A passionate genre fan himself, director Joe Lynch has given fans films like Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, Everly, and Knights of Badassdom. He’s also one half of the duo behind the Movie Crypt podcast and the Holliston TV series. He also just so happens to be one of the nicest, most down to earth people you could ever meet.

His latest feature, which saw its world premiere at SXSW, sees Steven Yeun as a disgruntled employee that must battle his way to the top of his corporate office while trapped inside with a virus that causes the infected to lose control of all inhibitions. The office becomes a literal war zone.

After the premiere, we chatted with the director over the inspirations behind the film, the hopeful message amidst the carnage, the surprising dynamic between his two film leads, and much, much more.

What would you be like if you were infected with the Red Eye Virus? How would you go nuts?

How would I go nuts? It depends on the environment. Now, if I was in the workplace? I would say everything that Derek did and probably ten times more. Because a lot of what happens in the movie, and on the script level, and all of the things that Steven Yeun brought to the role, are things that.. Look, if you’ve ever worked corporate and you’ve gone up that elevator hoping and praying that it’s not going to be a bad day, In most cases it seems like, when they walk into corporate America, it’s not, “I hope I have a good day today,” it’s, “let me survive the day.” That’s a shitty way of dealing with, whether it’s your passion or just a gig, going to work. And at the end of the day you’re just like, “please let there be an earthquake and everybody gets swallowed up.” Or, “God, I’d really like to punch him in the mouth.” Look, I’m not promoting violence, but there is something about that corporate culture that stifles everybody to the point of where everybody just feels like a powder keg ready to explode. Corporate America has gotten so homogenized, there’s a faux camaraderie; there’s Bagel Thursday, which is always a staple, or team building seminars, things that appear on the surface like they care about their employees. And then you find out the next day they just fire everybody. They just grease them up so they don’t suspect anything. I’m sorry, but I don’t subscribe to that strategy. I’ve been there before and it sucks. So, there’s so much bubbling stress, it just feels like there’s an emotional tourniquet put on people. That was kind of the reaction I wanted from this; I wanted people to feel like. If we didn’t have the virus, it would be hard to for me to justify the catharsis that I wanted to bring to this, because then you could point to it and say, “Oh, it’s the virus! It’s the sickness.” And that’s what they use in the film itself, they go, “Look, this person is temporarily insane, does that make them liable for whatever they do?” They don’t have the control over their wellbeing or mental state. It’s something that I’ve always been fascinated with, and how that can affect people. So that’s kind of where this came from, and I would say that, yeah, I would probably do a lot worse than Derek based on the old jobs that I’ve had. Sorry former employers, but you got off lightly!

It’s actually interesting, though, because I feel like we’re heading that way without the virus, you know? Rage seems like it is more present than ever.

When we were looking for footage for the opening of the movie, for that news report thing, it wasn’t hard to find footage that would reflect the chaos and mayhem, no pun intended, or rage- which is funny because the original title of the movie was “Rage,” and I’m like, “Uh, we can’t call it Rage.” Because it was also called the Rage Virus and that’s totally 28 Days Later. We can’t use that. But, you’re right. It’s getting to the point where people won’t be able to use an excuse. The whole red eye effect in the movie, there was a point where the producers, and I don’t fault them for this, they were like, “You do realize this is going to take a major chunk of our budget to make that happen, right?” And I go, “Look, the last thing we need is a movie where it’s just a bunch of sweaty white people beating the fuck out of each other. It’s a different movie. There needed to be an element of genre to allow us to get away with what we’re trying to get away with. It works. It makes it a genre movie. But again, look at Get Out. There’s a genre movie that is speaking on much deeper levels that Jordan might not have been able to attain if it hadn’t played out like a thriller. The crazy scenario that isn’t really that crazy. You need that kind of genre shooter to make the medicine go down.

Right, exactly. I really appreciate, though, that your film has a very hopeful message. Despite all of the carnage and mayhem, it seems to be telling viewers to follow their passion.

Well, where that stemmed from, which was always part of the original script, it’s a reflection of who I am, when the project got greenlit, it was me as Derek going, “I quit.” If I reflect on it, Derek had the paintings, I have my movies. One of the most poignant things that I’ve ever heard, because I do this podcast call the Movie Crypt, is when we had Don Coscarelli give great advice about how once you’re done with your movie it’s not your movie anymore. So I was going through this horrible depression about Knights of Badassdom, and then I started talking about The Beastmaster, and he told me they took that cut away from him. It put everything into perspective. Who am I to say that movie sucks? I have my own feelings on it, but there are people who legitimately enjoy and love that movie and I can’t fault them for that. So that show has always been a good therapy session for us, but Bobcat Goldthwait came on, and he’s one of my heroes, and he told this really great story about how he basically changed his life by quitting. He told this to a college symposium, like ‘80s wacky man, getting up there at a graduation and basically saying, “You know what? If you’re not happy, quit.” Because life’s too short and it’s not worth it. It’s not a bad thing to quit. We live in a world where quitting is considered a bad thing; it’s like a pock on your career, a moral detriment, or socially it’s an embarrassing thing to go through, but ultimately if people like Bobcat didn’t quit to follow his passion, we wouldn’t have all of his great movies. That was the same thing that Steven and I talked a lot about. There was one point, and not to give any spoilers away, but Steven wanted to try for a very, very dark alternate ending. But we need all the hope we can get. I want people to be a little hopeful when they walk out. What’s funny is that someone came to the screening last night and tell me, “I’m quitting my job tomorrow.” I was so blown away by that. That meant the world to me, because at least that message of following your passion. Find your happiness now. I just turned 40, and life is short. And I’ve just given you the longest answer ever.

That’s ok! I want to touch on the actors; I always love films where the actors on screen are clearly having the time of their lives, and Steven Yeun and Samara Weaving both just seemed to have pure joy on their faces the entire time.

I was so lucky! So lucky, that they clicked. Because I’ve done movies before where the leads don’t necessarily click and you just go, “Ok. Well, act!” Thankfully, Steven and Samara immediately hit it off. Like, immediately. I think part of it was because we were all stuck in Serbia, we’re not going anywhere so we might as well make the best of it. Knowing they had that chemistry, though, was arguably the greatest special effect of the movie. These two characters connected and these two actors connected, and it’s all on screen.

Samara’s character is no damsel in distress. Thank you for empowering her; her character was much tougher than Derek was.

What’s funny is that we talked a lot about Big Trouble in Little China, and if you know that dynamic then you know Wang is the hero and Jack Burton is the sidekick. So that kind of dynamic was definitely in play. What’s very gracious about Steven is that some stars would be challenged by that, he almost fostered moments where she was on fire, like, “No, you take the lead, you’re the one with the fucking nail gun. You’re more of a badass than I am.” Not many actors, when they’re the hero on paper, would allow that. To be totally honest, I was a fan of Sam’s from the Evil Dead show, and she had just done this movie called The Babysitter, which is one of the best scripts I’d ever read. Oh my God. It’s coming out on Netflix I think like next month, and she plays the babysitter. Knowing that she got cast in that script, I knew there was something going on with this actress, I had to meet her.

How long did you rock that mustache that you debuted in your cameo?

24 hours. No! That’s not true. I rocked it until I came home, and then my family was like, “Get out! Get out with your pornstache!” But I had to. To be totally honest, it was just because we ran out of American actors, and they were wondering what we were going to do, so I’m like, “Fine!” But, in a selfish sort of way, it was me wanting to play with those two great actors. I was just so sick of being behind the camera that I was like, “I want to play!” We just sat there for half a day and had so much fun. The alts on those scenes are unbelievable.

Deleted scenes on the Blu-ray?

Oh, big time.

Read our review of Mayhem here.