Lionsgate’s You’re Next screened over the weekend to a packed crowd at this year’s SXSW Festival and, after 18 months of praise, everyone seemed to agree that the film lived up to the hype. One of the reasons behind the film’s creative success is Adam Wingard‘s incredibly assured hand as a director. I’ve always been fond of his work, but You’re Next is unlike anything else currently on his resume – a taut, crowd-pleasing horror film that has a uniquely addictive energy. I sat down with him after the screening to talk about the film’s violence and his approach towards making it feel huge.
In the film directed by Wingard and written by Simon Barrett, (A Horrible Way to Die, V/H/S,V/H/S/2), “One of the smartest and most terrifying films in years, the film reinvents the genre by putting a fresh twist on home-invasion horror. When a gang of masked, ax-wielding murderers descend upon the Davison family reunion, the hapless victims seem trapped…until an unlikely guest of the family proves to be the most talented killer of all.” Sharni Vinson, Nick Tucci, Wendy Glenn, AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Margaret Laney, Amy Seimetz, Ti West, Calvin Reeder, Larry Fessenden, Kate Lyn Sheil, Barbara Crampton and Rob Moran all star.
You’re Next hits theaters on theaters August 23, 2013. Become a fan on Facebook and head inside for the interview!
The film feels really big and has amazing sound design and pacing. What’s your approach to achieving that on a smaller budget?
It really boils down to the fact that I edit my own stuff. Whenever I’m shooting I’m thinking about the most optimum way of making the scene work and thinking of alternatives in case it doesn’t work. I’m always trying to get the best coverage I can. Whenever I edit, I like to have at least 70% of the score done beforehand so I can let that influence me.
Going into this movie I made a conscious choice that I did not want any slack on the film. We shot it with two cameras and I really wanted the whole movie to move at a fast pace and wanted to be able to cut at a fast pace. All of our influences were, for the most part, bigger budget movies. My DP and I studied a lot of stuff like Face/Off and other absurdly huge movies to see what made them feel big and a lot of it was pacing.
You’re trying to get all of this stuff on a fairly limited schedule, shooting all nights. How does that impact the process?
It’s just really stressful. Going into this I had been used to doing very experimental indie stuff and a lot of my stylistic choices were dependent on the budget itself. The reason those movies are shot the way they are is that we didn’t have time to shoot it any other way. With this film, my choices were based on how to make a film that’s successful to a wider audience which meant using some more conventional cinematic language and then figuring out how put my own twist on it. But that creates a whole other realm of problems, because now you have all of these rules. If you set out in an experimental style you can beak those rules at any minute in case you need a fix. But with a film like this you’re constantly in your head thinking, “If I don’t get this, we’re totally screwed.” It’s gotta play real.
You really feel the impact of the violence in the film, but it doesn’t overdo it on the gore. Did you shoot a lot more of that stuff than you used in case you needed it?
The funny thing is, everything you see in the film is basically every bit of violence we had. A lot of times special effects wouldn’t work, so you’re just getting a little bit here and there. But the film isn’t really about gratuity. To me it was more about making the kill scenes interesting.
I was really influenced by this 80’s serial killer film called White Of The Eye, I saw clips of it on YouTube initially and it’s Donald Cammel who did Demon Seed and stuff. But the way that they shot their kill scenes was with a lot of inserts, a lot of slow motion. Like you’ve got a vase of flowers smashing in slow motion, it focusses on a lot of things that aren’t necessarily part of the gruesomeness, you know? I just wanted to make the violence interesting, which ended up great for this film because it didn’t mean gore – it meant building stuff up in a very stylistic way. So while the movie is still really violent and gory, the emphasis is really on building the audience’s expectation of it through slow motion and all of these other things and then just hammering it home with these quick barrages of shots.
I noticed feeling a lot of that, “I can’t believe they’re about to do this.”
Totally. When [character redacted for spoilers] is [death redacted for spoilers], we wanted to set it up. The savvy horror fans already know we’re setting up a kill and we’re not going to disguise that. But at the same time we’re not going to tell you exactly what’s going to happen. We just want to build up the anticipation to make it more exciting and more fun.
Any updates you can give on The Guest and Dead Spy Running?
Yeah we’re going forward with The Guest right now, hopefully shooting in the next few months. And Dead Spy Running is moving forward pretty well too, I’ve been having a lot of actor meetings on that and Simon’s still plugging away on the script. Hopefully we’ll be able to knock them out back to back.
Your visual style is always evolving. There are huge differences between A Horrible Way To Die, You’re Next and V/H/S/2. Are there any new tricks you’re dying to try on these new ones?
It’s just contingent on the screenplay and what best brings that out and what I’m influenced by. I guess we’ll just ultimately see what things stick with me going into this next one. You never really know what it’s going to be until you actually start shooting. You can plan out a lot of stuff, but at the end of the day once the actors show up and you start shooting you’re going to find all of these new influences and points of focus. On the page, You’re Next felt like a completely different film from what we have. I actually pictured it as a different movie – I pictured it as taking place in a more modern Frank Lloyd Wright kind of house. But when you end up with what you end up with… it really pushes you in new directions and inspires you in great new ways. It’s kind of unpredictable, really.