The Villain in This Chilling Video Game Ad Hits Frighteningly Close to Home

DDB Paris introduces us to Joseph Seed

Headshot of Angela Natividad

There’s plenty of talk in storytelling about the “hero’s journey,” but frankly, a story is only ever as strong as its villain. It’s the figure that encapsulates the hero’s ultimate conflict, the darkness that must be eclipsed to ensure success.

A great video game is no exception to this rule. How do you get people to invest hours into a universe if they haven’t bought into the stakes?

That’s why, for Ubisoft’s Far Cry 5, DDB Paris made the game’s dark prophet, Joseph Seed, the focal point of the live-action trailer below. “The Baptism” introduces the character as he is, then shows us why.

“Since the first time we read about Joseph, we were drawn by his sinister power and charisma,” DDB Paris executive creative director Alexander Kalchev tells AdFreak. “He has the potential to be up there with the greatest entertainment villains, because he feels so real, complex and flawed.

“We wanted to illustrate his power by showing him do something unspeakably horrifying, while retaining his stranglehold over everyone around him. Joseph’s followers are just as much part of the story, as they passively accept his total control.”

Forget the hero’s journey. This voyage is all villain.

Per Far Cry lore, Joseph Seed heads up Eden’s Gate church in Montana. It’s a wink to Heaven’s Gate, one of the many cults in our illustrious history of religious suicide groups whose roots were sowed by the Jonestown Massacre (from which the phrase “drinking the Kool-Aid” is inspired).

So, Seed is more than a relatable villain. He’s the kind that reality has made a banality, someone whose flock you could easily stumble across in one wrong turn down an unremarkable road.

Directed by Martin de Thurah, “The Baptism” sees Seed baptizing new members of his group. The slow glide of one woman into the water to meet his hands throws him into a flashback. Set to the hypnotic rhythm of “Red Sex” from Vessel, we witness Seed’s trajectory from stranger at a pastor’s door to dark prophet, charged with saving 3,000 souls before the world’s end (whether they’re willing or not).

The goal of the ad is to showcase his charisma, as well as the subtle madness that makes him so terrifying: It’s only at the end of the flashback that we return to Seed, who suddenly realizes he has killed the woman by mistake.

“Joseph is out of reach, and it touches a very uneasy place for us—a psychopath who is unpredictable,” de Thurah says. “It’s very scary and unsettling.”

As an uncertain new follower approaches the water, the woman’s lifeless body floats away.

“We wrote the commercial as [if it were] the opening two minutes of a new series,” Kalchev goes on. “Working together with Martin, we pushed the viewer in further and further into the crazy mind of the Father. By the end, you have learned just enough to be curious, with enough room left for mystery.”

But in DDB’s view, the real appeal of a villain like Seed is less his mystery and more his terrifying proximity.

“Most video games show us bright and shiny new worlds, whereas the world of Far Cry 5 is so close and disturbing,” Kalchev observes. “It feels like the world we live in—if you take a wrong turn down the highway, you can find yourself in a place overrun by a cult such as Joseph’s.”

In closing, he promises “more darkness ahead” for gamers drawn to the call.

Client: Ubisoft/Far Cry 5

Agency: DDB Paris
Executive Creative Director: Alexander Kalchev
Art Director: Alexandre Lagoet
Copywriter: Stephane Kaczorowski
Agency Supervisor: Marie-Elise Archambaud, Laetitia De Camas
Resident Gamer: Alban 404
Planner: Sebastien Genty, Dominique Castellano
Agency Producer: Sophie Megrous
Post-Producer: Toby Ridgway

Client Supervisor: Geoffroy Sardin, Guillaume Carmona, Camille Aneas, Alexia Brume

Production Company: Henry
Producer: Jean-Luc Bergeron
Production Director: Yannick Dupas
Director: Martin De Thurah
Director of Photography: Khalid Mohtaseb
Editing: Mikkel E G Nielsen/ Antoine Varreille
Post-Production Supervisor: Sébastien Gros

Post and Sound Production: Schmooze / Ballad
Producer: Gregoire Galian
Sound Editor: Sylvain Rety

Post Production Image, Vfx Et Mastering – Mikros Mpc
Production Director: Fabrice Damolini
Executive Producers: Malica Benjemia & Quentin Martin
Supervisors: Thomas Haas & Mickael Girod
FX Graphic Artist: Vincent Audineau
Nuke Artist: Randy Gudin
Flame Artist: Jao M’changama
Coordinator: Antoine Bory
Remote Grading: Mpc London
Carlibration: Jean-Clément Soret
Director of Colour Production: Ellora Chowdury

@luckthelady Angela Natividad is a frequent contributor to Adweek's creativity blog, AdFreak. She is also the author of Generation Creation and co-founder of Hurrah, an esports agency. She lives in Paris and when she isn't writing, she can be found picking food off your plate.