Interview – Director Mike P. Nelson Talks Working with Original Writer on WRONG TURN + Lessons Learned from the Movie

Michelle Swope talks to Mike P. Nelson, director of the new WRONG TURN reboot!

I spoke with director Mike P. Nelson back in 2018 about his film The Domestics, which tells the story of a couple struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic world where people have divided into groups, or tribes, many of them violent. Now Nelson has teamed up with Alan McElroy, the writer of the original Wrong Turn (2003), for a reboot of the film, which has similar themes about the formation of tribes.  

The Wrong Turn reboot is wildly different from the original film and conveys some important messages. The film boasts a strong ensemble cast which includes Charlotte Vega, Matthew Modine, Adain Bradley, Bill Sage, and Emma Dumont. Vega plays Jen, who goes on a trip with her friends to hike the Appalachian Trail, but a series of what seem to be freak accidents leave them lost in the woods. The friends are eventually captured by a group called The Foundation, who live in the woods. Jen’s father, Scott, played by Modine, travels to Virginia to look for his daughter and her friends and finds himself face to face with The Foundation and fighting for his life.

Dread Central was excited to have the opportunity to speak with director Mike P. Nelson about working with original writer Alan McElroy on Wrong Turn, what he hopes the audience takes away from the film, and a lot more. Read on to find out what we talked about!

Wrong Turn will be available on VOD, digital, DVD, and Blu-ray on February 23rd from Saban Films.

Dread Central: This new Wrong Turn is very different from the original film, which was released in 2003, but you did work with the original writer, Alan McElroy. How important was it to you to have him on this project?

Mike P. Nelson: Well, you know, to be honest with you, I’ll tell you how it kind of all started. The script was given to me in late 2017, and it was a script that Alan had wrote. He had been talking with Robert Colter at Constantine, they did the first one, and Robert was like, “Hey Alan, what do you think about doing a new Wrong Turn that’s sort of like deals with issues now, a modern day take on it?” Alan was like, “Absolutely.” So, Alan went, he started writing and my manager, who actually repped Alan, sent me the script. I was looking for a new project, read it, and I think I had a very similar experience that people have who are watching it now, which was, “What in the world is this?” This is not the Wrong Turn I’m used to, and I didn’t exactly know how to feel about that. I was a little bit like, “Gosh, there’s no cannibals. The first half feels like Wrong Turn but the second half takes a completely different turn,” but it grew on me.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it and when I realized this is the original writer, a new approach to the story and I love how bold and unapologetic it was like, “This is what I’m doing.” Robert, the executive, he was like “Yep, we want to do something new, change things up, surprise people, and that’s what we’re doing.” I was like, “Damn, to get a team like this that has that kind of charisma to do something so new, unique and bold with a franchise that has six films, I’m in.” I want to be part of something unique, not just a rehash of the same, and this wasn’t that and that was really exciting.

DC: Yeah, I was very pleasantly surprised. The film has such a great ensemble cast, especially Charlotte Vega, she is fantastic as Jen. She is a different kind of final girl than maybe the audience is used to seeing, and I wondered if you had Charlotte specifically in mind for that role? What was that process like?

MN: Let me put it this way, there were many people put out on the table for casting and I know at one point the studio started going after some bigger names, then we hooked up with Nancy Nayor for casting and she gave us some ideas and Charlotte was in that group. She wasn’t a big name, she really isn’t a big name right now, but hopefully soon because she’s freaking great and really, really good but she was the one. After going through all of the tapes of these actors, I saw her and said, “Oh my god, she gets it.” I’d seen some of her work before, saw The Lodgers and thought she really shined in that and I knew we needed somebody in this film who could carry it, like Charlotte did in The Lodgers and talking with her she just got it.

She understood the character and I just thought there was something there that was unique and different and smart, so I fought for her. I knew they were all trying to get somebody with a name, and I was like, “You guys, Charlotte, she’s the one, she will elevate this movie, I promise you.” The fighting paid off because eventually everyone agreed Charlotte was the one, so we moved forward, and the rest is history.

Mike P. Nelson Matthew Modine BTS WRONG TURN 1024x683 - Interview – Director Mike P. Nelson Talks Working with Original Writer on WRONG TURN + Lessons Learned from the Movie
Matthew Modine and director Mike P. Nelson behind the scenes on Wrong Turn

DC: I talked to you in 2018 about The Domestics. This movie has some similar themes in that it shows that people are parts of different tribes, so to speak, and there is definitely a message in this film. I wanted to ask, what are you hoping people take away from the movie besides having a good time?

MN: You know, it’s hard to talk about the message without fully giving it away, but I think the big thing that I thought when I read the script was this idea that it can be dangerous to judge and stereotype people before you know who they are. I think that’s something that all of our characters, not just one, all of them realize how important that is and as the film goes on, how dangerous that can be. That’s the big thing for me, if we’re talking message, we’re talking theme, other than having a good time, walking away and thinking, “Wow, let’s think twice before we judge who somebody is, the next time I meet somebody or go past somebody or decide to write some shitty thought on somebody’s Facebook wall. Somebody else has a story and I don’t know that story so let’s not mess with them or judge them for something we don’t understand about them yet.”

DC: I know the movie is not quite out yet and we’re still dealing with the pandemic, but is there something you are planning to work on next?

MN: You know, there’s a couple of projects. I’ve been reading some new scripts, looking for that next thing but I have two things I’m writing right now. I’m doing the rewrites with a production company right now, we’ll call it a UFO chase movie, so it’s kind of an interesting take on the monster genre and then I’m doing a Christmas holiday horror/thriller. I’m writing that one, so both of those scripts I’m writing right now. We’ll see, hopefully one of those is the next project because I always love to work on my own content but yeah, those are the freshest things I have right now.

DC: Well, that’s definitely something to look forward to. Again, I want to thank you for taking time to talk to me today about Wrong Turn. I think audiences are going to be pleasantly surprised when they see this.

MN: Yeah, I hope so. It was one of those things when we were all talking about this, there were so many concerns about it being so different but again as I said, I know it’s different, we’re going to do it, not everybody is going to like this but that’s the movie we want to make. That was such a cool thing to be on board with a team that was so connected in that idea. We just wanted to make a good film, that’s ultimately what it came down to.

DC: Absolutely, and this is so different from the other Wrong Turn movies. Thank you so much for taking time to talk with me for Dread Central!

MN: Anytime. Let’s do this again.