I Love U tells the tale of a popular social media influencer (played by Emily Giannozio) whose polished on-camera lifestyle is threatened by her highly-dysfunctional relationship with her boyfriend (Jeremy Sinclair) and an overly-obsessed, deranged fan (Ina Wang) who may or may not be responsible for a recent string of murders.
As writer-director Brandon Stewart explains, the dark horror-thriller is a cautionary story about the unhealthy side of parasocial relationships and the dangers that exist “on both sides of the screen.”
“While I believe those who spend their lives worshiping celebrities and influencers online are certainly misguided, some responsibility has to be placed upon the influencers themselves who enable these one-sided relationships,” Stewart says. “At the end of the day, your favorite online celebrity doesn’t love you, they have no idea who you are, and pretending that they do is inherently predatory.”
Stewart began working on a draft of the script while studying at film school in Vancouver. He adds that the connections he developed while in school also helped him see the project through to finished film.
“The idea stemmed from my own thoughts and opinions I formed when looking at how others interact with the internet,” he says. “I felt I had a unique take on the topic of parasocial relationships because not many people seem to discuss the part the influencers play in the problem, so I figured it was something I could write about.”
“I wasn’t scared of using traditional horror tropes – ominous off-screen sounds, a door that opens on its own – as long as they served the core of the story I wanted to tell.”
As a first-time filmmaker, Stewart says he drew heavily on many of the common elements found in horror and thriller movies, while also trying to imbue his work with a touch of originality.
“I wasn’t scared of using traditional horror tropes – ominous off-screen sounds, a door that opens on its own – as long as they served the core of the story I wanted to tell,” he explains. “That being said, what makes I Love U unique from other horror films is the incorporation of the livestream/online content, which we actually filmed on an iPhone to add authenticity.”
While Stewart admits that the two-day shoot, which took place in early-2023, was “pretty much my first time ever being on a proper set,” he adds that he was fortunate to have a talented group of people around him to ensure the project got done.
“Honestly, I feel like I barely knew what I was doing 75% of the time on set. The only thing that kept me afloat was all my prep and the crew actually knowing what they were doing,” he says. “I also got lucky while casting. We got three incredibly talented actors who were also really invested in the story.”
“I learned that I don’t have to do everything myself, and that relying on your cast and crew is the biggest strength of any director worth their shit.”
Despite encountering a number of challenges – including a large amount of corrupt footage he describes as “a bit of a nightmare” – Stewart says that the stress of working on the project was worth it and that “the whole process was super enjoyable.”
“The feeling of wrapping after all the work was definitely the highlight. It felt like everybody’s hard work had paid off and that’s always pretty special,” he says. “I learned that I don’t have to do everything myself, and that relying on your cast and crew is the biggest strength of any director worth their shit.”
I Love U is already busy doing the festival rounds, where it has picked up multiple awards, including Best First-Time Director at the Miami International Gold Awards and an Award of Merit at Canada Shorts.
“People seem to like the film. It’s always hard for me to get positive feedback, but everyone I’ve talked to who has seen it seems to be particularly impressed or interested in the film,” Stewart says. “I don’t know what it is they like specifically – the scare factor or the story or the performances – but I like to think it’s all of it.”