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Frida Farrell's Film 'Apartment 407' Explores Her True Sex Slavery Story
Frida Farrell stars in "Apartment 407," a film which depicts her real life experience surviving sex slavery. We talk with Farrell about depictions of rape in the media, the trauma of making the movie, and what audiences can do to help victims.
"Apartment 407" is not an easy film to watch. Directed by Rudolf Buitendach, the movie tells the story of Isobel, an average middle-class mother who is enticed into a photo shoot by a stranger in a coffee shop. Thus begins a living nightmare: drugged, captured, and raped repeatedly, Isobel's harrowing escape from sexual slavery is a gruesome tale of sadism and survival. And the scariest part? It's all based on star Frida Farrell's real life experience.
At the age of 24, Farrell was in fact hired for what appeared to be a legitimate photo shoot in London. The next day, she returned for a follow-up session for which she would receive £7,000. It was then that she was drugged and held against her will in a basement for three days. During that time she was forced to have sex with several men, including her captor. It was a small mistake made by her captor — leaving a door unlocked for just a moment — that allowed her to escape.
The human trafficking industry pulls in an estimated $99 billion each year, according to Equality Now, a non-governmental organiztion dedicated to promoting human rights for women and girls. Nearly 25 million men, women, and children have been victims of human trafficking around the globe, according to 2017 statistics from the International Labor Organization (ILO). Nineteen percent of those victims (about 4.8 million) were sexually exploited.
Farrell wrote, produced, and starred in "Apartment 407" in the hopes of raising awareness of this issue and as a warning to women who could potentially fall victims to these crimes. Reliving her traumatic experiences through the film was by no means an easy experience, although she noted she has come out the other end immensely grateful for the support she's received from friends, family, and strangers alike.
Oxygen.com spoke with Farrell about the process of making the movie, her thoughts about the treatment of rape in contemporary media, and what audiences can do to help. Check out the conversation, below.
(Warning: spoilers below)
Oxygen: Apartment 407" is one of the most terrifying movies we've ever seen. Was there a lot of resistance around getting the film funded considering the brutality of the subject matter?
FF: I was the one resisting the most, I think. I didn't want to make a film about my story because I didn't want anyone to know. It was too embarrassing, too close to my heart. But with enough convincing, I was like, 'OK, let's do this.' Let's actually make a film that's scary but also true — but also with a message that could possibly help other women. I finally agreed and went out and got the money. The money was from private investors in Sweden. Making a film is really hard, as I'm sure you know. The biggest achievement of all for me was getting the funding. So we cracked open a very cheap Prosecco and celebrated. And then we went ahead and made a movie. Having done six short films, I figured, yeah, I could do this. But then I stepped onto the feature film and realized, wow, I have no idea what I'm doing. Everything is crumbling, I don't know what's left or right. It's a beast. So I've learned a lot, it's incredible.
What was the discussion about precisely how much of the sexual violence you would depict in the film like?
FF: That was a tough decision to make. I wanted to hint. I'm European, so I just wanted to show hand movements or something and be more arty about it. And then the director was like, 'I think in this kind of movie you need to show, actually. And really show them what the hell goes on in there.'
We're not showing nudity, we're not being gratuitous. And we are cutting at some point — we don't just have a massive rape that goes on and on and on. We let it linger in your head. We do show quite some bit of it, and I was scared of showing even that. And in the editing I even wondered, 'Should we edit some of this out and just have sound? And let people imagine it?' And the director said no. He said we needed to show it. People really need to know it.
I watch a lot of TV, I watch a lot of movies, I watch everything. I saw '13 Reasons Why,' which I thought was fantastic. And I was like, wait a second. There are two rapes. Full on. And you see the whole thing. And these are teenagers. And I realized, this is fine. We can do this. Sometimes you need to show it for people to really understand what happened.
"13 Reasons Why" was quite controversial when it debuted, and many have wondered about its depiction of rape. This is a topic that has garnered widespread criticism across the film and television industries: What are the appropriate ways to depict rape? Do you have any thoughts about this?
FF: I think that if a rape has gone down it needs to be shown in its true light. You can't beat around the bush. If a woman has been raped 20 times or one, it's all bad. It should never be brushed along or talked about quickly. We don't talk about guys getting raped, either. It's always women we're talking about. And we do need to talk about it. We need to make it OK for people to talk about abuse. I agree that sometimes it can be taken a little bit too far. But a rape should be taken seriously and talked about.
What went into the decision of having you as the star of the film? How was the process of acting in a movie about your own experiences?
FF: I was originally against being the star of the film. I thought that I didn't want to go through that ordeal again. I didn't feel comfortable doing that. And then we talked about it — for months really. We came to the conclusion that it's a strong decision if I do [star in the movie] because it opens up a different side. Going through it again was kind of a secondary involvement in it. It required a certain kind of strength. I had to say, 'I can go through this once, I'm going to be OK re-telling the story. And I'm going to show other women that actually, I am OK. You can go on. You're going to have something in your luggage, something heavy. But you're going to be OK.' And the more we talk about it, the more honest and raw we are about it, the better it is for all of us.
I was quiet about it for 10 years. I was too embarrassed, I was too ashamed. I don't recommend people being silent. I recommend people talking about it. I took on the role to sort of double tell the world that this is who I am now. Really.
Film still via Development Hell Pictures & Gravitas Ventures
Would you say the process was cathartic?
FF: It was not cathartic during the filming. That was just messy, for me in my head. But now, afterwards it's cathartic. Editing was pretty good, but hard. It put things into perspective, in a way. It became she — the person on the screen. The character. I sort of separated myself a little bit. I became a person with a story that happened to me, rather than feeling it was too heavy. I felt I could actually move on. Now, really, getting the support from others has made the biggest difference. Other women — and men too — struggle with the embarrassment and the shame that comes with it. When you do tell people they never really think what you think they're going to think — if that makes any sense. People just say, 'Oh my god!' and give you support.
The response has been the biggest help, [it] has made it all worth it. Even the whole incident. Having so many women come forward to me and messaging me and email me and talking to me about screenings and events. It's been amazing and fantastic.
How true is the film to your own experience?
FF: In reality, the experience was much worse. We couldn't bring the audience through all that. There were so many rapes in real life — we couldn't just put it all in there. No one's going to sit through that. They're going to walk out. They're going to turn it off. Honestly! I would too! I have to look at it from an audience point of view, as a consumer: Do I want to watch this? No! This is not entertainment. Even if it's a horrific story, it has to be entertaining so you actually stay through the film. I'm not saying you have to laugh, but we should want the audience to watch it 'til the end. So we carefully chose the moments that would be defining in the story. We had the one that she wakes up with, we had one that's just disgusting, and we have a third one where she just doesn't want to live any more after. We had five more in the script that we just took out. We had to narrow it down to three.
In real life, the main captor was much worse. We made him different because we had to give him a character. In real life, I didn't know anything about him. He never talked to me. Me and the writers together wanted to give him a reason so that you could at least understand him — you would never agree with him or sympathize with him but you need to understand him. Unless he's just a psycho — and I don't think he was a psycho. I think he had a reason.
The apartment in real life was so decked out. It was clear I was not the first, and I'm sure I was not going to be the last. The kitchen didn't have any drawers, any doors, anything that could be taken out and used as a weapon, the toilet had no toilet seat, there was no mirror. No one would set that up just for me. I'm not that special.
In the film, the person who holds the main character captive manages to escape from police. In reality, he got away as well. Is there any hope the movie will lead to punishment for him?
FF: I don't know if the film will [lead to consequences for the perpetrator]. I just hope that by now he's been caught. He wasn't caught at the time, and I wanted that to be clear. No one really knows about this but we actually shot two endings. The director wanted to shoot an ending where he was caught, just in case. And I had to say, 'There is no just in case. You're wasting my time. You're wasting my money.' So we did shoot two other endings but we never got to use it. Another ending was that the cops come in, on the floor, and he's dead. But that's not the truth, so that was never used.
Taking a step back from the reality of the situation, what was the thinking about genre in terms of the movie? What kind of movie were you aiming to make?
FF: It's often been categorized as horror. At first I was like, 'It's not horror! It's a thriller!' And then I realized, actually it's pretty horrific. And I had to be like, 'Sorry about that major reaction.'
The thing is, it's not a true horror movie. It's not a slasher. But it is a horrific film. I would say it's a horror film, it's a thriller, and it's – I don't know, a drama maybe? I wouldn't say it's a documentary, it's more of a biopic.
Audiences are likely to react to the movie by wanting to help in any way they can. How can people opposed to sex slavery work toward ending it?
FF: I'm so glad you asked this. We're about to lock down one big organization that I'm going to start working with and we're going to do a landing page. A lot of people come to me right after the film and ask, 'What can I do, how can I help?' So, January is National Slavery And Human Trafficking Prevention Month and I want to launch something through which people can help. I want to do something like a dollar for each abused woman or man — so anyone who knows anyone who has been abused (or if they have been abused themselves), for each person they would donate a dollar. I hope to have it ready for when the film starts streaming. I want all the money to go to a real organization that helps men and women who have been abused.
My goal is to take the film next year and take it through universities in America and do Q&As and try and educate young women. I really want to get it out there and show a lot of young women so they can avoid getting into this. I want them to ask questions and feel free to open up.
Film still via Development Hell Pictures & Gravitas Ventures
On that note, is there any advice you would give to women or men on how to avoid finding themselves in a similar situation?
FF: Just always let people know where you are. If you're going for a job interview or something. Sometimes in Hollywood, interviews are held in hotel suites or whatever. Just let people know. Cell phones are wonderful and powerful but if someone takes you they're going to destroy the phone straight away, so forget about that. So just let people know where you are. Don't go somewhere alone. It's getting worse and worse. If technology is getting better, people aren't unfortunately.
[Photo: Frida Farrell by Bobby Quillard]