Exclusive interview with Cry Wolf director Jeff Wadlow and actress Lindy Booth
17th Jan 06
When Owen Matthews (Julian Morris), a young English student and new arrival at an exclusive American prep school, falls in with the school’s elite ‘liars club’ and falls for their leader - the enigmatic Dodger (Lindy Booth) – he suggests the club start a campus wide online rumour. Their ‘lie’ - that a serial killer called the ‘wolf’ was responsible for a recent campus murder and is planning to strike again- spreads around school immediately. It’s only when teacher Rich Walker (Jon Bon Jovi) warns his students about the dangers of cyberspace that they realise they may have taken things too far, and when the ‘victims’ described online actually begin to disappear, the club begin to wonder where the game ends and reality begins.
First time director Jeff Wadlow wrote Cry_Wolf with producer Beau Bauman as their competition entry into the first Chrysler sponsored Million Dollar Film Festival competition. Their prize was to develop the script into a feature, with assistance from Hypnotic films (co founded by director Doug Liman) and Universal Studios. EMB caught up with director Jeff Wadlow and actress Lindy Booth (Dodger) when they were in London to promote the movie.
EMB: First of all Jeff, congratulations for making Cry_Wolf for a $1 million, it looks like it cost a lot more....
JW: Thanks! In the end it was actually a little bit more but not much, it was probably just over. It was quite a challenge to make a movie for that much when our mentors (at Universal) told us they would’ve budgeted it at around $15 million. We were really lucky, because so many people just embraced our little project; we had great support from the studio and in Richmond, Virginia where we shot the movie. So we got a lot of generous offers with people in the local community donating stuff and working for free or cutting their rates to help us out. It was for those reasons, plus the hard work of my producer and scriptwriting partner Beau Bauman, that we were able to pull it off.
EMB: The film is reminiscent of the wave of teen horrors from the mid 90s that followed Scream, movies like Urban Legend, with knowing references and a smart, aware teenage cast. But the overall tone of Cry_Wolf is definitely a little more serious, a little less ironic. Was that intentional?
JW: That whole sub-genre became so self-aware that the films themselves became jokey, which is why Scary Movie kind of represented the end of that wave. And a lot of recent horror films, like the 70s remakes and the Japanese remakes, are irony-free horror movies, which almost seems like a response to that cycle of films. So people had stayed away from the whole sub-genre of teen horror - because of the ironic element. But we love some of those films, we love those kinds of characters and set-ups and how scared you can be and how you can connect with those characters and relate to them. Also, just because the teen genre of horror is associated so heavily with that irony doesn’t mean they own it, so we tried to take back that sub-genre. Pull back from the obvious irony that makes those films so self aware, but keep a level of irony that is organic to the story.
EMB: It’s a tricky thing to pull off isn’t it? Because in reality your characters would have seen horror movies, and recognise the situations, so you want them to be aware enough on that level, but not commenting on horror in a self-reverential or obvious way.
LB: Exactly, and there's a reality to the way that the script was written and how we approached the movie. Its like, when things are going wrong in real life you don’t necessarily react in that horror movie way. Like if the lights all went out now we wouldn’t be like “Ooooh what’s going to happen NOW - the lights went out! Look in the closet!”, we would probably just be like, “OK the lights went out – maybe we had a power cut or something”. The situations in Cry_Wolf come from a more realistic place, and the characters react in a much more natural way.
JW: Plus we were looking further back for inspiration. We were looking at 70s horror and 80s horror too. So the idea of using the Internet - something that is very grounded and real - is like the way 70s horror used things that were grounded in reality, whereas the masked killer - which is evocative of 80s horror - is a little less realistic. It’s the sort of thing that scared the crap out of me as a kid but lately doesn’t really kind of work anymore. So I wanted to bring that mythic killer back to the screen, give it some power by being less obvious, and be a little coy about it, have some fun.
EMB: The idea of using Instant Messaging and chat rooms is relatively new. Was it always in the script to rely on recent technology to drive the narrative?
JW: Technology becomes a big problem when you write these movies - you can’t be stranded with the phone lines down because everyone has a cell and it just doesn’t work anymore. So it was killing us, but after beating our heads against the wall we finally had a breakthrough and said “look instead of this being the thing that keeps ruining our story why don’t we make the story about the technology”. It’s not about isolating the characters - they’re already isolated in the school, which is closed off - and miles from anywhere. The scary thing is their access. They are supposed to be in this protected environment but because they have access to the entire world through the Internet and cell phones, they actually invite this evil into their closed-off environment.
EMB: It’s funny because a friend of mine who is a scriptwriter said that the mobile phone is the worst thing that’s happened to scriptwriting!
JW: Y’know I used to think that way but now I’m totally the opposite. I just wrote a heist movie and 40 per cent of it takes place on mobile phones. If you embrace it, it can actually facilitate the process and make the story better.
EMB: About the Chrysler involvement - was there ever any pressure on you to compromise the material in any way because of the involvement of such a big company? Did they ever tell you that you couldn’t do certain things or you had to do certain things?
LB: We got given plenty of cars to use in the movie!
JW: Every filmmaker has someone to thank for giving them a chance, and in my case it was a company. They never interfered - in fact they were pretty stand-offish about the whole thing. They were like it’s your script; make the movie you want to make. The big difference was that usually, when a company is involved on a film, it’s about how their product is perceived in the film. But what Chrysler took ownership of was not the story but the process. The competition was ultimately about finding a young filmmaker and giving him a chance. They really left the movie to us. The only thing they did which was great was - like Lindy said – they gave us cars to use, production vehicles. So we didn’t have to rent any or get sign off, which can be very expensive.
EMB: Lindy, I wanted to ask you about your relationship with horror (Lindy has also appeared in Wrong Turn and the recent Dawn of the Dead remake). Your characters aren’t the traditional scream queens of the genre – they usually have a bit more of an edge to them and are a bit more realistic.
LB: I don’t actually like watching horror movies, because I get scared really easily! But I can completely see why people are horror fans because you get that nervous thing in the pit of your stomach and it’s kind a sexy and it’s fun and you kinda like but you don’t. So the great thing about watching horror movies – that huge adrenaline rush - is the same kind of feeling I get as a performer working in horror films.
JW: When we were casting we were so excited to get Lindy for Dodger. She had everything we wanted in terms of strength and vulnerability but she had so much more in terms of character - an authenticity and a sadness a way of making you believe in Dodger and believe she would act the way she does.
LB: For me the challenge is always about finding the truest reaction to what’s going on. Whether it’s zombies, or cannibalistic mountain men or ‘the wolf’ in Cry_Wolf. I mean I’ve never been in those kinds of situations obviously, but it’s trying to figure out how you would react in that kind of scenario and how you would fight your fear. That’s what’s appealing to me – finding the reality - because a lot of time in horror films that’s what neglected.
EMB: The central character of Owen (played by RSC actor Julian Morris) - was he always English? It’s unusual when you first hear him speak but it works really well in terms of setting him up immediately as an outsider to the group.
LB: He was always an outsider, but he wasn’t English in the original script.
JW: No, it was only when he came in and auditioned that we thought, “hey why don’t we let him keep the accent?”.
EMB: Did you get any grief over that?
JW: It’s funny. We did get a few people asking if we were sure about it. Because we already had logistical problems with the budget and time problems and it was like ‘do we want to add to this as well?’ Y’know sometimes in films where one of the cast has a strong or different accent it can take you a while to tune in - did we want to add that challenge to our plate? But ultimately, I’m glad we did because it makes his character more of an outsider and also more appealing to Dodger - we wanted it to be as convincing as possible as to why she would fall for this guy.
LB: And there was the sex appeal thing as well with the English accent.
JW: Plus Julian ultimately was perfect for the part. That’s the reality. I wanted him anyway. He can do a great American accent but allowing him to use his own voice gave him a freedom, which works much better in the film.
EMB: How did Bon Jovi end up in the movie? You don’t expect to see him as a college professor..
JW: (Laughs) It is kinda strange at first I guess!
EMB: Was the outfit serious or were you taking the piss out of the image of a college professor by giving him the tweed jacket and leather elbow patches? It got a huge laugh – possibly a bigger one in England...
JW: It gets a pretty big laugh in the States!
EMB: Its no disrespect to him, because he’s actually a good actor, and good in the movie.
JW: What’s interesting is we wrote the character of Rich Walker as the ‘cool teacher’, like if there was a teacher at the school who was like the rock star figure it’s Rich, so ironically having a rock star play him is kind of appropriate. But I certainly didn’t envisage anyone that big actually doing it. I mean Bon Jovi? A rock god? I was like no way. But what happened was he got the script and seemed to really go for it. When I spoke to him, I realised what a smart guy he is and what a great take on the character he had, drawing from his experience as a musician dealing with young fans. He had thought so much about it, it was obvious he was gonna add another dimension to the character and he did.
EMB: Finally, Cry_Wolf has a 12A rating. I wondered if there had been any pressure on you to change the content of the movie in any way?
JW: There was certainly never any pressure to make it softer - I actually had people telling me to make it stronger. My agent was like, this is never gonna sell, there’s not enough T and A, not enough gore.
The thing is that I never intended it to be that way. I mean, I love gory horror and I look at a film like Cabin Fever, which I love and what Eli did with that and has just done with Hostel, which is apparently really extreme. He has taken a different path as a new filmmaker in the genre. It’s one that I could’ve taken but I never felt that it was integral to the story I was making.
When it is necessary like in Cabin Fever, or say a film like Basic Instinct then it works. But I don’t see the point of gratuitous nudity or gore for the sake of it. I knew how I wanted this film to be. I wanted to emulate the style of the filmmakers I love - people like Hitchcock and Spielberg - and let the tension and the character drive the story. I could’ve gone gory but ultimately, that wasn’t the way I wanted to go, so I made the film I wanted to make.
Cry_Wolf was released on Friday 13th January. We will be bringing your our review of the film very soon.