Blinders – We talk to Tyler Savage about his new thriller and the darker side of inner-city life

Every year millions of people pack their bags and head to major cities across the world, seeking a fresh start, leaving behind the problems, memories, and ghosts of their past. However, for many, the reality of leaving behind the security of their old life only increases their vulnerability. Their new lives, held in a trap of needing companionship and belonging as they find their feet in a new city; the rules of their old life rewritten as new people enter their lives, for good or for ill. And it is within these themes that Tyler Savage’s new film ‘Blinders,’ finds its voice. The bright lights of Los Angeles and a need for belonging, combining to create a taught and relentless thriller. The need for newfound security, dovetailing with an inescapable online life that transcends borders and states.

Andy (Vincent Van Horn) arrives at his new rented apartment in downtown L.A; his old life packed into boxes. All that remains of his memories is a phone full of images and videos. His decision to move formed after a messy split with his girlfriend back home in Austin. A relationship he is still not entirely over, as he swipes through his digital memories. But despite this, Andy is committed to building a new home and life in L.A. with his dog ‘Juicebox’. His career as a teacher, enabling him to quickly find work tutoring students across the city.

Taking the opportunity to get to know his surroundings, Andy immediately heads to a local bar. There he meets the vibrant young Sam (Christine Ko). The couple hits it off over drinks, as Sam invites Andy back to her home for a nightcap. The couples ‘Rideshare’ cab driver ‘Roger’ (Michael Lee Joplin) promptly arriving outside the bar.

As the cab journey progresses, Roger shows great interest in the couples night, his demeanour friendly yet also intrusive. With Roger dropping the young couple outside Sams apartment, before loitering outside for a few minutes before departing; something Andy finds strange. But, placing it to the back of his mind, Andy settles in for a night with Sam. Their budding relationship further developed in the comfort of her apartment. However, the next day Andy bumps into Roger outside a coffee shop. Both men strike up a pleasant and engaging conversation that leads to Roger inviting Andy out for a beer. A suggestion Andy reluctantly agrees to, not wanting to offend his new acquaintance.

But all is not as it seems, and as Andy becomes weary of Roger’s personality and behaviour, he attempts to cut him from his life. However, Roger has no intention of letting Andy go. A treacherous game of cat and mouse ensuing that will delve into every corner of Andy’s online and offline world.

Tyler Savage weaves a tale filled with dread and foreboding terror from the first act to the last. The streets of Los Angeles, becoming a character in their own right, as neon-lit night converges with the bright sunshine of the long summer days. The extremes of a city, holding endless opportunities and risks threading through every scene. Meanwhile, the delicate and thrilling unravelling of newfound friendships and relationships is masterfully enacted. As Andy, Roger and Sam’s lives converge in an ocean of risk and fear reminiscent of the classic Cape Fear in both style and delivery.

However, Blinders is far more than a stalker based thriller; it’s ending deliciously moving from a slow-burn thriller to horror in a heartbeat. Surprising and enthralling the audience with a delightfully horrific twist. And when this is matched with great performances, a devilish screenplay and beautiful design, Blinders truly excels far beyond the realms of mainstream thriller and horror. Wrapping the viewer in a story of escape, identity and belonging in a city of extremes.

Tyler Savage is no newcomer to atmospheric psychological horror, his 2017 film Inheritance also receiving wide-ranging praise. So we recently caught up with Tyler to further discuss Blinders and the darker side of new inner-city life for those seeking escape.

Tyler Savage on the set of ‘Inheritance’ 2017
Firstly can we congratulate you on your heart thumping new thriller Blinders. As co-writer and director, what inspired you during the writing process? And how long did it take for Blinders to progress from page to screen?

Thank you!! We’re just now starting to get outside feedback on the film, so I’m really grateful for the kind words. In terms of the writing, the original concept for the film came from an unsettling conversation I had with a rideshare driver about a year before we started shooting. From there, my writing partner, Dash Hawkins, and I started talking about how to make a fun noir thriller that plays off the idea that technology makes us vulnerable. We wrote the first draft in about two months. When we shot the film, it had been less than a year since we’d started writing, so I’m proud of how quickly we were able to pull all the pieces together.

Many people choose the anonymity of large cities when escaping personal crisis or change. But our online lives often mean this veneer of anonymity rarely exists. Was this a key consideration when writing the role of Andy?

Absolutely! And I love the way you word this question. Social media provides a way for us to project a desired version of ourselves. Which doesn’t sound so bad given that we all have our fears and insecurities. But if you hold that idea as self-evident, it really means that we live in a reality that is constantly being misrepresented. It’s fake news culture. So, to your question, I think Andy is trying to run away from his true self by leaving Austin and coming to L.A. But despite moving, and despite a concerted effort to redefine his past, he has to face the truth. Anonymity always seems appealing, but no matter where you go, your true self follows.

We stated in our review of Blinders that L.A feels like a character within the movie. Was it your intention to have the city streets live and breathe alongside the characters?

This is nice to hear, and it will undoubtedly make our DP Antonio smile when he reads your generous remark. Dash and I are both L.A. born and raised (or San Fernando Valley I should say), so it was a priority from the start to feature the city in a fresh way. It’s both intimidating and freeing to shoot a film in one of the most photographed cities in the world. Everyone should watch LA Plays Itself if they haven’t already. But to your question, yes! For me, it was essential that we balance the familiar with the unfamiliar, so we shot everywhere from Atwater to Boyle Heights and Sherman Oaks to South Central. We took some inspiration from Taxi Driver in shooting the street scenes, but the main idea was to juxtapose the loneliness and ghostliness of our city with the sunshine and superficiality its typically known for.

Linked to this, colour seems to play an important role throughout Blinders from the warm tones of Andy and Sam’s slowly developing relationship to the vivid and colder tones of Roger’s control. Was the use of colour a key consideration in maintaining audience fear?

I’m not sure if we thought of colour in terms of maintaining fear, but I think you’re absolutely right. We used red for Roger to highlight danger, greens and earth tones for Andy since he’s the grounded one, and cool blues for Sam since she has a certain iciness to her, shall we say…

There were many times throughout the film when I found myself reflecting on the similarities with ‘Cape Fear’. Both in design and slow-burn psychological fear. Are there any films that directly inspired your final vision for Blinders?

Well, I’ll always welcome that comparison! I actually talked about both versions of Cape Fear quite a lot while working with Vince and Michael on the scenes. In terms of the central dynamic, there were several points of inspiration, including Misery, The Gift, Play Misty For Me, and even What About Bob? Visually, I was influenced by late 70s-early 80s Brian DePalma and maybe Killing of a Chinese Bookie, but really, I was just trying to balance dread and dark humour in a fresh way because film noir and ill-fated heroes are near and dear to my black heart.

Roger is a highly complex character who could easily have become a caricature in the wrong hands. How important was your casting choice of Michael Lee Joplin in ensuring Roger remained grounded and authentic?

Yeah, Roger could have easily degenerated into caricature. We largely wrote the role with Michael in mind, and I knew he could handle the balancing act. He’s my friend too of course, but Michael really is a brilliant and generous actor. He asked me early on how I knew he could play this role. And I had to be thoughtful in my response, and not just tell him it was because he could scare people or creep them out. Michael is just so alert and present most of the time that it can be overwhelming. It’s what I love about him most, but I also knew it wouldn’t be rocket science to exaggerate that quality. Michael was able to play the monster while maintaining his humanity.

Film production has been hit hard by COVID 19 over the past year, and the biggest casualty may end up being independent films. Added to this, the removal of the Paramount Decree could see studios once again purchase cinema chains in the US, further isolating indie movies. Are you fearful or hopeful about the future of independent film, and what could be done to strengthen its essential role?

Yeah, these are certainly strange and scary times. I don’t feel that independent film is going away, but it’s definitely changing. Depending on which mood you catch me in, I think the changes will probably be positive and negative. There are a lot of dysfunctional things about the way the indie film world has operated for years, so this might actually be an opportunity to return more power to creators since content is king.

But in terms of the theatres, it’s hard to be hopeful. I’m someone who used to average 60+ trips to the cinema a year, so I’m definitely worried about the long-term impact on both the big chains and independent theatres. Sometimes it feels like the inevitable march of time that movie theatres would go away, but I think communal experiences as simple as watching a film together in the dark are essential to our lives and culture.

Finally, we all know dogs can carry some weird and wonderful names, but ’Juicebox?’ where did that come from?

Well naturally, I stole it! My girlfriend and I have a neighbour whose dog’s name is Juicebox. I always loved how weird and specific it was. The dog who plays Juicebox in the film is actually my dog Buddy, and that name just felt too pedestrian for his first on-screen appearance.

Director: Tyler Savage

Cast: Christine KoVincent Van HornMichael Lee Joplin

Further information about Blinders can be found here

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