For his feature film debut, up-and-coming writer/director Branden Kramer utilizes the technology that surrounds us each and every day as not only the basis for his story but also with the way he presents his footage. Shot entirely POV-style through iPhones, webcams and more, Ratter follows a newly relocated college student by the name of Emma (Ashley Benson) who begins to suspect someone is stalking her after a series of weird occurrences leaves her paranoid and unable to trust anyone.

Ratter is set to play at the 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival later this evening and in anticipation of its LA premiere, Daily Dead recently chatted with Kramer about the origins behind his film, the challenges (and freedoms) of shooting the film non-traditionally and the importance of realism when telling a story such as this.

Thanks for speaking with me today, Branden. I thought Ratter was really ambitious and you really captured a nice sense of realism to the terror of this story. I noticed on your IMDB that previous to this, you had done a short called Webcam which I’m guessing was very similar in theme. Was Ratter an extension of that story then?

Branden Kramer: Thanks so much. The short film did indeed lead to this. It all started around four and a half years ago when me and the EP (Stefan Haverkamp)- who also worked on the short- had this really creepy idea about using technology to stalk people. Then, something weird happened to a friend of mine where their webcam light would go on and off all the time. They thought it was a glitch but it wasn’t. And we didn’t realize how much this stuff actually happens out there and we also wondered why no one had done a film about this just because it seemed so obvious considering where technology is at these days.

So we went ahead and put together the short and as we started doing more and more research, we realized just how often this happened, and in most cases it was happening to women. Hackers would get into webcams and set up feeds of these random women without them ever knowing that anyone was watching. I can’t imagine anything creepier.  And the short really took off once we released it and then we were able to pull together the feature version and now here we are, about to play the LA Film Festival. It’s been a really exciting process for all of us.

What I thought was really interesting about your approach to Ratter is that it feels fully steeped in realism, in regards to how you shot it and then framed the film overall. Was that something you were conscientious of as you were putting the project together initially, that it needed to feel like this was something very real and very dangerous?

Branden Kramer: It was. I wanted everything about it to feel ultra-real so we used no score at all in it. If it felt like a traditional movie, I think that would have ruined some of the tension we were aiming to build throughout. There are moments when the silence on the screen is uncomfortable and that was intentional- people should feel uncomfortable watching at times because you’re putting yourself into the perspective of the stalker. It’s meant to be creepy and voyeuristic so things like traditional score or camera positioning would have interfered with that feeling.

Because you ended up using non-traditional cameras for Ratter, I would love to hear about your experiences filming this. I know a lot of people will say that using these new type of cameras is ‘easy’ but I think there would also be some challenges that would come along with shooting a movie entirely through devices like an iPhone or a webcam.

Branden Kramer: It was both challenging and freeing, actually. It was a really interesting process for me to only shoot POV-style because that meant we had to find ways to keep these cameras were shooting visually interesting for viewers but still make sure they didn’t feel too staged either so that we could keep that realistic authenticity. Using smaller cameras gave us a lot of flexibility but it also meant that we were limited in other ways too. We had to do a lot of testing but it all worked out really well in the end.

Let’s talk about Ashley for a moment just because she carries this entire film- she’s in pretty much every single shot and in many ways, was also part of the filming process. Can you discuss casting her as Emma and collaborating with her during production?

Branden Kramer: Yeah, everything hinged on Ashley.  She had to be able to pull all this off or we wouldn’t have had a movie and thankfully, she loved everything about what we were doing with Ratter. She liked the story, really dug into her character and was very involved in the filming process too. In fact, she has a camera operator credit on the film just because so much of it was up to her.

Ashley has a lot of TV experience so I think that helped a lot too- she was a natural at finding those perfect but natural angles we wanted, which was so great and really helpful for all of us.

We won’t ruin anything about the ending but I did want to ask about your decision to leave things open in regards to the stalker’s identity. These days, things can be overexplained in genre films and so I enjoyed how you left their identity a mystery which felt very old-school as I’ve always found killers with unrevealed motives to be a little more disturbing than those who we know everything about.

Branden Kramer: Leaving the story like that was our nod to the notion of internet anonymity. That idea that you don’t always know who you’re dealing with when you’re online is kind of scary when you think about it. I also agree with this idea that JJ Abrams talked about once, how it’s scarier if you never reveal what’s inside ‘the box’ so that’s the theme we were sticking to here. It could have been anyone and that’s what is really scary in the end.

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.