Depending upon your age, David S. Goyer is probably best known as the man who helped revive comic-book movies by writing the Blade films, the man who helped revive comic-book movies by co-writing the Dark Knight films, or the man currently trying to revive comic-book movies with Batman v Superman and everything that comes after. This week, however, he’s the producer of The Forest, a horror movie which sends Game of Thrones‘ Natalie Dormer to Japan in search of her twin sister, who disappeared into a forest famous for suicides.
The location is real. But Goyer wasn’t allowed to let his crew shoot there.
“The Japanese government absolutely would not let us do it; they were worried about us encouraging copycats and things like that,” he says. “So we looked all over the world for forests that were on the same latitude, and we found one, to our surprise, in Serbia. We had no idea whether or not we could even find a crew in Serbia, but it turns out there’s some pretty good crew there.” Serbia’s forests, fortunately for the viewer but perhaps less so for the actors on location, proved no less creepy. “A chunk of the film was done out in the middle of nowhere, and yeah, it’s creepy there. You can wander in and potentially not see anyone for days there, and Serbia has its own strange, at least from a western perspective…it’s an odd and unusual country, so there’s certainly a sense of displacement for the western crew and cast that were there.”
The Forest is the first film to be produced by Goyer that he neither wrote nor directed–the first of several, he says, including four that will shoot this year. As he’s been getting heavily into TV with shows like Da Vinci’s Demons and Constantine, he has found that collaboration not only makes his time-management easier, but also helps him to mentor new writers and directors, which he likes. “I really enjoy developing kind of young voices, helping develop story, and I’d like to think I’ve gotten fairly experienced at it through my couple decades working in the studio system,” he says. “The movies that I’m producing, it’s because a lot of these films are being developed outside the traditional studio system, so this film and a lot of these films moving forward have a less manufactured feel, for lack of a better word. There are not as many voices involved, and that’s kind of liberating….Some of my favorite sequences in the film are just sort of odd disturbing moments, and there are places where the film where we let it breathe. It’s sort of creepy and atmospheric, but subtly unsettling. I think this film, in a traditional studio system, probably a lot of those moments would have been–we would have been asked to get rid of them. And I like that they’re there.”
Longtime followers of Goyer’s work will recognize themes in The Forest similar to those in films he did direct, like The Unborn and The Invisible. As he notes, “I think there are themes that any creative person is drawn to, and so there’s probably a reason why. I like stories about the afterlife; I like twins, I guess, even though there aren’t any twins in my family, and I also like stories with unreliable narrators, which Sara is to a certain extent, because in this film, we’re not certain, at a certain point, whether or not she’s completely sane and we leave the audience in a gray area for a similar portion of the film. The character of Aiden as well, I like the fact that he sort of vacillates–is he a good guy? Is he a bad guy? I like gray areas, I guess.”
As for what lurks within the forest, he’s drawn to Asian ghosts in part because westerners don’t tend to know what they’re getting into with them, which he calls “one of the reasons I’m attracted to J-horror, for lack of a better word. It has its own rules, not traditional kind of Judeo-Christian mythology.” When we deal with ghosts, or demons, we have some sort of idea what kind of afterlife, with variations on Heaven and Hell, we’re getting into. Not so in a non-Christian culture. He explains:
“I think there’s a familiarity in the Exorcist-type films – the audience already seems to unconsciously understand the rules–whereas the rules of the Suicide Forest, they aren’t. And because it’s different, it’s more alien literally and figuratively, and I think sometimes more alien is scarier. I always feel that the horror films that – this is personal preference, but I tend to not like ghost stories…I like monsters and ghosts that you can’t communicate with. I think the Alien is scary because you can’t negotiate with it. It Follows, for instance. You can’t negotiate, it just IS, it’s just other, and so even though the ghosts in our film sometimes communicate, you don’t really understand what they want and there’s no easy out. It’s not like you give the audience a set of rules and say ‘if you attack them with garlic, or if you show up with a cross, you’ll defeat them.’ In fact, there isn’t really any defeating them in this film, and I think it makes it scarier.”
“You know I can’t talk about that.”
Just a vaguely thematic comment, I beseech him.
“Yeah. Unfortunately, Warners isn’t ready to talk about that film yet. They’ll jump on me if I do.”
Determined not to depart the interview without something BvS related, I ask if the recent trailer gives away too much, as some fans have feared. His response to that is positive: “There are still surprises. I wouldn’t be worried about that.”
He will, however, comment on the Superman prequel TV series Krypton, if only to note that, “Touch wood, we’ll be filming that maybe May. So it’s very much in early prep stages right now. I would say the most exciting thing about it is, I’ve seen some chatter online and so far everything I’ve read is completely wrong. I don’t think it’s AT ALL what people are expecting, which is kinda neat.”
So how have things changed these past two decades for comic-book movies between Blade and Batfleck? I figure he’s the guy to ask.
“Dollars equates to respect in Hollywood. That’s the only way you get respect in Hollywood,” he says. “So yeah, I mean, they were very much derided as source material when I started, and now every studio’s falling all over themselves trying to come up with their own shared universe and I think they know that they have to get the core elements right or else it won’t be successful. So I don’t know if it’s respect, or they just know as a business model it’s the only way it works.”
“They know they need to find people that understand the core elements – I don’t know if THEY understand the core elements!”
The Forest opens today in theaters nationwide.
Goyer image provided by Subversive Media; The Forest still via Gramercy