One of the more interesting aspects about the horror genre is the willingness to experiment within the confines of audience expectation. More than drama, comedy and even science fiction, the horror genre has always been more receptive to the more playful side of filmmakers, allowing them to mix and match tones, visual styles, dramatic needs and even at times musical cues. And while the success of these experimentally informed films range from blown-out disaster to celebrated masterpiece and everywhere in between, horror will continue to harbor and incubate the more uncharted areas of a directors imagination.
In a strange turn of events, this playful experimentation has resulted in one of this summer’s most anticipated and cryptic horror offerings in You’re Next, the new film from Adam Wingard that releases this Friday, August 23rd courtesy of Lionsgate. Melding the influences of films both old and new while also alternating attitudes of gut-wrenching terror and riotous fun, Wingard and frequent collaborator and You’re Next scribe Simon Barrett lay out an exceptional and unique horror film unlike any other you’ve seen. Furthermore, for the film to play as mainstream as it does is a damn near miracle, as Wingard’s unique visual senses and understanding of character makes this unconventional fright film a surprisingly palatable experience. Speaking exclusively to Diabolique, Wingard spoke on You’re Next, crowdfunding and how filmmaking is much like a certain anime series…
DIABOLIQUE: One fascinating factor of You’re Next is that the film itself feels cognizant of the tropes of horror and goes out of its way to subvert those expectations. What do you think about the relationship between horror filmmakers, especially young, new ones, and meta/self-reflective storytelling?
ADAM WINGARD: Well, the type of meta stuff that Simon and I do is different in the sense that we’re never trying to deconstruct horror verbally. Like You’re Next, specifically, is a deconstruction of a horror film or horror subgenres in general, but not in terms of doing the Scream thing or The Cabin in the Woods thing where they’re like, “We’re very clever about this. We know how these movies work, and we’re going to tell you that we know that,” because it works in those movies, but those movies did it and you don’t want to just keep doing that. Our version of that is to recognize those tropes and deliver on that. The way to elevate the material and not make another generic film is to make these smart, interesting characters that are in this context that you haven’t seen before and to stylistically play on these things in a different way.
In You’re Next, the way we try to ramp up the violent scenes and amp up the audience expectations is all in the deconstruction. And in The ABC’s of Death, the meta aspects, to me, are specifically less about deconstructing genre stuff and, more or less, poking fun at the way we are when we’re making movies because You’re Next was a stressful experience but very rewarding because we took it so seriously. Whenever you’re in the middle of making a film, you just feel like you’re absolutely at the center of the universe right there, and the only thing that matters is making that film, and you can’t even imagine how the world is going on normally outside of the little bubble that you’re in because you take it so seriously, or at least we do. So since you become totally insane for a little bit, we just wanted to play with that. Even when we’re in those zones, we’re aware of it and do think it’s funny.
So we wanted to give people a slice of that while at the same time poke fun of ourselves, because there’s nothing more embarrassing than filmmakers and that whole supposed “artist” thing. When people take themselves so seriously, it’s like a defense mechanism to protect them from feeling so insecure and I think that it’s gross and pointless. We’re all just self indulgent people that want to create entertainment or our own thing, and be able to make an existence out of that. There’s no reason to pile any of that other bullshit on top of it. And I’ve been down that road, too. I know what it’s like to be a pretentious bastard, but fortunately, my career wasn’t validated early enough or prematurely. If I had like You’re Next-style success on something I didn’t put as much work into early on in my career, then it probably would have shaped my mental landscape, or my ego landscape, basically, and I probably would have been like, “Oh, this is what I do. I can do no wrong.”
That’s how a lot of filmmakers go wrong: by having a premature success before they’re ready for it. Fortunately, I was just enough ready, and have been beaten down just enough, so that when I finally did have my first theatrical pick-up, I had a realistic frame of mind going into it. Also, the only reason I did have that frame of mind was because I had to work really hard making You’re Next my entire life for a little while.
DIABOLIQUE: I agree that filmmakers do need a certain amount of failure and disappointment to keep yourself grounded, because once you get too far with “yes men” and validation, you end up losing sight that other people besides yourself watch your work. I think that through second-guessing and compromise, you can become a better filmmaker.
WINGARD: Exactly. It all boils down to Dragonball-Z. When you watch Dragonball-Z, Goku will get into a fight, gets his ass-kicked, almost dies, and then he has to work himself back up. Every time he does that, he gets twice as strong and it’s the same exact way as filmmaking. Filmmaking is exactly like Dragonball-Z. You have to get knocked down before you’re able to move up to that next level. You have to accept that failure, and only then can you become twice as strong.
DIABOLIQUE: Except in filmmaking, you don’t have to waste two episodes charging up to defeat your opponent.
WINGARD: [laughs] Exactly!
DIABOLIQUE: What are your thoughts on those optical illusion posters that came out for the film? They really seemed like an innovative way to sell You’re Next.
WINGARD: That was great. It’s never been done before, as far as I know, and I’m pretty happy to be like the first one. It’s pretty funny to see our film juxtaposed with Tyler Perry and Robert De Niro. That was a funny mash-up, speaking for myself.
DIABOLIQUE: I wanted to touch on The ABC’s of Death really quick. As the director of “Q is for Quack”, your entry was one of the best universally received segments of the film. Did you know from the get-go that you wanted to do something more funny than scary? Would you ever participate again if they’d ask you to return for a second ABC’s?
WINGARD: Well, our ABC’s segment was the very first thing we’d done after completing You’re Next, and I wanted to do something that was totally lighthearted because You’re Next was such an effects-driven, complicated film. It was also a stressful experience making it. Very rewarding, the most rewarding ever, but still very stressful. Going into ABC’s, I just wanted to have fun with it. Plus, I knew that we weren’t going to be able to outgross or have better special effects than the other guys, so I was just like, “Let’s do something that plays to our strengths.”
We just tried to come up with a fun story. Simon and I had just acted in one of [Joe] Swanberg’s movies like a month before, and we kind of had already played ourselves in the movie before, and it was kind of fun. That was one of those situations where the budget was so low, we couldn’t get SAG actors, so we asked, “what was the right way to approach this?” It just made sense to put ourselves in “Q”, and we tried to bring what we could to it.
DIABOLIQUE: Deadline reported back in December that Simon and you were attached to write and direct, respectively, an adaptation of John Stock’s Dead Spy Running. Is that still in the cards?
WINGARD: Yeah, that’s right. Well, we’re developing that. There’s also another project we’re about to start shooting called The Guest, so you never know where things are going to fall, but you’re just trying to take it day by day and see what projects fall into view first. At the level where we’re trying to make these movies, it takes a certain amount of money and a certain cast for them to come together. It’s a complicated, long term process, and we’re still initiating ourselves into that because even You’re Next, by Hollywood standards, is still low budget and wasn’t cast contingent.
Simon and I have been developing movies since You’re Next screened and fortunately we’ve had things like the V/H/S series to keep us going, keep us involved and so forth. But we’ve been developing features. At one point, we were going to do a movie in Korea. We actually location scouted out there for a while. Whereas A Horrible Way to Die’s experiment was “How do we get money for a movie, period, and then make a movie?” the next experiment was, “How do we make a movie that can play in theaters?” And now the experiment is, “How do we do a movie that has an established cast that we can play off of and play within Hollywood’s rules?” That’s quite a process, we’ve discovered.
DIABOLIQUE: Are you able to talk about The Guest at all?
WINGARD: Well, like I said, it’s more of a thriller type of thing. What I can say is that there are sort of aspects to it that, to me, are sort of inspired by John Carpenter movies, and movies like At Close Range, the Sean Penn-Christopher Walken film. There’s a wide variety of influences going into this, you know? I will say that don’t be surprised if this movie has a really cool, 80’s-style soundtrack to it. But other than that, I don’t want to give anything away, really.
DIABOLIQUE: That’s really exciting to hear. Personally speaking, I love At Close Range and think it’s criminally underrated in terms of mafia and crime films.
WINGARD: I rewatched it again last night, because whenever I’m at these meetings about stuff, they’re always like, “What movie should I look at?” I’m always like, “At Close Range.” But it’s been a while since I’ve seen that movie, but in my head, that’s the movie I want The Guest to look like. Last night, I was like, “I need to actually watch At Close Range again and make sure,” because it’s been five years since I’ve seen it. I was like, “Holy shit, this movie is even better than I remember.” There are just so many aspects to it that are amazing.
DIABOLIQUE: There are two things about Walken’s performance in At Close Range that amaze me every time I see it. First is when Walken driving up to the house, looking at the borderline-catatonic mother and going, “LOOKING GOOD!” That’s not only really funny and Walken-esque but also play to how casually he remembers his awful past. The other scene is in the end, where Penn has the gun on him in the kitchen…
WINGARD: And he’s freaking out really hard.
DIABOLIQUE: And it’s so intense, but when Penn fires the warning shot, Walken’s cadence is just like, “MOTH-ER-FUCK-ER!”
WINGARD: “WHOA! WHOA!” You expect him to keep his composure, because that character is so cool, but that’s the one moment that the character is just terrified.
DIABOLIQUE: Yeah, and two scenes ago, he murdered someone he loves, but now he’s standing in the kitchen, casually eating off a dirty dish. It’s a great, great performance.
WINGARD: It’s not on Blu-ray, is it? It’s not on iTunes. It’s actually not easy to come by. It’s actually Sean Penn and Christopher Walken’s best movie, in some lights. I can’t think of too many movies of theirs that I like more, and I like a lot of their movies. And another aspect of that film that I’ve never picked up on was Sean Penn’s relationship with the girl in that movie, Mary Stuart Masterson, actually feels like there’s love, you know? There’s all these scenes where they’re just laying down, staring at each other and it feels so real. I feel like that’s something I never see in movies, even beyond all the other accomplishments of that film. Just to have two characters in a film that seem really into each other in a non-forced kind of way is really impressive. Not to mention, somehow, Crispin Glover is involved in the film.
DIABOLIQUE: Yeah. It seems like that scene where they’re killing all of Penn’s friends, they lined up all these great character actors and killed them off one by one.
WINGARD: Just shot ‘em into a ditch, yeah. Crispin Glovers’ death in that is really good. When he gets shot, it really throws him back. That was some cool shit.
DIABOLIQUE: But I digress. The world of independent film has really changed over the past few years with the introduction of streaming services, video-on-demand, cheaper digital cameras and editing software suites. Do you think this will work well for independent filmmakers or will the market suffer too harshly from saturation?
WINGARD: You know what? I think if there were more actually great genre films, you’d just know about them anyways, because at the end of the day, it’s not like movies are just being hidden away. If people aren’t watching them, that means they just don’t appeal to enough people. Movies that demand an audience and are good enough to have an audience are going to get that audience, whether it be a cult audience, mainstream audience, whatever. They’re going to find a way no matter what.
I don’t really buy the whole idea that people’s movies aren’t being bought or seen because [the market is] too saturated. It’s like, “Make a better movie, or make them have some honest appeal, and the only way to start doing that is to be honest with yourself and why you’re making the movie to begin with, and somehow, it’ll all play into it.” I feel that it’s great that things can be done for cheap. I know that it’s helped me along my way. I don’t know where I’d be right now if, growing up, I didn’t have access to editing software and digital cameras that were progressively getting better through the years.
Everybody has a different process, and for me, it was extreme trial and error. I’ve made A LOT of features to get to where I’m at right now. I’ve made A LOT of short films, and it’s not like I just decided not to make something like You’re Next early on. I literally couldn’t have made something like You’re Next back then because my experience level dictated that I wasn’t ready for it. To get that experience I need, I need to make a lot of mistakes. I’ve made a lot over my life. All my female relationships and so forth suffer the same way. I need to fuck up over and over again before it’s like, “OH, THIS IS A BAD HABIT,” or “I DIDN’T UNDERSTAND THIS.” That’s just how it is.
But being able to recognize that is one of the hardest things, because early on in your career, you just want it all in a bad way. You want to be validated andyou want your genius to be validated, but at a certain point you need to step back and say, “All that is fictional. All that matters is that we put everything we can into this so we can do it honestly and try to make it good.” And when you take a look at this whole Kickstarter thing, it’s allowing more movies to ever be made that would not normally be made. All it’s really done, for the most part, is let really self-indulgent projects possible, and then ultimately just disappear. Because, to a certain degree, a lot of the times if people want to fund your movie, it doesn’t even need to be based on you being an established filmmaker or this or that, but they’ll fund your movie if it’s a good idea to be funded.
Sometimes, if you force something to get made, it might be for the wrong reasons. It’s a weird thing. You can just tell if somebody’s intentions are not true when you’re watching their film. You may not like them as a person, it doesn’t matter, but when you’re watching their film, you can tell if they actually are doing these films for the right reasons or not. Whether you like a movie or not, you can still tell whether it’s an authentic piece of work.
DIABOLIQUE: I agree with you on one point with the Kickstarter. In one way, it helps filmmakers located in the middle of nowhere who can’t reach producers crowdfund documentaries, animation and independent films. But you’re right in the sense that it can also be used for established filmmakers to try to make movies on their fans dime without thinking about whether they should be making that project in the first place.
WINGARD: There are good things that come out of Kickstarter, and a lot of the times, it’s stuff that isn’t movie related, but occasionally it is. But, by and large, the bad Kickstarter stuff are the stuff that are like, “No one else will fund this idea, so I’m going to find a way to get it made.” And that leads to bad filmmaking because they’re not really in touch with the idea that maybe this is an idea for a movie that shouldn’t be made.
At one point, in early 2009, we were supposed to do A Horrible Way to Die right then, and the financing fell through at the last minute, and it was crushing to me because at the time, I was totally broke and I just really needed to do something to get my career started. Just creatively, I was ready to dig into something. Once the money fell through, I was totally discouraged. I had no more projects lined up, so I sat down and said, “Well, I’m just going to write my own movie.” And I spent a whole year writing five drafts of this rape-revenge crucifixion film that I was doing, and I had gone through so many drafts, and it was never feeling quite right.
At the end of 2009, the financing came through on A Horrible Way to Die, and we went to do that. Looking back after A Horrible Way to Die, I was initially thinking, “Okay, I’m going to do this rape-revenge thing now,” and I took a look back at the script and was like, “A) I’m not in the mood to do this and B) I dodged a bullet because this movie would have been self indulgent garbage.” What do I really have to say about rape and revenge? But if I had decided I was going to raise money for it, it would have actually hurt me because it would have been the wrong project to do. I wouldn’t have learned the right lessons, and it would have just set me back further.
So there’s a lot to consider sometimes, like, that whole Jurassic Park line where Jeff Goldblum is like, “Scientists were so preoccupied with if they could that they didn’t stop to consider if they should.” It’s the same kind of thing. I think filmmakers have a responsibility to assess what they’re actually making, and not just get caught up in the more fantastical ideas about the project. It’s easy to fall in love with conceptual ideas and stuff you can just jump into and have fun with, and sometimes you don’t think about, “Is this a good story? Is this something people want to see? Is this something that I want to see?”
DIABOLIQUE: I think Kickstarter also lets people who aren’t cut out to be good directors to become directors. A lot of people have a romantic idea about directing, thinking that it’s more along the lines of what a producer does, and people who are insecure and can’t put their ideas out who put their stuff out on Kickstarter may not make what they’re promising people because they’re not necessarily cut out to be as hands-on and dominant on a film set.
WINGARD: It takes a lot to be a filmmaker. There’s a lot of people who have a fantastical idea of moviemaking who aren’t actual filmmakers, and you just want less people to waste time with that. I don’t want to have to sit through somebody’s movie that they’re just bullshitting because they don’t want to be a filmmaker, they want to “make movies.” You can tell instantly those kinds of people. I don’t want to talk shit about upcoming, struggling filmmakers, because I understand from so many years of being one myself, but at the end of the day, it’s not like I sat there and said, “Somebody give me something.”
I felt like I had to work hard to get to where I’m at. I don’t have any money. My family doesn’t have any money. I don’t come from money of any kind, you know? Everything we did, we built from scratch. I had to prove myself on a no budget level before I could even get people to give me money on something. And I feel like that’s made me a better filmmaker today as opposed to this guy who’s had everything handed over to him from his rich family or if I had some successful Kickstarter stuff early on; big deal. I would have made a bunch of garbage, I think. I had to know the immediacy of failure before I could move on to You’re Next.
You’re Next, starring Sharni Vinson, AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Rob Moran and Barbara Crampton invades theaters from Lionsgate this Friday, August 23rd. For more information on You’re Next, you can visit its official website, like its official Facebook or follow the film on Twitter: @lionsgatehorror. For more from Wingard, you can follow him on Twitter: @AdamWingard. Wingard’s last theatrical release, V/H/S/2, is currently on VOD, iTunes and Amazon, 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. Don’t forget that this week at Diabolique Magazine is YOU’RE NEXT WEEK, and we will have our exclusive chats with Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen and Barbara Crampton coming soon before our review of the film, featured in Diabolique #17, dropping on our website this Friday.
For more on Adam Wingard, Lionsgate and You’re Next, keep checking back here at DiaboliqueMagazine.com! Don’t forget to pick up Diabolique #17, available now for iPad/iPhone at the App Store, and will be on shelves and for other digital platforms this week, which features more exclusive comments from Adam Wingard on You’re Next as well as our official review for the film!
– 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.