines and Miranda Rae Mayo, immediately acted on their instant desire to work together to bring such a captivating film to the screen, their characters’ motivations weren’t always so well-meaning and purely motivated.
While the cast intriguingly brought Simon’s distinct and complex horror story to life, ‘The Girl in the Photographs’ also holds another sentimental and meaningful distinction: the thriller serves as the last film that prolific genre filmmaker Wes Craven worked on before his heartbreaking death last summer. The legendary filmmaker served as an executive producer on the humor-infused drama, which helped secure his legacy as one of the most thought-provoking masters of horror.
‘The Girl in the Photographs’ follows the restless Colleen (Claudia Lee), whose life isn’t going anywhere. The check out girl in small town South Dakota, who’s blessed with natural beauty, is bored with her dead end job and annoyed by her apathetic boyfriend. While grappling with the mundane life she doesn’t want, and trying to figure out how to improve her trite circumstances, a pair of deranged serial killers begin leaving her photos of their mutilated victims at the grocery store where she works. To stop the murderers from continuing to taunt her, the clerk contacts the local sheriff. But the local law enforcement official’s bewilderingly reluctant to help Colleen, and eventually dismisses the photos as being a sick-humored joke.
The protagonist’s luck begins to change, however, when the pictures begin to go viral, and they catch the attention of Peter Hemmings (Kal Penn), a hipster celebrity photographer has traveled back to his hometown of Spearfish, South Dakota. Accompanied by several models, the photographer is intent on copying the killers’ intense and unapologetic artistry. Colleen’s chance to escape the town then arises when Peter discovers that she’s the killers’ muse. The photographer becomes determined to use her as his own inspiration instead, and features her as the centerpiece of a photo campaign in Los Angeles. But before Colleen can leave her old life behind, she must contend with the desires of her murderous stalkers, who have chosen her last night in town to execute their most provocative work to date.
Wormald, Baines and Mayo generously took the time recently to talk about starring in ‘The Girl in the Photographs’ during exclusive interviews. Among other things, the actors discussed how they were not only attracted to playing such distinct characters that Simon uniquely created in his realistic and relatable script, but they also all embraced the opportunity to work with such an influential producer as Craven. The trio also mentioned that they also appreciated that Simon was so collaborative with all of the performers, and constantly instilled confidence in their portrayals of their characters. That creative freedom the filmmakers offered the actors allowed them to also instantly bond with each other so much that they immediately became friends on and offset, and still remain in touch.
Starting off his conversation about what attracted him to his role of Chris in ‘The Girl in the Photographs,’ Wormald divulged that “First and foremost, the fact that Wes Craven was producing the film gave it instant validity in my eyes. I believed that if he trusted the director and writer, Nick Simon, then I could, too.” The actor added that he was also interested in working with Penn on the crime film. He then revealed that he “didn’t sign on until after the table read, when I saw Wes across from me, and Kal next to me. That’s when everything fell into place for me joining the cast” of the drama.
Wormald also divulged that he liked the film’s overall script because it showcases “realistic events that could actually occur. The fear created in this story was relatable. I also appreciated that there was a lot of humor throughout the script.” The actor then explained how his character fits into the story. He noted that Chris is the “assistant to famous photographer Peter Hemmings, who’s played by Kal. My character heavily relied on the chemistry with the role of Peter.”
Further discussing what drew him to play Tom in ‘The Girl in the Photograph,’ Baines revealed that “Ever since I watched ‘Silence of the Lambs,’ I’ve wanted to play a killer of some kind. I’m so fascinated by the mind of a person who’s able to commit such an atrocious act. So as an actor, to be able dive into that headspace was an opportunity I couldn’t refuse.”
The performer then noted that the idea of working with Craven on a horror thriller also intrigued him, as he’s been a fan of the filmmaker since he was a kid. “‘Scream’ was a game changer for me. It was the first film I loved so much I had to steal my Dad’s Handicam to recreate scenes from it,” Baines revealed.
“The script was unlike anything I had ever read before, and it grabbed my attention,” Mayo explained when she first began discussing why she was interested in portraying Rose in the crime thriller. “I loved Rose’s subtle complexities, and I thought she was hilarious,” the actress divulged, before also noting that she was intrigued by her character’s relationship with Peter. “I just wanted to be a part of their odd pairing. I thought it was weird, gross, authentic and cool. She was well-written, the script was solid and Wes Craven was an executive producer, so taking the role was a no brainer.”
Further detailing what his working relationship with Simon on ‘The Girl in the Photograph,’ Wormald revealed that “I admire directors who know what they want, and say what they mean. Nick was that and more. He is one of the kindest artists I’ve ever met, especially for being such a twisted story teller!” The performer added that the filmmaker “was so collaborative with all of his actors, and constantly instilled confidence in my performance. Nick made each actor a playlist of music to help us connect with their character, which I absolutely loved! He knew this story and characters so well, and his hard work and dedication to this project was infectious. I can’t wait to work with him again.”
Baines is also a fan of Simon’s work, and lauded him for being “an incredible director with a very collaborative approach. From our first meeting, he was extremely receptive to hearing my ideas and thoughts, as well as my plans for approaching the character.” The performer added that “The fact that he also wrote the script, and had been with the project for years, made his depth of knowledge insurmountable. That allowed us actors to tap into that information to create characters that were three dimensional and hyper real.”
“I trusted him, and loved that he was also a co-writer,” Mayo stated as she began expressing her mutual admiration for the filmmaker. “He knew exactly what he wanted, and had this genuine excitement watching his characters come to life. I also loved that he trusted me enough to let me play. I remember there was one scene we filmed about five takes of my coverage. On the sixth take I asked him, ‘Is there anything you want that I’m not doing?’ He said, ‘No, I love it. I just want to keep watching you work.'”
In addition to complimenting Simon’s work as a screenwriter and the director on the crime thriller, Wormald also dotingly praised the Saturn Award-nominated Craven, who the actor called “the game changer for all of us. When you see his name attached, you pay attention and know you’re going to be scared sh*tless. He quarterbacked Nick and ‘The Girl in the Photograph,’ and to be a part of his legacy is unreal.”
The actor added that he not only grew up watching the late writer-director-producer’s films. While Wormald added that he feared Craven’s movies, “I still had to see them! I’m very proud of ‘The Girl in the Photograph’ for having that Wes-inspired-feel, and I think anyone who sees this movie will appreciate what we did within this genre!”
Wormald added that “When I looked up from my script at the table read and saw Wes Craven sitting opposite me, I was inspired, to say the least. He was there, at the table read, showing his belief in this project. That in itself was powerful.” The actor also expressed his respect for the fact that the filmmaker “had earned his power over decades of creating some of the greatest films in the history of the genre! The respect the whole room had for this man was evident. I will never forget it.”
Baines further expressed his appreciation of collaborating with Craven on ‘The Girl in the Photographs,’ calling the executive producer “such a champion of this film. I don’t think it would have happened without him. He took the script from Nick and said he’d do whatever he needed to do to bring it to life.” The actor added that “For me, this film definitely has his fingerprints all over it. Wes had the incredible ability of being able to turn what’s expected on its head and make social commentary, while also scaring the living daylights out of his audience by completely getting under their skin in a very real way. I think that’s what makes his films so timeless; he made them so real, and that realism is horrifying.”
While Mayo only had one interaction with Craven while she was working on the film, she also expressed her appreciation for his collaboration on the horror thriller. “He surprised us at our first table read. We took a cast picture afterwards, and I rested my head on his shoulder. He was so excited for our film and so very warm towards all of us in the cast.” The actress also cherishes the filmmaker’s legacy, explaining that he “has inspired me to do my best and leave my mark with what I’m given. I love that he didn’t get into the business to make horror films specifically. But he grabbed onto an opportunity and left his mark in a way that this world will never forget.”
In addition to expressing his professional admiration for Craven, Simon and Penn, Wormald also discussed the process of building his working relationships with the rest of his co-stars in ‘The Girl in the Photographs,’ including Baines, Mayo, Toby Hemingway and Katharine Isabelle. While Wormald noted that “You never know how you will connect with the other actors off camera,” he added that he has “found that when you connect with your cast on a personal level, it empowers performances. Nick made Kal and I hang out together, and take photographs around the city,” in an effort for the two performers to connect, bond and get to know each other. “Taking pictures obviously tied into our characters’ relationship, but it was such a cool experience and it worked! Kal and I hit it off immediately, and he’s one of the most intelligent, funny dudes I’ve ever met.”
Wormald added that after he began to form his relationship with Penn, “we met the other actors and started to hang out and explore the city together. We all became a family almost instantly. I’ve never had more fun with a cast than I did with this group. It’s rare, but when it happens, it’s amazing. I think this chemistry reads on camera. Most of us still hang out together in L.A.”
The close-knit feeling between the actors was also noted by Baines, who called working with the cast a “fascinating experience. Off screen, we immediately became the closest of friends; I’ve never clicked with a group of people the way I clicked with those incredible actors,” the actor admitted. “But on screen, I was deviously stalking and attempting to murder them, so it definitely created an interesting dynamic. They’re all such talented and driven actors, so it was an honor to share the screen with them.”
Building a relationship with the rest of the cast was a natural process for Mayo. The actress explained that “We all just clicked in the easiest way. I’ve been told many times by other actors how rare it is to find co-stars like that. But somehow we all got cast together and it just worked.” She revealed that the cast “spent a ton of time together on our days off; we would go out to dinners, take hikes and see shows. I truly had the time of my life while shooting the film, both on and offset. I am still close with most of those guys.”
With the movie being a horror thriller, Wormald also discussed how he approached the physicality of his role of Chris in ‘The Girl in the Photographs.’ “Any opportunity I get to do my own stunts, I’m all about it,” the actor revealed. “This project taught me a lot about the technical elements of doing stunts in a horror film! There was no shortage of blood!”
Creating a tangible physicality for Tom was also an important aspect of the filmmaking process for Baines. He revealed that he wanted his character “to have a public demeanor of someone sweet but unsettling, while also having the physical presence of someone who’s able to inflict damage should he wish. So leading up to the shoot, I put on 20 pounds and worked to create the stature of the character I saw on the page,” the actor divulged. “Stunt and performance wise, Nick wanted us to do everything ourselves, in order to generate as much authenticity and realism as possible. So even when masked, every single frame of Tom is me.”
Mayo also chimed in on the process of approaching the physicality of playing Rose, and her experiences of performing her own stunts. “I do prefer it! I don’t always get to, but that is absolutely what I prefer. I had to train for two months to get into model shape for Rose,” she revealed. She added that “once I was there, it became all about discovering what her habits were. Seeing what her average every day looked like informed me about the way she would sit, stand, walk and move. She does a lot of drugs, so she moves a little bit slower.”
The experience of filming the horror movie on location in Victoria, British Columbia was another process that Wormald described as being “incredible. It’s the second film I’ve worked on there, and I look forward to shooting there again in the future. The locals are great, the crews are efficient and the environment is beautiful. All of those things allow for a great experience while shooting on location! I love it there!”
Also chiming in on the process of shooting the horror thriller on location, Baines explained that “Nick’s originally from South Dakota, so recreating that environment was really important to him. Being from Australia, I had to do a lot of research, because I wasn’t familiar with the nuances of small town American life, let alone that of the Midwest.” The actor added that “Luckily for me, the location we shot in–Victoria, British Columbia–had a beautiful close-knit feel. Coupled with the research I’d been able to do, that helped me slip into the feeling of a similar space.”
Mayo, who made her feature film acting debut in ‘The Girl in the Photographs,’ after starring in such television shows as ‘True Detective,’ ‘Pretty Little Liars’ and ‘Days of Our Lives,’ also expressed her appreciation of being able to travel to Canada to shoot in Victoria, after shooting the different series in Los Angeles. She described the Canadian province’s capital city as “one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to! I love working on location because, in my experience, it creates a stronger bond between the cast and crew. That made it feel even more comfortable for me to experiment and do my best onset.”
In addition to embracing the experience of shooting ‘The Girl in the Photographs’ on location in Canada, Wormald also expressed his appreciation of filming the movie independently. He divulged that he enjoys the experience overall, mainly because of the creative freedom it offers actors and filmmakers. “Also, having a director who also served as one of the writers, allowed an incredible amount of collaboration. The creative flow of this set was so enjoyable,” the actor explained. He gleefully added that he partially “takes credit for the entertainment in between takes, because I introduced everyone to the (video recording) app DubSmash!” The app allows users to choose a soundbite from movies, shows, music and internet trends, and record a video of themselves dubbing over that piece of audio. The actor added that he was eagerly waiting for the movie’s release, so that he can “finally post some of these hysterical videos we made on set!”
Also discussing the experience of shooting the crime film independently, Baines noted that “Every single person on set–from the producers and directors, to transport and catering–were so invested in the project because of the strength of the script. There was an excitement unlike anything I’ve felt before, and a drive to create something brilliant.” The actor further explained that “The independent nature of the film exacerbated that feeling. It also really opened up the abilities for us as creatives to make something special, without ever having to adhere to any sort of commercial restrictions. Fortunately, that was never a concern or even a conversation that I was exposed to.”
Before the crime drama was released in theaters and on VOD this past Friday, it played at several film festivals, including to a sold out screening at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), as well as Screamfest at TCL Chinese Theatres in Los Angeles. Wormald, who attended screenings in both cities, happily described the audience reactions at both festivals as being “awesome! Showing at midnight madness at TIFF and Screamfest was unforgettable. The audience would celebrate a good death scene like a touchdown during a football game! If true fans of the genre were amped watching this film, I think the world will be, too!” The actor added that he’s “very proud of ‘The Girl in the Photographs,’ and I’m excited we finally get to share it.”
Also explaining the experience of supporting the thriller on the film festival circuit, Baines noted that he was “fortunate enough to attend both premieres, and a couple of other screenings. The feeling in the audience was electric, especially in L.A., where the audience had less “film people” and more “film fans.” Interestingly, it’s been my experience that the biggest fans of the film are people who ordinarily don’t like horror films,” the actor revealed. “I’ve had so many people tell me, ‘I don’t usually like these type of films, but I was laughing and screaming. It was exhilarating.'” The performer then noted that having audience members tell him that “was a win.”
Mayo also attended the packed screening of ‘The Girl in the Photographs’ in Toronto last year, and she described the experience as being “surreal. It was the first time I had ever watched a film I was in, with an audience, while playing at a cinema. I might’ve cried a little bit…but it was a good cry! The audience was so responsive, and it was exhilarating. They laughed, they jumped, they gasped, and it was the best.”
Besides expressing his appreciation of the horror film’s successful run on the festival circuit, Baines also shared his gratitude that fans of the genre nationwide are finally able to see it in theaters and on VOD. He noted that the dual release “gives people the choice of how they want to watch it, with both experiences being vastly different. There’s definitely something to be said for watching a scary movie in a familiar environment, like your own home.”
Wormald also celebrated the fact that ‘The Girl in the Photographs’ is now playing in theaters and On Demand. He explained, “I absolutely do think the On Demand platform is beneficial for independent films! I’m very appreciative of this type of release, as I’ve been a part of quite a few of these now. I think some of the best work comes from this avenue. Without this, so many films would never be seen.”
Watch the official trailer for ‘The Girl in the Photographs’ below.
Written by: Karen Benardello