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Madame Web director on those Final Destination comparisons, and injecting the movie with "thriller-slash-horror moments"

 Dakota Johnson and Sydney Sweeney in Madame Web.
Dakota Johnson and Sydney Sweeney in Madame Web.

Madame Web's whole plot revolves around someone preventing three murders after seeing said murders happen in a vision. So it's hardly surprising that the new Sony Marvel movie has been likened to the Final Destination series since its first trailer dropped back in November.

Turns out, director S. J. Clarkson is all for people comparing it to the long-running horror franchise, which famously centers on fate catching up with people who've cheated death in grisly ways, since it signals that her attempt to inject some terror into the comic book flick was successful.

"Listen, I'll take that," she tells GamesRadar+ and Total Film when we mention the association, and how refreshing it is to see a superhero movie with a bit of blood in it. "It's a thriller at the end of the day and it was exciting to be able to have those thriller-slash-horror moments.

"If you see really scary things in the future, it's like a nightmare in a way," Clarkson continues. "You wake up from them in the most random moments, like on a train or when you're trying to save somebody's life as a paramedic and these things come hurtling at you, you know? How would you deal with that? How would you react to it, especially when everybody else around you is looking at you, thinking I'm going crazy?"

S.J. Clarkson directing on the set of Madame Web
S.J. Clarkson directing on the set of Madame Web

Starring Adam Scott, Sydney Sweeney, Tahar Rahim, and Dakota Johnson, Madame Web follows New York City-based paramedic Cassie, who inexplicably finds herself with clairvoyant abilities following a near-death experience. One random evening, she sees a horrifying vision of a man murdering three young women and saves them all by intervening, subsequently forcing the foursome into a dangerous game of cat and mouse with the determined, ruthless killer.

"I was very lucky that it kind of came as a script when I got it, so it was about me taking that and helping shape [Cassie] and bring her more to life," says Clarkson, when we ask how she settled on the movie's reinvention of Cassandra Webb's beginnings in the comics. "I was very excited by the fact that this was an unusual superpower. It's not one that most people would have in the top five, maybe not even the top 10: 'Oh, I'd like to see the future'. But I just thought that was a really interesting concept and, you know, because it was so inherently psychological that it could be a thriller; more cerebral, and therefore more grounded, and I found it really interesting and exciting to explore that in a cinematic world."

Clarkson is no stranger to adapting Marvel material to the screen, having previously helmed the first two episodes of Jessica Jones, as well as a couple of The Defenders' installments. But looking to the Madame Web comics for inspiration was a particularly unique experience this time around, due to the fact that they showcase where the film's younger take on the character would – or could, in truth – end up. Essentially, they were a glimpse into her future, while the movie focuses on the 2003-set present. (In the source material, powerful psychic Cassandra is depicted as an older, blind woman, who is permanently rigged up to a life support system due to a rare neurological condition).

"The comic books, you know, they are the Bible of Marvel, really, so to go back to those and see who a character is and who they become is really interesting," recalls. Clarkson. "It gave us clairvoyance, we see where she goes. So how do we find a way to get there? So that was a gift really, it was almost the clairvoyance of the comics that enabled us to realize her origin."

Madame Web releases on February 14. While we wait, check out all the new superhero movies heading our way. Keep an out for a future episode of the Inside Total Film podcast to listen to more of our chat with Clarkson.