Friday at San Diego Comic-Con this year was a light day for me, panel-wise, but not without its highlights, culminating in one of my all-time favorite SDCC experiences. I started off walking through the PetCo Interactive Zone, an offsite attraction mostly useful for the food trucks around which movie and TV studios have gathered in the hopes of gaining more precious inches of marketing real estate. Here, you can get your picture taken with the Ghostbusters car, walk through the cabin from Ash vs. the Evil Dead or visit something that I guess is supposed to be Walking Dead-related but also has a huge Jack in the Box logo on it. Me, I was mostly there for the food trucks. I got one of those burritos that has french fries in it. It was okay.
My day of panels started at one called Women Below the Line. Women who work behind the scenes in all sorts of entertainment/popular culture fields–videogame designers, assistant editors, prop fabricators–shared stories of how they got started, how they’ve advanced and the rarity of having an HR department to report harassment to when you’re a contractor. These women were funny and interesting and the panel was an engaging one. It was also a chance to visit a new part of the ever-expanding Comic-Con campus, which now includes the ballrooms of the Marriott hotel next door to the convention center, where this panel took place. Comic-Con also lays claim to space in two other hotels (Hyatt, Hilton) a public library and a theater.
Another in-depth and thoughtful panel was called Reinventing Horror. A handful of indie horror film directors, including Mickey Keating (Carnage Park) and Radio Silence (V/H/S), discussed the current state of the genre. They talked about increasingly character-driven horror films from the indie world. They talked about how indie horror filmmakers are a little community. And then, when the all white, all male panel was prompted by a question from the audience, they talked about diversity. It was a tad awkward to watch them essentially apologize for the lack of diversity on the panel while discussing what they can do to make horror more diverse. But the general consensus that they should use their positions to hire women and people of color at every level of their crews is a helpful one.
Finally, I found myself offsite once again, this time at a local multiplex. Lionsgate had arranged a screening of Adam Wingard’s new movie, The Woods. Being a huge fan of Wingard and his screenwriter, Simon Barrett, seeing this screening was one of my top Comic-Con priorities. As they led us into the theater, we passed an enormous, backlit, standing sign bearing the name of the film, its tagline and its release date (September 16th). Once situated, the lights went down and the movie started. There were no opening titles but I immediately realized something unexpected was going on when I saw the words “Burkittsville, Maryland” on the screen. Sure enough, The Woods is an honest-to-God followup to 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, in which a family member of the original film’s lead sets off with a group of friends and enthusiasts to find out what happened to her. Just like the original, this is a found footage film but, given our current technological state, there are far more camera angles available and the plausibility questions are all but removed in our obsessively self-documenting age. It’s a very good, scary and tense movie that is a worthy sequel to the landmark original. It also expands the mythology of the witch herself, uses more advanced visual effects sparingly but effectively and, with the Wingard/Barrett stamp, provides quite a few more laughs than you’d expect.
Also, it’s not even called The Woods. After the film, the true title appeared on the screen: Blair Witch. A Q&A took place where the secrecy of the project was discussed and then, as we exited, we saw that the massive standing sign in the lobby had been changed to the new title. It was an exciting surprise that I felt lucky to be a part of, all the more so because the movie is actually a good one.