Jeff Wadlow wants everybody to Cry_Wolf

Today MovieWeb had the chance to sit down with Jeff Wadlow, the writer/director of Cry_Wolf. The film, which opens nationally on Friday, September 9th is about eight unsuspecting high school seniors playing a game of lies who come face-to-face with terror and learn that nobody believes a liar... even when they're telling the truth.

After one too many incidents of bad behavior at his last school, Owen Matthews (Julian Morris) arrives at Westlake Prep – where a young woman has recently been found murdered in the dark woods near the boarding school's campus. Owen quickly falls in with the school's unofficial "liars' club," including the beautiful and savvy Dodger (Lindy Booth of Dawn of the Dead and Wrong Turn) and quick-talking, short-tempered Tom (Jared Padalecki of the new TV series "Supernatural"). At Owen's suggestion, his new friends decide to expand their game's reach beyond campus, by spreading an online rumor that a serial killer called "The Wolf" committed the recent murder and is planning to strike again.

The mischievous group's descriptions of "The Wolf's" intended victims are based on the people they know best – each other. Only when the school's journalism teacher, Rich Walker (Jon Bon Jovi), warns the group about the kinds of predators that lurk on the internet does Owen begin to regret sending their falsified story into cyberspace. When the described "victims" suddenly start to disappear, Owen, Dodger and Tom are no longer able to determine where the lies end and the truth begins. As someone – or something – starts hunting the players themselves, the game turns terrifyingly real.

During our interview, Wadlow was both gracious and accommodating to any and all questions we threw at him. It is readily apparent that this is someone who hopes to inject something knew into the realm of horror films.

How did you come up with the idea for this movie?

Jeff Wadlow: Basically, I was in the “Chrysler Million Dollar Film Festival,” which was a filmmaking contest sort of like “Project Greenlight,” without the reality TV component. It was seven month long process. During the final phase, the top five directors had to come up with a feature film package that consisted of a script, a poster, a pitch and we had to shoot five minutes of that script. I pulled together a package with my writing and producing partner, Beau Bauman, and we came up with it two days before the deadline, because the rights to a play we were going to option fell through. I had this idea for a group of recreational liars who tell a fib that basically comes true, and all the scary things that can happen if that situation were to occur. We wrote the first draft in two weeks, it was called “Living the Lie.” We shot five minutes of it with Topher Grace and Estella Warren and it was set in LA amongst twentysomethings.

We won the whole contest which meant we got a million dollar grant to go make our movie, but we were put into development at Universal and got notes to make it younger and take it out of Los Angeles (which I was actually more than happy to do, because I feel that LA is overshot). I thought the concept would be a lot scarier if the cast was younger. So, we did a bunch of rewrites... eventually the script changed so much that we changed the title to Cry_Wolf, although the original idea is still there. A group of kids who are out for fun, they tell a lie that starts to come true and they can’t be certain if something really horrible is going to happen. We shot the film in Virginia and we just allowed the story to change and grow as the production process happened and what resulted is this film, which is a getting a really wide release and I’m incredibly proud of.

With today’s sophisticated moviegoing audience, what did you do to make this a different kind of horror movie? Because that’s what Cry_Wolf looks like. From the poster artwork and everything... you’ve set yourself apart.

Jeff Wadlow: What we did was... Beau and I sat down and we knew this was the kind of movie we wanted to make, because we love horror films, we love thrillers, but we hadn’t made one yet. We had made a bunch of short films that weren’t horror movies, weren’t thrillers, but what we did with all those other short films is really tried to create active experiences for the audience. As a filmgoer, as a film fan, that’s what I love. When you’re engaged on two levels. Both on a voyeuristic level, a passive level, when you get to see something cool, but also on a more cerebral level where you’re engaged and you’re in the story and you’re trying to stay one step ahead of that.

That’s really what we tried to do with our film and the way we went about about it was, we talked about horror movies we love and we talked about, “Why do we love those films?” We tried to come up with a list of genre conventions that both work and had grown stale. And what we really tried to do was take the ones that we thought worked, incorporate them in the film in some sort of surprising manner, but then take the ones that had grown stale and flip them on their head and do something different. Or, try to remember why they worked originally and try and get back to that.

What are some of your influences?

Jeff Wadlow: In no particular order, certainly for me, the strongest influences were Jaws, Se7en, Halloween and Psycho. For me, those four films really represent different aspects of the horror genre which I love. They all have elements that I really wanted to bring to Cry_Wolf. That I aspired to bring to Cry_Wolf, and I hope I succeeded.

This movie seems to have had a slow buildup with the marketing. Where we just got to see the image on the poster for a long time and now it’s coming out. Was this intentional? To gain awareness of the film? You seem to have captured that interest in the film.

Jeff Wadlow: One of my goals with the film, and one of the genre conventions that we spoke about earlier, that I identified, was to revitalize the iconic killer. I love the iconic killer. I love this idea that you can just see a flash of an image, of a screen persona and that flash can inspire fear. You know? Everyone remembers what they felt when the fin popped out of the water for the first time in Jaws. I wanted to bring some of that to the on-screen serial killer.

As the genre has evolved that persona has almost become comedic, which can be fun, but I actually think it’s lost a lot of the terror that it can inspire. So that’s what we tried to do with the Wolf, we wanted people to jump the minute they saw the flash of orange, and I think the guys in the marketing department, the men and women over at Rogue Pictures were really smart, because they grabbed on to that idea, and they have really, actually helped us lay the groundwork for the film, by getting splashes of the Wolf, our iconic killer, out there into the mass media so that people are already starting to identify him as this persona. Hopefully, when they see the movie it will escalate; the fear and the scares that are experienced when he crosses the screen or you see him for the first time.

What are you currently working on?

Jeff Wadlow: You know, I’ve got a bunch of things brewing, a couple of ideas, but this is our first film and we had to work long and hard on it. Part of the reason why the marketing campaign has been going for so long, is because we’ve been working on the film for a very long time. We poured everything we had into this movie. We gave everything, my entire creative team, from Beau, to Seth Gordon our editor and associate producer, to everyone who worked on this film. It was a real labor of love, but as far as what’s next, you know, we’re just happy to have this one done and we’ve got a bunch of ideas but we really wanted to make sure that this film was finished right before we began our next project.

Cry_Wolf begins terrorizing theaters Friday, September 9th.