Ella West Jerrier Talks ‘Terror in the Woods’
After the 2014 attempted murder case by 12-year-old girls who say they were influenced to kill their friend because of the fictional Slender Man character, there was much debate over where to place the blame. Many believed the Internet is responsible and some called for the creepypasta website to be shut down. Others pointed the finger at the parents, believing that if they had paid more attention to their daughters’ activities, the incident could’ve been avoided altogether.
However, the young actress who played the role of one of the perpetrators in Lifetime’s “Terror in the Woods,” Ella West Jerrier, says she believes there’s more to it than that. “I think the movie was trying to show that it was a combination of an obsession with the Internet, undiagnosed mental illness, and signs of personal trouble that were unseen or just ignored,” said Jerrier. “Obviously, that is a bad combination that really escalated out of control. There is so much on the internet that is hard to tell if it is real or fake – so you can kind of see how kids would get really taken in by it.”
Directed by D.J. Viola and produced by Thinkfactory Media in association with Swirl Films, “Terror in the Woods,” which aired in October, revolves around two 12-year-old girls, Rachel (Ella West Jerrier) and Kaitlyn (Sophie Grace), who are social outcasts that become increasingly obsessed with a fictional character called the Suzerain. Desperate to prove their devotion to him, the two conspire to kill their friend Emily (Skylar Morgan Jones), believing that if they do, the Suzerain won’t harm their families.
The movie is based on the May 13, 2014, Slender Man stabbing incident in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Two 12-year-old girls, Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier, took their friend, Peyton Leutner into the forest and stabbed her 19 times and left her for dead. Peyton was able to crawl to a nearby road, where she received assistance from a passing bicyclist who called for help, and she survived the attack.
Geyser and Weier cited their reason for the vicious attack as a means to impress the Slender Man, a fictional character resembling a mannequin in a suit, that is part of an online horror story community, known as creepypasta. Slender Man was created by Eric Knudsen (also known as “Victor Surge”) back in 2009 as an Internet meme on the Something Awful forum.
Geyser and Weier were both charged as adults, but they were found “not guilty” by reason of insanity. However, this doesn’t mean that they got away with their crime. Weier, whom Rachel is based of off, received 25 years in a mental hospital. Geyser, who inspired the character Kaitlyn, was given a maximum of 40 years in a mental hospital as well and diagnosed with schizophrenia. Both were sentenced back in February earlier this year.
Just as with the real event, Emily survives and Rachel and Kaitlyn are tried and committed to mental hospitals. To make her role as Rachel seem as authentic as possible, Jerrier had to do much preparation. She said she read online articles about the incident and watched videos where police interviewed Weier and Geyser. “I also watched the 20/20 show and the HBO documentary,” said Jerrier. “Despite how heavy the movie was, there were really only two days where it was very intense – the rest of the time, it was mostly about the friendship developing between Rachel and Kaitlyn.”
If Jerrier’s name sounds familiar, that’s because she’s the daughter of Jay Jerrier, owner of the pizzeria chain Cane Rosso, and known as the “pizza prankster.” A natural-born performer, she made her big film debut in the “Terror in the Woods.” Previously, she has been in commercials and musicals in her hometown in Dallas and has been dancing since she was 2 years old.
As for the Suzerain, the “antagonist” of the film, he is based off of the Slender Man, but with some minor adjustments. He is portrayed as an evil king who lures children to him and invites them to come live with him in his palace in the forest. Much like the Slender Man, which originated in an online art contest in 2009, and many other creepypasta characters, he is given multiple fan pages and videos of those claiming to have seen him.
According to Ella, the Suzerain was created by executive producers Leslie Greif, Christina Ricci (Wednesday Addams), and James Heerdegen. The crew’s prop handler, Matt Parker, created everything from the artwork and drawings the girls create, to the life-size puppets seen in the fan-made videos, to the black castle Kaitlyn builds with her father and even the large eye collage on the wall of Kaitlyn’s room at the end. These props helped to give the audience a glimpse into the girls’ dark fantasy world.
Jerrier’s portrayal was convincing, lending to the movie’s authenticity. Now that she has gotten her first big acting role under her belt, she is preparing herself for even more roles. “I take class in Dallas at Cathryn Sullivan Acting for Film and in Los Angeles at Cynthia Bain’s Young Actors Studio, and I also do weekly Skype lessons with Cody Linley in Los Angeles,” said Ella, “Cody was so helpful in getting me ready for the audition for this role and I love working with him.”
The rising star has also expressed a desire to take her skills to the big stage on Broadway. “Every year, I spend two weeks in New York City at Broadway Artist Alliance training with current Broadway Stars. I love to sing and dance…basically, I love to be on stage.” This past summer, Ella auditioned for “A Christmas Story—The Musical” touring company and made it to the final six, but she was cut for being a quarter inch too tall. Nevertheless, she remains optimistic.
While Ella shoots for the stars, her first film role as Rachel in the “Terror in the Woods” won’t soon be forgotten. Here’s hoping that the film not only sheds light on the effects mental illness can have on children, but also encourages parents to know what their children are up to when they go online.