Big Picture: Horror stalks Victoria sites

Claudia Lee nailed it when she described the mood of The Girl in the Photographs, executive producer Wes Craven’s indie horror feature that wraps in Victoria today.

“We’re not in Bluebell anymore,” said Lee, smiling, in reference to the Alabama gulf coast town where Hart of Dixie, the CW series in which she played teenager Magnolia Breeland, was set.

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“And there are no love triangles ... well, maybe a little, but we don’t have the southern allure. Bluebell is very cookie-cutter, with a Stepford Wives sort of vibe.”

For The Girl in the Photographs, the capital region is playing Spearfish, South Dakota, where Lee’s title character, Colleen, encounters Peter Hemmings, a hipster Los Angeles-based celebrity photographer (Kal Penn) who returns to his hometown. After learning that Colleen, a grocery-store clerk recovering from an abusive relationship, is being stalked by two serial killers who leave perversely “artistic” photos of their mutilated victims for her to find, Hemmings conspires to feature her in a provocative new campaign.

“Colleen is kind of stuck in South Dakota and looking for an escape, and I don’t think she has the confidence in herself to believe she can find a better life,” said Lee, best known for playing Bridget, the doughnut-shop waitress, in Disney XD’s Zeke and Luther, and Brooke, the sexy high-school bully in Kick-Ass 2.

“Luck, if you can consider it that, kind of finds her and our story takes place from there,” said Lee, 18, as she relaxed in the foyer of the unit’s “dream location.”

On a windy Wednesday, director Nick Simon, protégé of horror legend Craven, was shooting interiors at Miramar, a luxurious 8,000-square-foot home on Seaview Road, on almost a hectare of sloping oceanfront greenery overlooking Cadboro Bay and the Olympic Mountains.

“Wes was instrumental in getting this off the ground,” said Thomas Mahoney, producer of the thriller being financed and produced by Al-Ghanim Entertainment.

Simon, who co-wrote the film, inspired by Craven’s Scream franchise, with Oz Perkins and Robert Morast, appeared relaxed during a break from filming that wouldn’t end until 1 a.m.

“All the murdering is done, thank God,” said Simon. “Those are brutal. No one is falling downstairs tonight or being pulled out of cars. It’s a mellow scene, which is nice.”

The scene features Lee and Kenny Wormald (Footloose), who plays Chris, Penn’s level-headed assistant.

“Kal’s character is very loud and eccentric and I’m the opposite — introverted and more caring,” Wormald said. “He’s flamboyant and crazy, and I always have to apologize and clean up after him.”

One sequence that was being shot was an “awkward sleepover scene” in which Chris, who is attracted to Colleen, shows her into one of the bedrooms in the home he and Hemmings are renting.

“I’m comforting her because she’s going through some crazy stuff and we’re about to whisk her off to L.A.,” said Wormald, who was last here in 2012 to play a pot-smuggler in John Stockwell’s Kid Cannabis.

The Boston-born actor said he was “so happy” to learn he’d get to return after producers chose Victoria over locations scouted in the U.S. for six months.

“I knew it was such a beautiful part of the world and we almost shot in Detroit or something,” he said. “I’ve been showing the other actors around. They’re from L.A., so they don’t know Victoria.”

He admitted the cast has been spoiled staying downtown, close to shooting locations that include Wellburn’s Food Market, a harbourfront loft and sets built in a former elementary school.

“This is the furthest location we’ve shot in,” he said.

“Usually we’d be picked up at our hotel and we’d be at work in two minutes.”

Other cast members include Mitch Pileggi (The X-Files), Katharine Isabelle (Hannibal) and Christy Carlson Romano (Kim Possible).

Since Craven has been busy writing scripts for other projects in Los Angeles, he hasn’t made it to Victoria, but has been very “hands-on,” Simon said.

“He watches the dailies every day. One of his executives came out and said they’re very happy.”

A plus, said Simon, is working with Dean Cundey, the veteran cinematographer whose credits include shooting the original Halloween trilogy and the Back to the Future series.

“His movies were my entire childhood,” Simon said. “We wanted this to be a throwback vibe to those ’80s horror movies we grew up loving. It’s got a Halloween vibe, the same kind of esthetic.”

One of the film’s most striking features, he said, is the juxtaposition of its grisly footage with shots of the region’s gorgeous homes, greenery and waterfront.

“The style is more old-school, rather than in these ‘found footage’ films,” said associate producer Nick Devars. “There are some great long shots and zoom-ins as opposed to all these quick cuts you see now.”

Cundey has added a lot of levity to the set with a crew of between 65 and 85, Devars said.

Another bonus, Mahoney added, is that they’ve been able to shoot under the radar, which was important to avoid spoilers.

“The community has been really cool about everything,” he said. “And having that Vancouver infrastructure [for equipment supplies] so close really helps.”

The diversity of locations within close proximity, including the Inner Harbour, doubling as L.A.’s Marina Del Rey, is another incentive, said Devars.

“The only thing you’re missing is a full-on desert.”

mreid@timescolonist.com

This is a corrected version of an earlier story.

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