The new thriller Traffick sheds light on the very real and frightening issue of human trafficking – and it’ll get you thinking.

The story centers on a couple, Brea and John (Paula Patton and Omar Epps), who decide to spend a romantic weekend in the mountains. Along the way, they encounter some unsavory people at a local gas station. Then later Brea discovers a random cell phone in her bag, left there by a strange interaction with a woman in the gas station bathroom, and suddenly, Brea and John are thrust into a nightmare, as these people, who are part of a trafficking ring, begin to terrorize them. But Brea and John are going to fight back.

ScreenPicks’ Kit Bowen sat down for an exclusive chat with star Omar Epps, who talks about how the movie entertains but also spreads awareness to a dangerous problem.

This movie really scared me, especially as a mom to a teenage daughter. What was the most shocking thing you discovered while doing research for this movie?

Omar Epps: Just the way it could happen. Human trafficking or you can call it slavery because that’s what it is. [And women] are the most profitable. It’s a multi-billion dollar business, forcing these young women into the sex trade. And the ways that could happen are very frightening because it’s not just obvious bad guy comes in and knocks you on the head. It’s more like a young girl meets another young girl at the mall and befriends her and the girl comes up missing. So we wanted to shine a light on that issue. Entertain but inform.

You and Paula Patton really clicked onscreen. You guys were friends before this, right?

Epps: Yeah, we’ve known each other for years, around the business, so the opportunity to work together, we were both excited about it. We just had fun. We spoke about the characters, the relationship and threw some stuff around. Our chemistry just happened organically and allowed each other to just flow. And I think for the bigger picture, you had to root for that couple. By the time it’s twisting and turning, you got to want these guys to get out of there.

And I think what happens is poetic and necessary for it to really land. For it to land in terms of why that happened. The circumstances that lead those characters to that point, this is the end game. For the people on the periphery of [human trafficking] who suffer from this. Because not only is it the victims, but their families. When you think about it in that kind of a scope, it’s mind-blowing.

Do you have aspirations to direct?

Epps: Yeah, I’ll direct sooner rather than later. I’ve been writing for years, honing those muscles. When the time is right and with the right project, it’ll be a natural progression for me. I’ll know for me when it’s time because I won’t have to think about it. I won’t be able to see anything other than that.

Was watching famed DP Dante Spinotti at work inspiring? I mean, he’s a legend with shooting films like L.A. Confidential and The Insider.

Epps: He is a legend and such a sweet guy. He brought it, though. He brought his A-game. What I loved about it were his old-school ways. Lighting set-ups took a little longer. I mean, nowadays all the technology takes over, but I feel when you watch this film, visually, there’s a texture there that we don’t see in films anymore. And that only comes from a guy like Dante Spinotti. The tableaus, so beautiful to look at. Then juxtapose that against the darkness of those moments, all within the same is incredible. When you see the final product, you see why [Spinotti took his time]. Some of those things take time. When you think about a great meal, it takes some time to cook.

Is there a role/character you’d like to play that you haven’t?

Epps: I’ve never really had a thing or character… I’m kinda open to not knowing what that’s going to be. For me, I like finding it along the way. When it happens, it happens. Unless you’re doing something historic, that’s different. Someone you admire. But they’ve done so many, like Martin Luther King, but maybe Frederick Douglas. There are a lot of iconic stories that could be told.

What are you hoping audiences will take away from this movie?

Epps: Well, like what you did. You were entertained, but you walked away with something that resonates in your real life. For me, it’s about people to be informed, be aware – and if they feel compelled, find out what they can do as an individual. There are thousands of organizations out there in the field. And if not that, then spread the word, while at the same time, love one another. Treat life as precious as it is.

Yes, but also what do I tell my daughter to make her more aware?

Epps: What you could tell your daughter, about her judgment of her friends. You want your kid to be surrounded by good people. Ultimately, we are trying to teach them to teach themselves, knowing that they’re going to have some bumps and bruises along the way. I mean, the way this movie starts out – girl in a club, a guy offers to buy her a drink – this literally happens. So it’s just to be cognizant. I think we people are tuned in, you can feel when something’s not right. Bringing awareness is one thing, but it’s just like anything else. Like you see a car in your neighborhood that you don’t recognize, it’s been on the corner for three days… some people would be like, “Hey, it’s not my problem!” Instead of, “We should call somebody.” Cause you never know. American citizens and human beings at large, we have to be a community.