By MICHAEL GINGOLD
At a recent press event for his upcoming SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK movie (see report here), RUE MORGUE grabbed some time with its director, André Øvredal, to chat about his next project: The screen version of the Stephen King novel (written under his Richard Bachman pseudonym) THE LONG WALK.
First published in 1979, and begun by King while he was a college freshman, THE LONG WALK centers on an annual competition held in a totalitarian America. 100 teenage boys begin at the Maine/Canada border and walk south down the East Coast via highway, and must keep up a pace of at least four miles an hour without stopping. Anyone who stops or slows down too much is given a warning; after three warnings, he’s shot dead by soldiers pacing them in military vehicles. It’s a dystopian tale with relatable themes, Øvredal tells us.
“In a way, the book is about the long walk of life,” he says. “You watch your family and friends die around you as you go through life, and there’s a human connection there to the horror these kids are experiencing that goes way beyond the smaller story going on right in front of you. As a director, it’s extremely inspiring to be able to tell a story that is so human and so gruesome at the same time. It’s like man vs. the machine in a way, and about the innocence of these boys and how they don’t really grasp what they’ve gotten themselves into until it’s way too late. I’m in awe of Stephen King for having understood so much about humanity at the age of 18 or 19 when he wrote this. It’s an adult story, but written with a young person’s perspective, probably of the Vietnam War; it’s kind of an allegory, I’m guessing, for his fears of being sent to Vietnam at the time.
“Therefore, it also reads as a story about people you get to know in extreme circumstances,” he continues. “I can compare it to filmmaking as well; it’s a similar situation where you get thrown in with people you don’t really know, but you have some of the most extreme moments of your life with these people, and then suddenly they’re gone and you move on to the next movie, and you rarely have the same crew. You shoot one movie in Toronto and the next in Europe. So there are a lot of things in THE LONG WALK to connect with emotionally. I did a short film called THE TUNNEL that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival three years ago, and it’s a very similar story. When I read the script, which is so close to the book—it really honors what King wrote in a beautiful way—I felt like I had told the story, but in a different way, which connected to the idea of being on a journey you cannot stop. It’s an unstoppable journey, and the only way out is death, really.”
The director, whose previous features include TROLL HUNTER and THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE, has been a longtime fan of King’s writing—since he himself was a teenager. “I haven’t been able to keep up with his latest works, since I’ve been too busy on my own projects, but I read all of his early books. They influenced the way I see horror and the way I see storytelling. I read them at a time when I was also watching the Amblin movies and other films that inspired me as a filmmaker, and it all kind of blends together into one world, because they do oftentimes play in that same space.”
The LONG WALK movie will be produced by New Line Cinema, with a screenplay by James Vanderbilt (ZODIAC). Previously, the movie rights to the novel were held by Frank Darabont (THE MIST, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION), and Øvredal reveals, “Vanderbilt wrote the script on spec because he loved the book so much, even though he didn’t have the rights to it. When Frank Darabont’s rights expired, he and his producing partner Brad Fischer immediately snapped it up. King, from what I gather, already loved his adaptation, and then they spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to get the movie made. It went through various directors, I think; I’m not quite familiar with the whole process. Then New Line took it on, and suddenly, it’s got momentum.”
There was a confined sense of horror in THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE that, based on advance footage screened from SCARY STORIES, will continue in that movie. Even though the entirely of THE LONG WALK takes place outdoors, Øvredal says it will have a similar feeling. “It’ll be very claustrophobic, because we never leave that road. I think the studio and producers really liked my work on THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE, and compared it to this, because it’s very intimate. You’re walking right there with these kids; the fact that it has an expansive nature around it, as opposed to just walls, is a variation, but it’s going to be an extremely claustrophobic movie.”
Although the novel’s action is set in the Northeastern U.S., the locations for the film version have yet to be determined. “The story is obviously set in Maine, so we have to honor that,” says Øvredal, who would be in favor of casting some of his young SCARY STORIES stars in THE LONG WALK. “But that might not be the right place to film, just because of the logistics of weather and when in the year we have to shoot it. Making a movie is super-complex; I would hope for California, actually, because in the north there are places we’ve seen already that are quite similar in nature. But it’s still very early going. We might end up in Australia or Eastern Europe—who knows?”