Festivals - Fright fest 2023 : Cheat : Let’s talk with Kevin Ignatius and Nick Psinakis  

By Mulder, Zoom USA / France, 28 august 2023

The narrative of Cheat centers around the chilling urban legend that a malevolent supernatural entity from the afterlife mercilessly hunts down those who betray their partners. This sinister tale unfolds in the serene backdrop of a small college town in Pennsylvania, where an alarming surge in suicides has left both locals and students questioning the hidden truths beneath the surface. At its heart is the story of a college woman who becomes entangled in a web of deceit by becoming involved with a married man from her host family. Produced under the banner of Ignatius and Psinakis' Four Eighteen Films, based in New York, the film features a cast led by April Clark, Corin Clay, and Michael Thyer. The cinematography, meticulously handled by Connor Smyers, adds a visual layer of intrigue to the suspenseful narrative.

We have the opportunity to interview Kevin Ignatius and Nick Psinakis    

Q: Could you briefly introduce yourselves and tell us what led you to become screenwriters and directors ?

Nick Psinakis: Sure, my name is Nick Psinakis.

Kevin Ignatius: I'm Kevin Ignatius.

Nick Psinakis: We are co-writing and co-directing as a team. What first made us become writer-directors? I don't know, I think probably our love for movies as kids, maybe in the 80s.

Kevin Ignatius: And just loving them. Actually, we started out with comedies. We did a lot of comedy, a lot of Funny or Die sketches, and that really brought us into that world. But we just love films.

Q: In a few words, can you talk about the story of your new film Cheat ?

Nick Psinakis: It's kind of inspired by some of those movies that we grew up with. But basically, it follows an extremely small town in Northwestern Pennsylvania. In the 1800s, a young girl found out that her father was having an affair and went to him to try to end it and save their family. She told her mother, but he refused to end it. So she took matters into her own hands and killed his mistress. He then killed her in turn. Now she's haunting the town, killing anyone who cheats because cheating ruined her life. We pick it up in present day, and it's still going on.

Q: Can you tell us how you divide your work on this film ?

Kevin Ignatius: As far as writing, we develop and get the script done together. We work closely on shot listing and production. When it comes to post-production, Nick is an editor by trade, and I'm also a composer. So I handle the music and sound design for the film. We work together on shaping the film, dividing our expertise that way.

Q: Can you share some insights into the inspiration behind Cheat and how the concept of forbidden desires and supernatural consequences came about ?

Nick Psinakis: Sure, we were definitely inspired by movies like The Ring or It Follows in terms of the supernatural element. Stylistically, we enjoy John Carpenter's original Halloween. We tried not to show too much on the screen, letting the audience's imagination fill in the gaps. That's how we started crafting the film.

Q: How did you approach creating the serene yet eerie setting of Silver Creek, and what role does the location play in the overall atmosphere of this film ?

Kevin Ignatius: I live in that small town, and the community embraced us shooting there. It's very historic and offers different elements, from deep woods to a rural vibe. We created a college town for the film, allowing us a fluid process. The location was key, providing unique moments.

Q: The relationship between Maeve and Charlie is central to the story. How did you develop and evolve these characters to defy expectations and evoke empathy from the audience ?

Nick Psinakis: It was important not to follow traditional clichés of an older man and a younger woman. We wanted to make it more on a level playing field. They find common ground in both being in complicated relationships and potentially lonely. We wanted it to feel more real and mature.

Q: Kevin, the film's score is a significant contributor to its atmosphere. Could you shed light on how you achieved the desired sonic experience ?

Kevin Ignatius: For the score, I was inspired by John Carpenter and a synth-driven style. I used Moog synthesizers to build low tones and sequence tones to elevate scenes. In terms of sound design, I used some raw percussion. The score was inspired by John Carpenter and disaster piece, aligning with that vibe.

Q: Cheat delves into the complexities of guilt and unintended consequences. Can you discuss the challenges and opportunities of portraying these themes in a supernatural horror context ?

Nick Psinakis: Supernatural elements challenge setting boundaries and rules. Portraying guilt was important, touching on a universal theme. We wanted to evoke a sense of connection or feeling among the audience, exploring gray areas.

Kevin Ignatius: Guilt exists within us, whether acknowledged or not. We aimed to tap into that.

Q: The film bridges superficial scares and psychological depth. How did you balance these aspects to create a well-rounded horror experience ?

Nick Psinakis: A good blend was vital, practical scares hitting at the right moments. Practicality and psychological depth coexist in the film.

Kevin Ignatius: Marrying psychological and traditional jump scares was challenging but a conscious decision.

Q: Could you provide insights into the casting process and why you chose Corin Clay, Michael Thyer, and Danielle Grotsky for the pivotal roles of Maeve, Charlie, and Lydia ?

Nick Psinakis: Michael Thyer, who plays Charlie, is a friend we've collaborated with before. For Danielle and Corin, we had an open casting call with videotape submissions. We were looking for honesty, vulnerability, and uniqueness that resonated on screen.

Kevin Ignatius: Corin's innocence and Danielle's comedic relief were factors. Corin's physicality for the role of Clara was fantastic.

Q: What can you tell us about the locations where you shot this film ?

Nick Psinakis: Locations were essential; we prefer shooting on location for authenticity. Kevin's hometown provided diverse elements that added to the film's uniqueness.

Q: Which scene was the most difficult to shoot for you and why ?

Nick Psinakis: The warehouse scene was challenging due to cold weather and location changes. It was a long, cold day and night.

Q: How did you strike a balance between horror genre expectations and broader philosophical undertones ?

Nick Psinakis: We wanted a cinematic experience while keeping the crew small. Shot selection and lenses aimed to make it feel bigger and broader without compromising authenticity.

Q: What specific visual and narrative elements did you draw from the 1970s to infuse the film with its eerie subtlety ?

Nick Psinakis: We used lenses from the 70s, colored and composed music to reflect that era. Certain frames and story elements, like monologues, were influenced by that time.

Q: Cheat is a haunting reminder of the past's influence on the present. Can you discuss historical or cultural influences that shaped the film's thematic experience ?

Nick Psinakis: We explored modern relationships, open relationships, and the complexity of commitment. It's a look at the gray areas, reflecting the socio-cultural landscape.

Q: What do you hope audiences take away from Cheat in terms of philosophical themes, character arcs, and its unique approach to horror storytelling ?

Kevin Ignatius: We want them to enjoy the ride and be entertained. Thought-provoking moments are there, but overall, entertainment is key.

Q: What advice would you give to a young adult who wants to become a writer and director, and what are your current projects ?

Nick Psinakis: Go make stuff, don't wait for permission. Learn from mistakes and keep improving. We'll continue making films, planning two in 2024. Encourage growth with every project.

Kevin Ignatius: Start writing, keep going, and don't waste time. Make mistakes and learn from them.

Synopsis : 
On the face of it, it's just another urban legend: a supernatural being from the beyond violently kills anyone who cheats on their significant other in the small college town of Silvercreek, Pennsylvania. But the town's abnormally high suicide rate convinces residents and students that all is not what it seems. When student Maeve sleeps with Charlie, the married man of the host family she's staying with, they both sense that the death curse is closing in on them. Unable to make themselves believe, Maeve and Charlie enlist the help of a local history student to help them find answers and a way to fight back. But everything falls apart when several people are killed by the savage being, one after the other, at a frantic pace. Finally, Maeve, Charlie and the few survivors unite to try and defeat the monster once and for all.

Written, directed and produced by Kevin Ignatius, Nick Psinakis  
Starring  Will Bunk, April Clark, Corin Clay, Kyle Corbin, Danielle Grotsky, Paul Ignatius, Brady O'Donnell, Michael Thyer
Music by Kevin Ignatius
Cinematography :  Connor Smyers
Edited by Nick Psinakis   
Running time : 85 minutes

we'd like to thank Kevin Ignatius, Nick Psinakisfor answering our questions.
A special thanks also to Tom Brumpton from Polymath PR