What happens when a live action role-playing game becomes all too real? This is the premise of Shudder’s new spine-tingling film, The Bunker Game.
The synopsis of the film via Shudder: Laura is an actress in a LARP (live action role-playing) game where participants play the survivors of an atomic war who live underground in a sealed bunker. After several mysterious accidents, the game is interrupted and the players leave the location while the staff remain behind to investigate the disappearance of Greg, the game’s mastermind. They soon find themselves trapped inside and in peril as they begin to die in mysterious ways. The group realizes that someone or something paranormal is playing a twisted game with them which quickly plunges into a terrifying fight for survival.
The film’s director, Roberto Zazzara, whom also serves as one of the writers, is very familiar with the world of LARPs, as he is a player, himself. His passion comes through in the high concept story and look of the film. We spoke to Roberto more in depth about creating the world of The Bunker Game, read the full interview below.
Wicked Horror: We heard that you are a Live Action Role Player yourself and that’s how you got the idea for the film. At what point did you realize that this topic would make for a good movie?
Roberto Zazzara: Ever since I first played a LARP, I felt like I was in the middle of something that had great narrative potential. In particular, the suspended dimension that is created between the real life of each player and the narration that is part of the game has always fascinated me. What is real and what is a fiction? Playing a LARP is like finding yourself catapulted into a film, playing a character, but with the conscience that remains that of the real person.
I believe that LARPs are a very representative art form of our contemporaneity: in a world focused on virtual experiences, LARPs give you the opportunity to physically live out stories. All this and much more is part of the theories that revolve around the concept of LARPs and that being something quite new has yet to be largely explored. I am not ruling out making another film or possibly a series set in the world of LARPs. And in the meantime, when I can, I will keep playing them.
Wicked Horror: You have said that The Bunker Game is a movie that looks at the glorious history of Italian horror movies. What are some of your favorite Italian horror films?
Robert Zazzara: Without a doubt, Mario Bava is the director I feel most similar to, when it comes to my taste of horror. Another reason why I can relate to Bava, is because he is also a cinematographer like me. His films are psychedelic journeys, the use of photographic techniques is often brilliant, innovative and leads the viewer into an atmosphere where everything is possible, where logic goes in other directions. It is difficult to mention just some of his titles, and certainly all his gothic films were the inspiration for The Bunker Game, which is ultimately a classic gothic film, where the haunted house is replaced by an old bunker. I have to mention Bava’s only science fiction film, Planet of the Vampires, because like this film, in The Bunker Game I tried to describe this huge underground place as if it were an alien and a hostile planet that slowly creeps into the mind of visitors.
Another direct source of inspiration for The Bunker Game, at least from an atmosphere point of view, and ultimately also for the protagonist, is Suspiria by Dario Argento, a film where the narration is really carried on by the audiovisual language.
Lastly, I have to mention The Long Hair of Death, by Antonio Margheriti, a less known and very fascinating film, which focused on the concept of how evil committed is handed down from generation to generation.
Wicked Horror: What did preproduction look like for you? Did you storyboard a lot of the scenes out?
Roberto Zazzara: Having a photographic mind, I don’t tend to work a lot with storyboards. For this project, I was lucky enough to have all the main locations fully available, as the bunker has been there for decades. Also, a few years earlier a LARP by Chaos League had been set there, with a 50s look not very far from what you see in my film. So I had several backstage photos of the LARP available and could use them as a visual cue to prepare for my film and also show to my collaborators. In particular, the beautiful pictures by photographer Luca Tenaglia were of great help to me.Another advantage was that we spent a lot of preparation time inside the bunker and also with the actors. I wanted them to come as soon as possible to visit the location, so they could understand what an incredible atmosphere it was.
Wicked Horror: Is there a scene in The Bunker Game that doesn’t look intricate, but actually was very hard to film?
Roberto Zazzara: There is a scene in the film where we see Laura and the other main characters discussing how mazelike the bunker is. Then in a single shot, the camera slowly approaches a model that reconstructs the bunker to scale, as it enters one of the tunnels we find the same characters exploring the creepy place. This scene was quite complex because the layout was purposely built by the scenography department, and does not represent the true geography of the real bunker. When completed it was very large, with a width of about 5 meters. We placed a model for the scene where the characters look at, so they know where to look for Greg. After that, we moved the camera to a point in the bunker where there was enough height to let us mount the crane and make the movement to enter the tunnel. Then there was a passage made in vfx, but it is very short, until we enter the real tunnel, where from behind we find the characters walking. There we had to mount a gimbal on a crane because the ground was full of holes. I think in the end, it turned out to be a very smooth transition, which I was very pleased with. Someone says that in this scene of the model, it looks like a labyrinth, I wanted to quote The Shining.
Wicked Horror: You are also a cinematographer. What made you want to direct the film instead of just being the cinematographer?
Roberto Zazzara: I really like working as a DOP, it’s a job I wouldn’t want to give up even if my career as a director became very successful. They are two works that certainly have similarities, but also many differences: at least in my experience I can say that the director of photography is in some way the role that comes closest to the purity of cinematic language, where technical knowledge fits perfectly with storytelling. Directing, however, contains in itself all the aspects of cinematographic creation and if you have an idea, a story to tell as in my case, the desire to stage it in first person comes natural. So I would say that I never even assumed that I was just the director of photography on The Bunker Game. On the contrary, at a certain point I seriously considered the possibility of doing the photography of the film too, but then I realized that I would not have enough time to devote to all the other aspects of directing. Working with the director of photography, Marco Graziaplena, was exceptional. We had a great mutual respect, as he knew that I had very precise ideas from a photographic point of view and on the other hand, I was very fascinated by some of his considerations, let’s say philosophical, which then influenced my point of view on the film. We used to spend time discussing both the technical aspects and the philosophy behind Tarkovskij movies.
Wicked Horror: Were there any scenes that were cut from the final version of the film that you can talk about?
Roberto Zazzara: Almost all of the scenes we shot are in the film. Some scenes have been reduced, but in reality, only one was entirely cut. It was a very short, but intimate scene, which I found touching and which explained Clara’s psychology a little better. If I reveal it, it will spoil the end of the movie, so I will just keep it to myself. Maybe one day a director’s cut will be released too. But I would like to make it clear that the final edit of the film really represents my vision and that one scene was really the only scene for which the producers and I had serious doubts about what to do.
Wicked Horror: The movie was going to be originally shot in Italian. Besides obviously the language, were there any other major changes that happened when this decision was made?
Roberto Zazzara: In fact, from the beginning I wanted the film to be shot in English, because I wanted it to be accessible to as wide an audience as possible. In any case, the choice of English would not have been a stretch because in LARPs it often happens that people come from different countries to play, so the game language is English. I also really liked the idea that the players were of different origins, because this is a truly European film, both in the cast and in the setting from World War II to the Cold War, from Fascism to Nazism.
Wicked Horror: A lot of people are comparing the film to the Saw franchise. What do you think about this comparison?
Roberto Zazzara: Honestly, I don’t find many similarities between Saw and The Bunker Game. I think the supposed relationship between the two stems more from some marketing choices made on The Bunker Game. Watching the trailer you get the feeling that the film is a classic escape game, but as many have already noticed, after watching the film one realizes that it is instead a film in which one begins in the little-told world of the LARPs, then turns into a mysterious thriller in which a missing person is found, to one which unites a supernatural presence.
Wicked Horror: How is The Bunker Game different than other horror movies out there right now?
Roberto Zazzara: It is a film in which a group of people first play in a nuclear bunker to survive and then become locked in by something or someone.
It is a film in which the ghosts of the past re-emerge. Ghosts of the people who experienced the horror and found death in that exact location, but also the ghosts of history, war, fascism and Nazism, which re-emerge from the wet and rocky walls of the bunker.
It is a film in which the violence of war and fascism have left unremovable scars that continue to ask for revenge.
Do you know a film that deals with more contemporary topics..