With 9.7 million followers across Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, Keegan Allen can relate to his character, Cole, in his new movie, No Escape, a horror-thriller about an escape room that becomes life or death.
In the film, Allen stars as a social media vlogger with tens of millions of subscribers who travels to Moscow with his friends for a new video. Little does he know, however, that what awaits him isn’t a warm welcome from locals but a sinister plot to kill each of his friends, including his girlfriend Erin (Holland Roden), one by one.
“The director, Will Wernick, had reached out and sent me the script,” Allen tells StyleCaster. “I was on my way back from a fishing trip, a very calm, tranquil experience out in nature, and when I got back and sat down to read the script, I remember reading it in a very heightened state of awareness. My armpits started sweating so profusely. It was such a visceral experience reading through what was happening and the twists and turns.”
To prepare for the role, Allen watched dozens of vloggers on YouTube. One of those vloggers was Logan Paul, who attended a screening of the film and congratulated Allen on his performance. “He gave me a hug afterwards,” Allen says. “He was very reflective. He even said, ‘I’m very reflective on my life after seeing that movie.’” Though Allen can’t confirm if his character was inspired by Paul (he claims that Cole was an “amalgamation” of different vloggers), he admits that he walked away from the film with a new respect for influencers.
“I have a reverence for vloggers,” Allen says. “People have such contentious attitudes towards them, mostly because they’re jealous. They’re like, ‘Oh. They’re making all this money and they’re just screwing off.’ It’s a hard lifestyle to take on and to upkeep.It takes over who you once were. That is a really overwhelming thing to take on and in the movie, you can see that. Everything is constantly in question. What’s real and what’s for the audience? It’s up to the audience to finalize the sensation of who they are. It’s kind of a crazy, escape room prison in real life.”
Ahead, Allen talked to StyleCaster about the pressure to “upkeep” his social media persona and No Escape’s wild twist.
On how Cole is an “amalgamation” of various vloggers
“Cole was an amalgamation of all these different vloggers. There was no gender stamp on any specific vlogger. I watched every vlogger under the sun. A lot of people have anchored themselves to thinking I’m emulating a very specific vlogger, which is interesting. Because I know who that is immediately. But it really was a combination. It was a huge amount of research and [a combination of] people I knew personally and honestly a bit of myself. I tried to embody a human version of cupidity and narcissism but also the every realistic side to this, which is the underlying almost guilt for being this person.”
On how he relates to Cole switching on and off his social media persona
“Everybody that has social media can understand to that either on the micro or macro level. Whether someone has millions of followers or someone has 168 followers, they will notice a difference when they post because there is a self awareness of an audience. There’s a personality you have to upkeep. There’s a mental stamina you have to upkeep. Some of it might be comparison. Some of it might be competition to show that you’re doing fine when you’re not. That’s a mask that all people who engage in social media, not just influencers, experience, which is why I was even more drawn to this character. All we sometimes see with influencers is the camera on. We never really see the camera off.”
On how he isolated himself on set to get into character
“I did know the ending. I thought it was brilliant. In order to really deserve that pay off for the audience, the real audience and maybe also the audience in the film, there was a lot that had to go into it, but the main thing was being true to the present moment throughout filming. Will was really great in this aspect as a director. We really didn’t know what we were going to do. Even though the ending was written down, until we shot the ending, we didn’t really know what it was going to be. That helped me with the illusion of separating myself literally from the storyline. There were a couple of days where I, in isolation, I would be on set and I would put up these cloth barriers around me and I would sit in there for the entirety of shooting. Just so I would feel the isolation. It was just for me. I don’t know if any of that really comes through. It was for me, so that I wasn’t on again, off again feeling like, ‘Oh, hey.’ Going to crafts services. Talking to people. Hanging out. There were a lot of days where I would self-isolate. It was weird. It was traumatic. I know there were a couple places toward the end where there were quick cuts of what isolation looked like, but I was really isolated during that time.”
On what it was like to film so much of No Escape on a cell phone
“The format really lends itself to allowing behind the veil of what social media influencers usually do. You get a certain amount of vision through the lens. You would get the POV of the audience and then you would get the narrative of the characters around them. It allowed me to feel free within that construct we were framing. I was free to be the character in his entirety. I was the character in front of the camera, and I was the character when I went to the bathroom. There was no separation there.”
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