[Interview] TIFF ’11: ‘You’re Next’s Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, Actress Sharni Vinson!

The thought of being terrorized in the safety of your own home will always rank right up as one of people’s biggest fears. Filmmakers are very aware of this since they’ve been dwelling into this terrifying concept time and time again with the never passé, home invasion subgenre. It’s been the perfect avenue for directors to showcase/show-off their technical craft. Some of my favorites have been Straw Dogs (the Peckinpah original, of course) Black Christmas (don’t you dare ask which one), Funny Games (both versions actually), Panic Room, Inside and the criminally underseen, Them.

At this year’s TIFF, we got two…that I’m aware of; Joel Schumacher’s Trespass and Adam Wingard’s You’re Next. In the past, my biggest issue with home invasion films was how a great deal of them couldn’t quite manage to sustain the tension and my interest for their entire running time. Most fizzle out before they even enter the third act. Director, Adam Wingard and writer, Simon Barrett, the duo behind one of last year’s biggest gems, A Horrible Way To Die, have managed to take this subgenre into fresh and exciting new areas with You’re Next. This is the type of film that begs to be experienced with a large audience. Its bold attempt to mix up horror and comedy at any given moment, gives this thriller an unpredictability and sense of unease since the viewer has no idea where he or she will be hit next. I had the opportunity to chat with Adam, Simon and their badass leading lady, Sharni Vinson.

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BD: Simon, you mentioned the Midnight Madness screening of Insidious inspired you to write something more commercial.

Simon Barrett: It wasn’t just coming to Midnight Madness and seeing how audience reacted to the films that was there. Coming directly from A Horrible Way To Die, which was quite successful and got great reviews… it was like this awesome career peak but we made a drama. A Horrible Way To Die builds to a bit of a climax and we all saw how people would start to respond to that like laughing, you know. It just excited us; the idea of making an entire movie that gratifies the audience. Also, we have a lot of respect for entertainment and our viewers. We are fans ourselves and we don’t like to be condescended to so we thought we could make this movie really fun but still be original and do something interesting. All you have to do is watch the movie with an audience to see why I wanted to make a commercial movie. It’s insanely gratifying to hear people laughing, shouting, screaming and jumping in their seats. I’m worried if anything that Adam and I will get addicted to it.

Adam Wingard: I think this film really kind of tests a new philosophy that I have and I think, Simon shares with me that if this movie is something that would have appealed to me when I was like 17 years old, that’s kind of like the ideal situation for me. When I think back to when I was in High School and if a movie was going to keep my interest, maybe it’s because I have ADD or whatever, if it was going to keep my interest, it has to move and be paced correctly. It’s got to be doing things in a way that I’ve never seen before. Above all, it’s always got to be moving forward, being entertaining and unpredictable.

Simon Barrett: The Midnight Madness audience is a perfect kind of barameter for whether or not you’re being entertaining because they’re extremely onboard with any film that delivers and will turn in a second on any film that doesn’t. I’ve seen it happen. This is my fourth year in Toronto and I’ve always spent most of my time in Midnight Madness section because that’s where obviously the films I like generally are. I have seen audiences basically rise to their feet and clapping at the end of the films and I also have seen them immediately start mocking a movie. We did set out to have this film in the Midnight Madness program. That was our imaginary deadline throughout this process; Toronto Midnight Madness, next year, let’s have a movie and make it a good one. Also, it was a good thing to keep in mind in general; “What do Midnight Madness audiences like?” They’re fairly savy viewers too and the problem with a lot of horror movies these days is that most studio executives think that horror fans are idiots and they want the same old product. That’s completely not true with the Midnight Madness crowd. If you can deliver something commercial like Insidious to them, they’re thrilled but it better not be full of clichés or familiar tricks. So creatively, it was a good thing to keep in mind. It’s a good test.

BD: What made you guys settle on a home invasion film?

Adam Wingard: The way Simon and I work is usually like I’ll come to Simon with like: “What do you feel about doing this type of movie?” It’s usually really vague like that. In the case of this one, it was literally just a matter of like thinking; what types of horror movies excite me, and I have a relatable fear to? The only thing at the moment was home invasion movies. Some of my only favorite horror films in the last few years have been The Strangers, Inside and Them. So while I was editing A Horrible Way To Die, ontop of enjoying all these films, I was watching the opening scene to Scream. It was just incredible. I love how technical it was. It was fun and was doing something I’ve never done before. It made me think back to when I was a kid in high school. When I saw that film, I just thought that opening scene from Scream was like the pinnacle of perfect filmmaking. It was mysterious, scary, technically well-shot, the acting was great and most importantly, it was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I had no idea what was going to happen so that excited me. I told Simon that we should do a home invasion movie. I specifically told him: “I wanted to do a technical movie because everything I’ve done prior to this, I mean they’ve been genre stuff like Popskull and A Horrible Way To Die but they were also more dramas than anything else.” They were character studies and for once, I wanted to try to do something that’s less bogged down by drama and more about creating tension, creating a fun kind of movie.

BD: One thing I really admired about the movie was your ballsy attempt at juggling a horror and comedic tone. That’s really tricky to do without becoming a self-parody and I think you guys pulled that off brilliantly.

Adam Wingard: The trick to it was actually not just delving straight into the comedy. We wanted to setup a world that was real and we wanted you to take the characters seriously. There is still some funny dialogue early on but situationally, we tried to create a realistic environment. We wanted everything to be a subtle progression so that it didn’t just suddenly turn into a comedy or something like that. We wanted you take the violence, horror and suspense seriously…in a real world context. In doing that, we had to find a way to slowly evolve the film. Not necessarily winking or nudging at you and saying we’re in on the joke but we wanted to subtly let you know that it’s okay to laugh. The main key to that really was the score of the film. It starts off as one thing but by the end, its full-on Carpenter. We wanted the music to help push the movie in that direction until the end where it’s full-on crazy synthesizers. Even the music is saying; it’s okay to laugh and joke. That was the key to it.

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BD: Sharni, your character is the only straight-laced one in this film plus keeping the film’s tone balanced. Everyone else is a little loopy.

Sharni Vinson: It was funny…there were moments when I turned to a few people: “Are we shooting a horror or a comedy because I’m confused.” There were so many moments that it was super funny. The actors that were brought in like Joe Swanberg. I’ve never laughed at someone so much in all my time shooting the dinner scene where he’s talking about the underground festivals. That scene went on for 2 days. We shot 9 ½ hours worth of footage just on that scene because Adam just let us go to see what would happen. The scene went into places that we just never saw coming. We were just sitting there and laughing so much. It follows very quickly with trauma and stress. It is that amazing sort of mixture of both elements that makes this movie so unique. I’ve never seen a film like it that combines both elements so well. The audience get it and it’s so hard to achieve. I don’t think I was quite aware when we were shooting it, how the film was going to turn out necessarily because it’s hard to imagine how a horror is going to be just as scary as it is funny. Any kind of comedic elements in the film, on my part anyway, were completely accidental. All I really tried is to be real.

Adam Wingard: That definitely speaks volumes to the approach tonely that we took to the film, where we didn’t want the characters to let you know that they were in on the joke. The characters don’t think this is a funny situation. They’re fighting for their lives. The approach that we took, the way we framed it and stuff was very purposely done in a way that the film becomes more and more fun and kind of funny. Simon and I have a process where whenever, for instance, I’m editing the first rough cut of the film, I don’t show anybody anything until the rough cut is done. Simon has the same process when it comes to the script; he doesn’t show anybody pages until he’s completely done with it. In this one, I had no idea what Simon’s coming up with aside from telling him I wanted to do a very technically-oriented home invasion film. When I asked him about what does it kind of feel like, he’s like: “Yeah, it’s kind of like, a screwball comedy.” I’m just like: “What?!”

BD: Home Alone came to my mind.

Adam Wingard: Totally. Even the stepping on the nails is right out of Home Alone. It’s just kind of funny how it all came together like that. At the end of the day, even though it wasn’t the film i was expecting Simon to write, I also recognize; Oh wait…if it was the film I was expecting Simon to write, it wouldn’t be the right movie to make. It’s the fact that Simon was able to throw a curveball into it and do something that even I wasn’t expecting. That is what’s great about the way we work together; Simon never takes the obvious approach. He will take things that on the surface seem familiar but then twists it around and does another thing with it.

BD: What do you guys plan on doing next? Will it be another collaboration?

Simon Barrett: Yeah, we definitely all want to keep working together. I think that’s probably about as much we can say about that at this point. Whatever we do next, will be collaboration. We’re definitely more interested in going the direction that You’re Next pushed us in; towards more action-oriented cinema that really excited us when we were younger.

Adam Wingard: We’re really in a pivitol point in our careers right now where we can either become full-time horror filmmakers or we can kind of branch out and do whatever we want. With that said, I think Simon and I are definitely going to stay and do genre fare. If anything, right now our interest is leaning more towards action. In whatever we end up doing next, whether it be action, horror or whatever, I think we’re still going to take the same approach to it that we started with in You’re Next and A Horrible Way To Die; where we say let’s do what we love about these movies but let’s do it like its never been done before.

Simon: Adam and I are inspired not so much like we do one thing, it’s awesome so we want to do it again. Having done A Horrible Way To Die, we creatively wanted to do a 90 degree turn from that film. We just weren’t interested in making another fim like that and that is very hard in the studio system because once you establish that you can do something, that’s all that anyone wants to hire you to do.

Adam Wingard: Right now if I wanted to direct a home invasion film, it would be really easy. As a matter of fact, I’ve already heard like some studios saying: “We got a movie that we’d like Adam to direct.”

BD: Strangers 2?

Adam Wingard: (Laughs) They’re like: “Oh really, what kind of movie is it? It’s a home invasion movie. (Laughs) Of course it is.” It’s funny because I talked to Ti West about this after he did House of The Devil and he said that after he did that film, like any movie with a house in the movie, that was about a house…like he was like the house-boy guy. I thought that was really funny but it’s totally true. It makes sense. Once you show people that you can do a very certain thing, of course they’re going to be like: “Let’s capitalize on this because there are not many people who can do it.” It’s very flattering and everything but I think at the same time we want to continuously challenge ourselves because that is the only way to progress as an artist.

Sharni Vinson: As an actress to, you do one role, they see you play a certain way, and you’re assumed to not be able to do anything else.

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