Backwoods terror and never-jangling suspense meet when Jen (Charlotte Vega) and a group of friends set out to hike the Appalachian Trail. Despite warnings to stick to the trail, the hikers stray off course—and cross into land inhabited by The Foundation, a hidden community of mountain dwellers who use deadly means to protect their way of life. Suddenly under siege, Jen and her friends seem headed to the point of no return— unless Jen’s father (Golden Globe® nominee Matthew Modine) can reach them in time.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike P. Nelson, the director of 2021’s Wrong Turn reboot. We spoke about the pressure of writing for an established piece of I.P., John Carpenter's influence, and finding balance between script and screen.
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Sade Sellers: Hi, Mike!
Mike P. Nelson: Hi, Sade'!
Sade’: First let me say, what a unique and gut-punching take you made of the Wrong Turn series. It’s two hours of just pure madness and I was thoroughly surprised. I want to ask you; did you feel any pressure taking on this new series with such a rabid fan base?
Mike: Yeah, I mean, look when I read the script…originally, I feel like I had a very similar response to what everyone feels now. I read it back in late 2017 and you get to the middle of the movie and go, “What is happening!” There was something unique and bold and fresh in this script and the fact that you have Alan B. McElroy (Wrong Turn 2003) back involved… immediately you want to do this movie. For me, you just have to accept it for what it is and know that’s okay! I think we have something really special here.
Sade’: While watching the film, it felt very John Carpenter’s ‘Halloween’ to me in some parts. I also pulled a little bit of ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ from it.
Mike: 100% disclosure…when I was growing up, I wasn’t allowed to watch horror. As I got older, I started to explore these movies in hoards and was very inspired by them. Believe it or not, the courtroom scene was heavily influenced by ‘Temple of Doom.’ I am a huge Indiana Jones fan. Green Room was also an inspiration.
Sade’: As a director, were there any moments with the script that you felt you needed to push more or pull back on?
Mike: Yes, there’s a little bit of both. There were some moments in the script that Alan and I had conversations about. I am a writer myself, but this is my first movie I’ve directed written by someone else. As a writer, I hope someone would be respectful and work with me on the script, so I wanted that same experience for Alan. There were some heavy-handed, in your face, political overtones, that I just felt we didn’t need. In terms of adding things, I wanted to push this idea that when you judge people you get in trouble. It affects all the groups of characters in this story, the townfolk, the city folk. All groups are affected and fall prey to this weakness of judgment. Everyone is underestimating each other.
Sade’: Let’s talk about the closing credits with our final girl. Was it done with one shot?
Mike: A slight sidestep...so…the movie was originally supposed to end when she gets into the RV. The idea there was she was going to make the hard decision to stay with The Foundation and save her family. I liked the ending. We all like the ending, but we had to ask ourselves…is it satisfying? We came up with the idea of shooting this alternate ending and I came up with the scene we have now. We only had one take with this RV and car that we rented, and we shot it in between shooting the final dinner scene. We did the stabbing sequence twice but the only direction I gave Charlotte Vega (Jen) was to walk towards camera and she did, and she killed it.
Sade’: It's perfection. A chef’s kiss.
Mike: Thank you!
Sade’: Last question. Tell me your best day on set.
Mike: Oh, that’s tough. Well, I will say the hardest day on set was shooting Adam’s execution scene in the courtroom because it was shot in this dusty, dirty cave. I would say my favorite scene to shoot was that tense dinner scene with Bill Sage (John) and Charlotte—and the ending. I love that day because no one expected it to work and we all cheered when it did. Our AD was freaking out about time, but it all pulled together in the end.
Wrong Turn is available on VOD, Digital, DVD and Blu-ray February 23rd.