In the past year, an aura of surreal curiosity has engulfed the world of film, posing many questions about the consuming habits of the ardent and casual filmgoer. Hollywood, in a struggle to fill their schedules, dig deeper through their archives to reboot and revise their properties to the point where summers are looking more and more like a series of $200 million gambles. Meanwhile, the independent scene has become an oddity in its own right, completely transformed by the juggernaut that is digital distribution and instant streaming. In between these two landscapes lie the a unique film franchise in a league of its own, one not constrained by the checks and balance system of Hollywood and cognizant of the potential audience of the independent genre world, churning out two entries in less than 24 months to critical acclaim and a rapidly growing cult fan-base.
This series is V/H/S, and besides the production teams behind the series, primarily The Collective and Bloody-Digusting, the only constant between its two entries would be producers and contributors Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett. The creative team behind A Horrible Way to Die, You’re Next and the “Q is for Quack” segment from The ABC’s of Death, Wingard and Barrett make their second round count in Magnet Releasing’s V/H/S/2, establishing the wrap-around mythology they forged in the first film and provide the tone-setting opening segment of this ambitious and intense sequel. And with a prosperous and hectic schedule ahead of them with no less than 2 feature films in development, Wingard and Barrett spoke to Diabolique about V/H/S/2, V/H/S/3 and their first foray into the action genre, The Guest…
DIABOLIQUE: At the Tribeca Film Festival, “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” director Jason Eisener stated that you had a concept behind the V/H/S wrap-around mythology regarding the magnetism of the tapes and the sequence in which they are viewed. Could you elaborate on that idea?
SIMON BARRETT: Yes, kind of. That’s really it. The thing is we dropped extra hints about it in V/H/S/2, and one of the main ones is that the ghosts that the bionic eye is picking up in Adam’s “Phase I – Clinical Trials” are electromagnetic impressions of their environment, and why he’s susceptible to them is because he’s got this medium that’s right to release them. We ended up pretty much cutting that out because there was so, so much explanatory dialogue, and it didn’t feel natural in the way that found footage dialogue needs to feel. The suspension of disbelief is what makes these [segments] enjoyable. But there’s definitely hints about it in the wrap-around’s of both [V/H/S] films.
There’s a reason that these supernatural tapes are in an analog format, which is a magnetic format. If you view them in a certain magnetic field, there’s a body of energy that can transform you in certain ways. It’s like they’re, in a way, giving away a part of themselves but there’s an idea, and when you watch V/H/S/2 you might realize this, in that the main collector in the wrap-around segment is looking for a way to send himself into the immortal realm. So far, both of the collector’s in the V/H/S films have found a way to do that, but maybe not in the way that they’d intended. So that’s kind of what we’re hinting at there, which that’s always something that I’ve liked. That’s sort of an old horror fiction trope; the idea of trying to find spiritual immortality but instead finding a very gross physical immortality. I’ve always found that amusing.
Another thing is that You’re Next was one of the first films that Adam and I put together specifically with the idea that, not that you have to see it twice like a Shane Carruth film or something, but if you did see it more than once, you’d get something out of that experience. Adam, in particular, if he likes a film, tends to study it and watch it again and again, and break it down. We wanted to reward that experience and we brought that same sensibility to V/H/S/2 where it can be taken apart.
ADAM WINGARD: I’m not sure where it stems from, but whenever I like a movie, I’ll watch it at least three times, pretty much right away, but we’ve been using that sensibility as far back as A Horrible Way To Die, as well. There’s definitely an element as to why, and I’m not speaking for everybody because not everybody thinks this, people think [Simon and I] make smart horror movies, in that we don’t assume that our audience is stupid. We don’t have to spell everything out for them or anything every single time.
BARRETT: Yeah, and it’s not like we’re shooting everything so that you have to watch A Horrible Way to Die twice to really experience it. That’s not true. But if you do watch it twice, there’s more there, and it gives the film more of a meaning that hopefully you’ll get out of it. We can’t really speak in terms of the perspectives about ourselves, since we can’t be objective to that, but I think just by trying to do that and trying to see if our audiences are smarter than us, I think we’re at least going in the right direction.
I think V/H/S/2, more than the first film because we’re more directly involved putting this together from the start, layers in some hints. I know Gareth [Evans] and Timo [Tjahjanto] did it in their segment because if you watch it twice, you realize they’re dropping certain information early on, and that’s really cool. I really enjoy that, especially as a filmmaker, and that’s something I want to incorporate [in our work].
DIABOLIQUE: Considering that Simon has taken the reigns of the wrap-around this time around after only writing the wrap-around of V/H/S, was it important to make sure the wrap-around segments in this film be accessible to those unfamiliar with the first film?
BARRETT: Yes and No. V/H/S/2 came about from the lessons that we learned from how people responded to V/H/S, because when Adam and I shot the wrap-around for the first film, it was actually months before any of the other segments [were filmed]. We didn’t even know what was going to happen in any of the segments. We’d designed it for 3 or 4 [segments], although it ended up being 5. I think that really worked to the advantage of V/H/S/2, since we were really involved in the mixing and editing of V/H/S and for this film, we were like, “Okay, we have this window of time. People really responded to the first film. We think we can step it up and face the lessons that we learned.”
To add to that, neither Adam or I like to repeat ourselves at all. Whatever our next film is, you can be assured that it’s going to be very different from our previous film. At the same time, we hope it’s appealing to the same audiences and entertaining on some level, but we have to push ourselves forward as filmmakers because otherwise you’re stagnate and you start to do bad work. So we knew we wanted the wrap-around to be different while serving the function of the classic wrap-around that we enjoy from those old Amicus movies.
The goal of the first V/H/S was to make it very gritty, but we didn’t realize how much audiences were going to detach from it. Meanwhile, [audiences] were coming back to these anonymous, hateful thugs, which was an equally distancing experience, especially following David Bruckner’s segment or something. So I wanted the camerawork [of the wrap-around] to be more stable, because I knew that crazy things Adam was going to do and play around with, so I knew I wanted a few of the camera shots to be totally static. I also wanted a smaller amount of recognizable characters that the audience could at least reacquaint with and go, “Oh, that’s right. This is what’s happening.” Even if they use [the time] to go to the bathroom, that’s fine, since it’s easy to get back into that world.
I think [the directors] all take their criticism seriously, and even though I think the wrap-around for V/H/S is awesome and we’re not in any way apologizing for it, but so many people were confounded in their experiences of watching it. So Adam and I were like, “What would we do differently there, now that we’re here?”
WINGARD: That extends to all facets of filmmaking. I would be a real jerk if, for instance, when A Horrible Way To Die came out and I went, “You know, nobody gets my shaky-camera. I’m gonna keep doing this for every single movie I ever make. That’s who I am!” Something may work for you, but you’ll see the vast majority outweighs one argument or another and that’s probably something you should listen to. That definitely happened on V/H/S. That’s why I feel like, with this movies and with the directors who worked on V/H/S/2 beyond us, were a response to the internal response that aligned with the majority of people, who thought the first segment of V/H/S was the most fun and most enjoyable. So a lot of people went that route this time around and did something more fun and entertaining.
BARRETT: I think it’s interesting because when you’re making a sequel to one of these anthology movies, you don’t take into account how much easier it is than making the first film, because the first film is such a huge question mark for the people involved, you know? On the first V/H/S, everyone looked at what we did with the wrap-around and knew, at least stylistically, what it was going to be: shooting it like it was shot on VHS tape. I think, for example, The ABC’s of Death 2, which was just bought at Cannes, stands a chance of being really strong because when we were shooting our ABC’s of Death segment, we were totally in the dark with what everyone else was going to be doing and what that project was going to be. But having a film to look at and go, “This is what this is. How do I top it?” is really inspiring as a filmmaker.
It’s also how you grow as a filmmaker, by giving yourself those kinds of challenges. You can also do what Adam said, and go, “I’m gonna keep doing this until I grow a devoted following that gets it.” But then you realize that you’re not really changing. There are filmmakers that can do their one thing, and evolve and be brilliant with it, but ultimately, that’s not going to reach the audience that we want to reach with V/H/S/2 or You’re Next. We kind of want to reach everyone, up to and including the fringe.
DIABOLIQUE: V/H/S/2 definitely feels more inclusive and more organized than the first film, as each segment is more ambitious, fun and even shocking as the film goes on.
WINGARD: Yeah, the film is more fun and gory and less dark and sinister.
BARRETT: Again, I’m very happy with a lot of the elements that people took issue with on the first V/H/S. I think the most of the reactionary response to the first V/H/S is people projecting their own issues onto a film that’s doing the opposite of what they expected, but that’s it. V/H/S was something we weren’t even sure that anyone would see, so we were trying to do something very different and fairly brazen. Once that film was received very well, we were like, “How do we reward anyone who defended us with this sequel that we’re immediately rushing into because we have the time to do this and there’s an audience for this?” I mean, [the filmmakers] involved with these films are pretty much doing it for the fun of the creative experience because these are very low budget films.
DIABOLIQUE: Many of your projects, including You’re Next, The ABC’s of Death and your segment in V/H/S/2, include a fairly healthy dose of humor. How important is it for you both as filmmakers to inject humor into your genre fare?
WINGARD: Well, before the first V/H/S, we had just come off A Horrible Way To Die, which is a real bummer of a movie. It’s really dark and bleak, so V/H/S was our first project transitioning from that and You’re Next was made in the shadow of V/H/S. You’re Next was our first attempt ever at making something that had any kind of mainstream appeal and a sense of humor, which was our goal from the start. But what ended up happening was that You’re Next changed the way Simon and I really think about movies and the things we enjoy about our own movies, and we realized where our strengths are, which is in our sense of humor.
So naturally, when it came time to do our ABC’s of Death segment and our V/H/S/2 segments, it just made sense to transition [our humor]. Besides, there’s just no way we could imagine asking an audience to take a sequel to V/H/S as seriously as they could on the first film. With the first film, there was a mystery to it and you don’t know what to expect, so you could get away with a darker tone. But with V/H/S/2, people already know the joke, so you have to change it up and that’s what we did. The second film still feels like a V/H/S film, because it is, but tonally, it’s a different movie. It’s like the difference between The Evil Dead and The Evil Dead II, to a certain degree.
BARRETT: Another film that V/H/S/2 is kind of like, bizarrely for those reasons, is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. I would argue that A Horrible Way to Die and the first V/H/S have a lot of humor because they’re so dark and we were in such a dark place in our careers, especially in A Horrible Way to Die towards the ending. It’s such a dark, depressing film that I don’t know if people are comfortable with it. Also, the segment I wrote for V/H/S that Joe Swanberg directed has a lot of humor, but even that deals with some really dark subject matter, so I don’t know how much of it crosses over. I think we learned a bit of a lesson on V/H/S, where our sensibilities towards humor were held down so deep that people weren’t really responding to it.
So we’ve opened up a bit more and trusted our own instincts, because Adam and I take our work very, very seriously but we don’t take ourselves very seriously. Anyone who follows us on Twitter can see that. We mostly enjoy humor, so that does inform everything. But even Michael Haneke films have humor in them. I think we have to acknowledge the absurdity or the ridiculous insanity behind the situation or the premise itself in order to earn the dramatic or serious or scary moments. There are particularly films that have one scare sequence after another without anything between them and that engages your brain on a different level and become less scary. It becomes monotonous and exhausting. To be able to organically juggle the tone so that there’s no jarring or annoying tonal shifts to create a tonal transformation into humor and back into horror is something that we are conscious of and are trying to do. Maybe not always with every film, but at least with You’re Next and V/H/S/2.
DIABOLIQUE: After V/H/S/2 and You’re Next, you both have The Guest lined up, which Ain’t It Cool broke as being about a troubled veteran who takes up residence with an unwilling family of a fallen comrade, and with conversations turning to V/H/S/3, what can you tell us about your upcoming projects? Can you hint at anyone who is being discussed at boarding the franchise?
WINGARD: With The Guest, the film is going to be a departure from the normal projects that people have seen us doing. It’s more of an action-thriller type thing, but it’s very influenced by ‘80s cinema like The Terminator and also Halloween, to some extent.
BARRETT: The Guest also influenced by the pacing of You’re Next, because You’re Next was the first script I had wrote where I felt like I could make it really, really fast at times and we wanted to carry that forward into a project that had maybe a different genre. I think people are going to like it. I think it’s going to be really cool.
And with V/H/S/3… Well, V/H/S/2 came about while we were putting The Guest together, and we were like, “Oh man, we’ve got a lot of films coming out, but if we don’t shoot anything, we’re going to go through all of 2012 without making a movie. I think that’s really hard for us, because we like working a lot, so almost as soon as V/H/S premiered, we started talking to [producers] Brad Miska and Roxanne Benjamin about doing a sequel and what that would be. It all came together very quickly and the weird thing was we were making a sequel before the first film had come out. In the end, we were still firing blindly and second guess what the audience wanted, so if there is a V/H/S/3, we probably won’t be as directly involved as we have been [on the franchise] because our schedule is really fully, which is great and for which we’re grateful to have. Doing V/H/S/3 would be like having a full time job, except you don’t get paid for it. [laughs]
WINGARD: Even if we aren’t directly involving with the writing or directing of V/H/S/3, we’ll still be producers on the film.
BARRETT: I’m not saying we won’t be working on the film, but what I’m getting at with a third film is that we have to see if there’s a demand for it after V/H/S/2 and if people respond to it before we start cranking out sequels. I know it’s something on everyone’s mind, and we’ve been having very specific conversations about it, but at the same time, we want to benefit from it the same way that V/H/S/2 benefitted from V/H/S. We should see what’s working and what’s not so we can make V/H/S/3 a better film, because if it’s not a better film, then there’s really no reason to be making the sequel. There’s also the money, which is a valid factor, but we never want that to inform our decisions creatively, and it’s not like the V/H/S films are huge enough that they would. It’s more so creative inspiration, so we’re waiting to see what that is. It’s something everyone is talking and thinking about, but we have to wait to see what everyone says about V/H/S/2 before we do V/H/S/3 because we did that for V/H/S/2 towards V/H/S and we guessed what people wanted to see, and I think that we guessed correctly.
V/H/S/2, which features segments from Wingard, Barrett, Jason Eisener, Gareth Evans, Timo Tjahjanto, Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale, will be in select theaters from Magnet Releasing this Friday, July 12th, and is currently available for rental on VOD, iTunes, Amazon and other streaming services. For more from Wingard and Barrett, you can follow them on Twitter: @AdamWingard and @Simon_Barrett. Wingard and Barrett’s first studio release, You’re Next, will be in theaters August 23rd from Lionsgate, and The ABCs of Death, A Horrible Way to Die and the first V/H/S are available on DVD/Blu-ray and Netflix Instant Streaming. For more from Wingard, Barrett and Magnet Releasing, as well as our blow-out coverage for V/H/S/2, keep checking back at DiaboliqueMagazine.com! And don’t forget to pick up Diabolique #17 later this month, which features more from exclusive comments from Adam Wingard and more on V/H/S/2!
– By Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine, as well as a contributing writer for Diabolique Magazine and Fangoria Magazine. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on several screenplays spanning over different genres and subject matter, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.