Mayhem Director Joe Lynch
Joe Lynch, the director of the horror-action film, ‘Mayhem,’ an RLJE Films release.
Photo courtesy of Sanja Bucko

Fearlessly taking on a deadly infectious virus that mercilessly strips people of their identity and humanity is never an easy task. But ‘The Walking Dead’ alum, Steven Yeun, is doing just that again as he returns to the horror genre in the new movie, ‘Mayhem.’ The latest notable entry in the satirical worksploitation subgenre, the Satellite Award-winning actor proves yet again that he’s never afraid to stand up for what’s morally right, whether he’s in a corporate office or in the deserted countryside.

‘Mayhem’ was directed by ‘Knights of Badassdom’ helmer, Joe Lynch, and marks the feature film writing debut of Matias Caruso. RLJE Films is set to distribute the action thriller tomorrow in select theaters, as well as on VOD and Digital HD. The theatrical and home releases come after the drama had its world premiere at this year’s SXSW. It then went on to screen at multiple other festivals, including the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, where Yeun was named Best Actor.

‘Mayhem’ follows former corporate worker, Derek Cho (Yeun), on what is turning into the worst day of his life. He was unjustly fired from his job at the law firm, Towers & Smythe Consulting, where his only crime was being transformed from a hopeful and caring man when he was first hired into his present state of being a selfish and soulless corporate worker.

In retaliation of being unfairly let go, Derek decides to take his grievances to the consulting company’s executives. But he soon discovers that his former firm’s building is under quarantine, in an effort to combat the mysterious and dangerous virus, ID7. Chaos erupts throughout the office, as the victims of the disease begin acting out their wildest impulses. Joining forces with a former client, Melanie Cross (Samara Weaving), who has a grudge of her own, Derek savagely fights his former co-workers to get to the executives on the top floor, and settle the score once and for all.

Lynch generously took the time recently to talk about directing ‘Mayhem’ during an exclusive interview over the phone. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed how he was working at a corporate job when the production company, Circle of Confusion, optioned the script for the movie. When the company sent the screenplay to the helmer’s representatives, he immediately related to the story, and agreed to sign on. Lynch also expressed his appreciation of audiences who have already seen the horror thriller at the festivals where it has played this spring and summer, particularly since they related to Yeun and Weaving’s natural on-screen chemistry.

The conversation began with Lynch detailing why he decided to direct ‘Mayhem.’ “When my last movie, ‘Everly,’ with Salma Hayek came out, I was thinking, what’s next? As a filmmaker, you have to have five projects going on at the same time, because four of them will likely drop out,” the helmer explained.

“These days, filmmakers have to keep working, whether it’s to stay relevant or to pay the bills. Movies are harder and harder to come by, so I had to go back to work in between my projects. By that, I mean I had to go back into the corporate world between making my movies,” Lynch revealed.

“In this case, I was working a corporate job when Matt Smith at Circle of Confusion had optioned the script, which was already completed by Matias Caruso. (Smith) sent it to my rep and said, ‘I think Joe’s crazy enough to want to try to do this.’ So I read it in my cubicle, in a corporate space, and thought, this is me! I know how this feels,” the director further shared. “I know the situation (Derek’s) in, and the story really resonated with me.”

So Lynch immediately told Smith and Circle of Confusion that was interested in directing ‘Mayhem.’ But “it did take a little bit of time to further develop (the story), because Matias doesn’t live in (America). So we Skyped and emailed with each other. I also got to infuse the story with details, both big and small, about the corporate space that I wanted to bring to the table,” the filmmaker divulged. He added that after he worked with the screenwriter on the action drama’s script, “we got the money for the budget. Then the next thing we knew, we were in Serbia, shooting the movie.”

Much like last year’s horror film, ‘The Belko Experiment,’ which was directed by Greg McLean, ‘Mayhem’ has become one of the latest examples of worksploitation. The sub-genre chronicles the determination of disgruntled employees who are determined to survive in an increasingly hostile work environment, and will stop at nothing, even murder, to protect themselves.

Lynch expressed his thoughts on why the worksploitation sub-genre is becoming so popular in modern society, stating that “we’re entering the generation where corporations are running the government…I feel like more often than not now, especially since I started promoting this movie, I ask people if they’re working a corporate job. You’ll be shocked at how many hands go up. So a lot of people know what it’s like to work in that space. They feel like a very small piece of a very big machine. When you have a large population of people who know, and work in, that space, there are going to be stories that rise from it.”

The helmer added that “over the past couple of years, there have been a numerous amounts of movies, like most specifically, ‘The Belko Experiment,’ as well as next year’s ‘Office Uprising,’ in this new emerging subgenre. In worksploitation films, there happens to be a workplace environment that can create a number of stories…as there a number of people who know what it feels like to be that lowly employee. They know all of the emotions that come with that territory.”

Lynch then delved into what the casting process was like for ‘Mayhem.’ He revealed that “Whenever I go into a (casting) meeting, I try to remain as open as possible. There’s so much great talent out there that you don’t know who’s going to be perfect for a particular role. Also, on the logistical side, you never know who’s going to be available…so it’s always tough in that way.”

When the filmmaker first read the screenplay for ‘Mayhem,’ he didn’t have any one specific actor in mind for the role of Derek. “I just felt like we needed a normal guy, who hasn’t tone a thousand action movies before…So when we got the greenlight to make the movie, (the financiers) wanted to make sure we got a return on the budget we had. Based on industry mathematics, they want you to cast people who will be a safe bet, based on their name and talent, particularly if everyone knows them, and if they’ve done a bunch of movies before,” Lynch explained.

In terms of the actual casting for the character of Derek, “I really wanted to find an actor who really excited me. The good news of having a lower budget was that the investor had given us this great provision that it wasn’t cast contingent. So we were able to throw a wide net out, and see who was really right for the part, and not just who would make the investors happy,” the director further disclosed.

“I have always been a big fan of Steven’s work, from the time he was on ‘The Walking Dead.’ I’ve been following the show since the beginning. So watching him in his arc over the course of six seasons was amazing,” Lynch enthusiastically exclaimed. “When I saw the way the internet treated his character (of Glenn) on ‘The Walking Dead,’ I thought, here’s my every man.” Lynch also pointed out that Yeun “could hold his own in this type of situation, but also be human, real and have his own weaknesses.

“So I went in the next day and said, ‘What about Steven?’ The production company had already worked with him on ‘The Walking Dead,’ and they thought he was an intriguing idea,” the filmmaker divulged. He then sat down with the actor “and laid out my goals for the movie, and his were very similar to mine. So he was immediately in.”

Lynch added that he felt incredibly lucky to also be able to cast Weaving in the role of Melanie. “I was already a fan of Samara’s work, particularly from her time working on (the Starz comedy horror series,) ‘Ash vs. Evil Dead.’ I also knew she (played) the title character in McG’s horror-comedy movie, ‘The Babysitter,’ (which was released on Netflix last month,) and I knew that script really well.” The helmer added that he spoke with the actress on Skype about ‘Mayhem,’ which he admitted “isn’t the ideal way to cast. But within five minutes of our call, I knew she was right for the character.”

Once Yeun and Weaving began working together on the horror movie, “sparks flew. They had this chemistry, and you instantly know right away that they were going to play off of each other really well,” Lynch also noted.

After Yeun, Weaving and the rest of the actors were cast in ‘Mayhem,’ they didn’t have much time to rehearse together, so they largely relied on their natural chemistry to build their characters’ relationships. The filmmaker explained that “The way productions are structured now, it’s a gift if you get to rehearse, and in most cases, you don’t have that luxury. There often isn’t enough money to bring actors in early, and even if there is, the actors are often very booked. So often times, you don’t get the actors until a few days, or sometimes even hours, before you start shooting.”

Having that short schedule together on the set “is often the norm, especially on TV. Having just worked on television myself, (having starred in, and executive produced, the horror comedy series, ‘Holliston,’) I know what it’s like to cast actors who are going to come in the next day, or even in a few hours. That can be incredibly insane and frustrating, because as the director, you want to develop the characters with the actors. You also want to make sure that everyone’s coming in on the same page, and on their A-game, and having rehearsals is usually the way to do that,” Lynch noted.

In the case of ‘Mayhem,’ the director was able to get “Steven and Samara on the set about a week before we began filming. My biggest worry was if they were going to like, and be able to work with, each other. But once we had dinner together that first night, and we started talking, I thought, we’re going to be just fine.

“Since they both had such a discipline from the TV world, I knew that I wasn’t going to have to worry to much about over-rehearsing the moments. In this type of situation, where you’re working on a story about a virus that makes you lose your inhibitions…I knew that there were going to be ways in which we could let the actors be free,” Lynch also shared. “So we did get two days of rehearsals, but it wasn’t as vigorous as I had originally would have liked. But they were able to ask all of the questions they needed, and I was able to answer them.”

The filmmaker then admitted that once the cast and crew arrived on the set and began shooting, “This was the first movie where I went in a more organic way. Pardon my French, but I more or less just a f*ck it attitude. I didn’t stay so strict, and say, ‘This is how it has to be.’ I wanted the actors to bring their own stuff to the table. Nine times out of 10, their instincts were better than mine.”

Lynch added that many times, “we would get two takes that were strict to the original plan or script. I then afforded them to do a take where they could just try lines and actions from a different approach. The actors had amazing instincts, so why would I want to truncate them? So it was a really organic set…That process was so freeing, even though the budget and schedule were at times restrictive…This was a discipline I used for the first time on this movie, and will definitely use again from hereon out.”

The process of also working with the cast on their physicalities for ‘Mayhem’ was then addressed, as the helmer noted Yeun’s strength. “We deliberately outfitted him in clothes that would make him seem physically fit. Throughout the film, he’s shedding those layers of clothes, and you can see that he can hold his own.”

Lynch also added that what he’s most proud of, in terms of the stunts, was that a lot of them were done practically. “The only things that were done digitally were the things that I tried to hide from the audience. I’m not overly proud of this, but we have over 1,000 visual effects shots in the movie,” the filmmaker shared.

Most of the visual effects shots in ‘Mayhem’ involved adding the red eyes. “There was no practical way that I was going to be able to do the red eye effect in Serbia with contacts on all of the actors. I thought we could just get a bunch of contacts, and have the actors put them in for each scene. But I quickly realized that I couldn’t do that, because I would have to get contacts for over 200 people,” the director admitted.

“So we tried this technique that my visual effects designer created. We were able to get realistic effects that hopefully audiences wouldn’t be able to tell weren’t real” as they watch the action thriller, Lynch revealed. “So most of the visual effects were done to hide things.

The filmmaker added that “We had a fully practical mentality, so most of the stunts were also done on set, by Steven and Samara. They just threw themselves into it as much as possible during the whole shoot. I think we only used their stunt doubles a few times. Steven and Samara were really into doing their own stunts, because they wanted to be the ones who were kicking ass. They felt that audiences would become so invested in what they were doing, that if we cut to their stunt doubles, it would take the viewers out of the moment. So I’m proud to say that we tried to be as practical as possible.”

Lynch then delved into his experience of editing the action drama once principal photography ended. “To be honest, because of all the effects, we spent about eight months editing, and went through the shots over and over again. It got to the point that we weren’t even watching a movie anymore; we were just looking at thousands and thousands of stills.” The helmer also admitted that he eventually became “completely out of touch, and disenfranchised, with the movie at the end of the editing process.”

So anytime Lynch watched ‘Mayhem’ before he brought it out on the film festival circuit, he lost prospective on it. As a result, “when I went to SXSW, I honestly thought the movie was going to bomb, and no one was going to like it. But thankfully, the crowd really responded to, and got, it. Once I heard that first laugh from the audience, I was able to see the film from a new perspective.”

Since the horror movie premiered in Austin this past March, “At the screenings I’ve been to, they’ve been like a rock show. People have yelled and laughed, and it has become a crowd movie. So having that experience of seeing how it resonates with audiences, and how they connect with it like I did when I first read the script, has been incredibly gratifying,” the filmmaker admitted. “I deliberately made this movie so that other people would feel the same way I did. Hopefully they can watch this movie, and feel a little better about themselves.”

With ‘Mayhem’ now having finished its festival circuit run, and being set to open in both theaters and On Demand this week, Lynch has praised the ever-evolving distribution model for indie films like this one. Having watched the drama with a crowd at the festivals, he feels that seeing it in the theater can ultimately be an exciting experience, but he still highly supports the VOD release.

“Seeing a smaller indie drama On Demand isn’t going to cost as much as seeing a big superhero blockbuster, like ‘Justice League,’ in the theater. It’s a lot more attractive to watch a movie at home On Demand for $6 to $10 than spending $50 to see a film in the theater,” the director conceded.

The VOD model will also help drastically reduce the illegal piracy of the film, Lynch also pointed out. “I’m down with whatever it takes to get people to see the movie legally, and support us as filmmakers, in a way that’s comfortable for them.”

The filmmaker also noted the comfort level of watching movies On Demand at home. “These days, many people do have better TV screens and sound systems than most movie theaters, and they also don’t have to worry about other people talking and using their phones around them.”

While he’ll always support and love the theatrical experience, he knows that “When you have an indie film, it’s important to utilize any means necessary to get it seen. I appreciate people supporting ‘Mayhem’ on every available distribution model!”

Photo ofJoe Lynch
Joe Lynch
Job Title
Director of the action horror film, 'Mayhem'

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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