We Chatted To Director David Barker About What Makes A Great Psychological Thriller

Psychological thrillers have fascinated audiences for generations. Now, Australian film Pimped is offering a fresh twist on the genre.

Benedict Samuel and Robin Goldsworthy in Australian thriller Pimped
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Pimped is in select cinemas now. 

Filmmaker David Barker has always been a lover of genre movies. From consuming them theatrically to studying them years after their release, he’s fascinated by the conventions – and by ways he can toy around with them.

“Thriller is just a great genre to be in,” he says. “They inherently come with devices that you can exploit, genre tropes that move and engage people. I’m also naturally drawn to films that deal with identity. One of my favourite films of all time is Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy, with Jake Gyllenhaal. A lot of guys are into Fight Club and, well, I was into it, too, but mainly for the idea of this inner dialogue that isn’t always socially acceptable in moral terms. Putting all those things together in my own film seemed natural.”

Barker makes his directorial debut with Pimped, which also leans into the legacy of psychosexual thrillers like Basic Instinct and American Psycho. The film tells the dual narratives of Sarah (Ella Scott Lynch) – seemingly on a normal night out – and Lewis (Benedict Samuel) – a sinister “fixer” who has malevolent plans for the evening at the behest of his roommate Kenneth (Robin Goldsworthy).

Ella Scott Lynch in Australian thriller Pimped

“In terms of psychosexual thrillers, it came about in a really organic way,” says Barker, who shot the film over the course of a tight 25-day shoot. “I thought about what would happen if you had these two really rancid men who picked the wrong woman. You know, someone who’s smarter and tougher and stronger than they were.”

To make sure he got that “female perspective” right, he teamed up with Lou Mentor to co-write the screenplay. She was recommended by a friend of Barker’s and fellow Australian genre filmmaker Shane Krause, with the two connecting over the idea immediately.

“As a male, inherently I can’t help but write from a male perspective,” he says. “I really wanted to get a female writer on board, as I had about 10 pages but it needed that female voice. When I was talking to an actress about the script, she said what was interesting was, when she was reading it, she could see that the story was written through the eyes of a woman. That was one of the biggest strengths in having Lou on board: she brought that female perspective.”

Ella Scott Lynch in Australian thriller Pimped

In many ways, the less you know about Pimped going into it, the better off you’ll be. The twists are many, with surprises and subversions of the genre conventions starting early and continuing right up until the closing frame. Scott Lynch’s character, Sarah, is the vessel for many of them, which Barker says again comes down to having Mentor’s involvement on the screenplay.

“We just wanted her (Sarah) to be authentic: she has her own experiences. It’s a difficult thing to talk about without spoilers, but especially now as gender politics have exploded. In some ways, that’s probably good for the film as it’s a dialogue and conversation that rides along with those themes. When we started writing Pimped, it was about five years ago and that (conversation) hadn’t happened yet.”

Filmed in Sydney, the movie was shot at several locations, including a unique house in Rose Bay, which becomes a centerpiece for the story, as well as exteriors in Centennial Park and the notorious Belanglo State Forest. A former photographer, Barker teamed up with frequent collaborators, including production designer Bethany Ryan and cinematographer Josh Flavell. “We all talk in the same language and I knew that I wanted to work with them on it.”

Australian thriller Pimped

Although he was thinking global in terms of genre, Barker says his inspirations were local, with Australian films The Loved OnesSnowtown, and Hounds Of Love three of his favourites. “Those movies are handled in such a specific way, with a storytelling vision that’s super unified in approach. The movies never step outside of themselves and be something they aren’t, they stay true to the genre. They were very good yardsticks for us.”

It’s rather fitting then that, when Pimped had its world premiere at FrightFest in London in August of 2018, Barker ended up bumping into a fellow Aussie filmmaker-done-good.  “I accidentally sat next to Leigh Whannell, who was there with Upgrade and we got chatting,” says Barker. “Saw was a great example of what Australians do very well and that’s ingenuity with very little budget.”

Now, it’s Barker’s turn to see what his genre film can do, following sold out sessions at MonsterFest and screenings nationally.

You can catch Pimped at select cinemas from March 14. Visit the website for information on cinema locations and times.