I went to film school with screenwriter Simon Barrett at Ithaca College. Every year or two we end up catching up over one of his horror movies, like last year’s A Horrible Way to Die. We used to talk about home invasion movies and studied gender dynamics in horror movies, so when I saw You’re Next at the Toronto International Film Festival, I got every kill and every twist on the genre. The film is also playing this week at Fantastic Fest in Austin, so here is my interview with Barrett and director Adam Wingard from TIFF.
CraveOnline: As soon as I saw ‘You’re Next’ I tweeted that it’s like the end of ‘Straw Dogs’ as the whole movie. Was that a good comparison for me to make?
Simon Barrett: Yeah, totally. The way you phrased that is actually pretty great, taking the last, I guess the “fun” moments of Straw Dogs, if you can describe any part of that movie as fun, we were trying to extrapolate on that.
Adam Wingard: Because he does make a lot of traps and stuff.
Simon Barrett: Totally. I haven’t seen that movie in a while. It wasn’t a conscious reference point but absolutely, that’s what we were going for. The idea was to be able to do something like that but make it as fun as possible, so it wasn’t like torture and the threat of sexual violence and family members being held at gunpoint. We wanted to cut right to the action stuff with obviously absolutely no resources at our disposal.
You first described ‘Straw Dogs’ to me as a grown-up ‘Home Alone.’ That’s what convinced me to see the original Peckinpah one.
Simon Barrett: Yes, though it turns out actually Straw Dogs was made first. Who knew? But Home Alone actually we’re getting a lot of comparisons to Home Alone.
Adam Wingard: We jokingly talked about Home Alone when we were going into it because there’s even the same kind of nail set piece from Home Alone in this one. The funny thing is all of us definitely grew up on that film. I was talking with Brad Miska yesterday about how that would probably be one of the top five cinematic experiences as a kid, watching a movie like that. At the end of the day, ours is definitely far more gruesome.
Are the kills in this movie things you’ve always dreamed of seeing in a movie?
Simon Barrett: Yeah, I think a lot of You’re Next and writing it was trying to come up with things that I hadn’t seen before but that also felt like something practically that could maybe happen sort of. There definitely are some deaths, mostly I think the main death I’d always wanted to see in a horror movie is the first person Erin kills. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to see [her use that weapon.] I think one of the horror film clichés everyone finds the most frustrating, and we talked about this a lot, is when the killer gets knocked down and the heroine runs to find a phone or tries to leave the building, and is surprised when the killer gets back up? That was the main thing I always wanted to see.
Adam Wingard: For me it wasn’t necessarily a matter of what actual kills we were doing. The thing that I found most exciting was finding unique ways of presenting it on screen. I’d seen prior to this a movie called White of the Eye. It’s an ‘80s film by Donald Cammell. The way that they approach that film had a kind of Italian style where it focused on certain aspects of things that weren’t the most obvious, like somebody knocking a plant over while they’re getting strangled. It focuses on the plant hitting in slow motion. I thought that was really interesting, so going into this I wanted the focus not just to be on the violence itself but I wanted to find a way to make that violence more interesting. At the same time, very real. Early on, I showed our composer one of the death scenes in the film and I was asking him how he felt the effect turned out. He was like, “You know, the effect was good but the thing that really made that scene work is just how everybody’s losing their sh** in that sequence. It just made it so intense.” At a certain point, it wasn’t about the effects which are very prominently on display in the film, but it was more about creating a unique atmosphere and way of approaching the effects that was interesting.
The dining room attack is something I’ve never seen in a film before.
Adam Wingard: Well, that was definitely the most intensive thing to plan because down to the way everybody’s sitting at the table, we had to be very precise on where everybody was because they all had to interact with this explosion of violence in a very particular way. So you had to have Ti [West] on this side of the table so he could see out the window. You had to have Sharni over here that showed she could react to this right here. It was all very methodical and it also had to be customized to the actual location that we had. The way it was scripted, there were slight discrepancies in terms of the way the house was laid out so we had to take into account that. That was the fun of it though because we had to create sort of an obstacle course. We tried to find a way that we would walk through in real time this is how it would happen. These people go here, Sharni goes under the table. Then filming it is a totally different thing because you just had to get so much coverage and make sense out of all this chaos. This was day four or five of the shoot. Up until that point, everything was going really smoothly. Every day was pretty easy, no real bumps. Suddenly we get to this scene, everything gets complicated, we’re two days behind all of a sudden. Then we realized wow, we’re actually doing something that we’ve never even attempted before. It was kind of scary because it was like we’re definitely in unknown territory. So we really had to struggle to keep alert, keep fighting to get it done.
How gratified you when the audience really wanted to see certain characters fall into one trap in particular?
Adam Wingard: That’s what I love about that gag. The whole film, as soon as Sharni puts it up, they’re just waiting for somebody to [fall for it.] Every time we screen it, as soon as [it’s about to pay off], everybody’s like awwwww.
Simon Barrett: Just in general terms, it’s so great to finally make a film that people are responding to so vocally. To have made a movie that plays to movie houses, we’re just figuring this out now. We did a couple test screenings in L.A. and we’ve now screened the movie for the public twice. So hopefully this pattern continues.
Adam Wingard: Reactions have been pretty consistent. It’s funny because people are really on board with the violence early on. They’re screaming and jumping at the jump scares, but as soon as Sharni starts fighting back, suddenly the audience is in on the film on a whole other level. It’s like she’s bringing this catharsis to the whole situation so she starts fighting back and suddenly it’s like she’s fighting back for the audience in a way. You really feel that energy change at that point.
Simon Barrett: Not to mention the humor of the film, we’re really careful. We never wanted to do anything campy or overly parodic but at a certain point the film begins shifting more into letting the audience know that we’re definitely kidding. That’s really fun to know that people are getting that. Definitely in the first 20 minutes, people aren’t quite sure what we’re doing with that comedic tone but then it gets more obvious with Joe Swanberg’s performance and the score. Adam worked really hard to make sure that the score gets progressively more fun and kind of epic in terms of what it’s doing.
We studied final girls in film school, the survivor who finally stands up to the killer. Is Erin a first girl since she fights back right away?
Simon Barrett: That’s true I guess. That is the funny thing. Obviously when we were in these film classes and all the final girl stuff, it’s hard to figure out how to do something and not just be ripping off Scream. I did want to try to do a unique horror movie heroine but I didn’t really know how to approach it. So I guess I just tried to write it like a real movie. I would love it if women responded to You’re Next. I would love it if people found this empowering on any kind of political level but really we just wanted to make something fun and not have our characters be total idiots. A side effect of trying to write a character who’s not a total idiot is your movie comes across feeling very feminist is that’s really unusual unfortunately.
Are you getting any offers after the Midnight Madness screening?
Simon Barrett: We are getting some offers. We’ll hopefully know what our distribution situation is in the U.S. sometime soon.
Adam Wingard: We’ve already locked it down with Icon for the U.K., Australia and quite a few other territories.
Could there be a ‘You’re Next 2?’
Adam Wingard: If there is going to be one, if you watch our credit sequence at the end, there are some clues in there to where we would be taking it for a sequel. So for people watching, if they pay attention to just the animated credit sequence we have at the end, you can get some ideas where the sequel would be headed.