Way back in 2011, "You're Next" became the toast of the Toronto International Film Festival's Midnight Madness series, was the focus of a frenzied bidding war and then… the kind of eerie stillness that you might expect from one of the horror movies "You're Next" gleefully sends up. Now, almost two years after it originally debuted in Toronto, "You're Next" is now in theaters, just as audiences have regained their composure after "The Conjuring" scared them witless. We finally got to see the movie at the South by Southwest Film Festival earlier this spring (you can read our review here) and got to talk to writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard, about what it was like having to wait all that time for their big horror movie to make its debut, whether or not they've planned subsequent "You're Next" sequels, their "V/H/S" franchise and what movies inspired this delightfully gory home invasion romp.
"You're Next" starts simply enough, with a family dinner full of petty bickering, introductions to new romantic partners, and the cutting undercurrent of resentment and anger that almost always accompanies a family get together. Soon, though, a band of home invaders show up. They're wearing super creepy masks that look like children's book farm animals (and the characters are credited as such—The Lamb, etc.) and start slaughtering the family members one by one. It's sort of like "The Strangers," or this summer's "The Purge," except far livelier and funnier, and with a genuine breakout star in Sharni Vinson, a leggy former-stunt woman-turned-actress who flips the script on her would be attackers. The movie, like another recent horror movie that was saved from obscurity after years on the shelf, "Cabin in the Woods," both celebrates and deconstructs the horror genre and, while not a complete game changer, is still a lot of fun.
What are your creative collaborations are like?
Simon Barrett: One thing that I think is unusual about the way Adam and I work together is that it’s a true creative partnership, in that we give each other a lot of space. We tend to come up with the initial concept of what we want to do and then I’ll go off and write it and come up with a story and characters.
Adam Wingard: By concept, it’s usually something very vague. Like in the instance of “You’re Next,” I said, “Hey Simon, I really think like the only type of movies that are scaring me are home invasion movies like ‘Them’ and ‘The Strangers.’” I just rewatched “Scream” and the first ten minutes of “Scream” are fucking stellar. And I said, “I think this is the subgenre we want to tackle.” And Simon took it from there.
SB: Even “A Horrible Way To Die” was just like “I want to do a serial killer movie.” And I was like, I’ll try to come up with something different there, but that’s really it. I tend to write in isolation and Adam tends to edit in isolation. So we get to approach each other’s work as fans of each other’s work. I would say also, what Adam and I try to do with hopefully fun genre films like “You’re Next” but also with kind of more artsy indie stuff like “A Horrible Way To Die,” we just try to do things that we haven’t seen. We try to be original and whether we succeed or not, obviously isn’t up for me to say, but that’s always the goal, is to try to do something different. And I think that really works because the germ of the idea comes from us. “Oh, I’ve always wanted to do a movie that’s kind of like this.”
AW: And it’s not just about paying attention to those subgenres—about the things that we like about them—just as importantly it’s about what we don’t like about them. In particular, the home invasion thing, I think we were reacting to a lot of the fact that the home invasion movies by and large end up with people tied up to chairs, being tortured and that’s the kind of whole point about it. And I think people have seen that. And I think we’re coming out of the age of horror films where… I think people are tired of being punished by violence and so forth. While “You’re Next” is a super violent film, we approach it completely differently. It’s not about showing you the extremity of violence or how much it hurts or whatever. It’s about showing it from a different perspective and actually just trying to make a fun horror film.
You guys are certainly paying homage to certain things. What were some of your touchstones?
SB: It’s funny because I think one of the reasons Adam and I worked together is because we do have very different reference points and it ends up being a very interesting collaboration. I was a huge fan of the Agatha Christie novel “The Ten Little Indians” aka “And Then There Were None.” And that was a huge inspiration for this film in terms of like how you do a horror movie that hasn’t been done before. It’s like you give it a complex narrative within that and—
AW: You give the killers a motivation beyond randomness or thrill killing or any of that other stuff.
SB: Get a strong female protagonist is something that all these films don’t do right. So yeah, Agatha Christie novels were a big source of inspiration for me. Also, chamber mysteries and screwball comedies like “Bringing Up Baby” was a point, but then it just occurred to me the other day, and this is a slightly more obscure film I guess for most people, but someone I follow on Twitter was talking about “Twitch of the Death Nerve,” Mario Bava’s “Bay of Blood,” and I realized, like I hadn’t seen that movie in forever, but that actually probably was a reference point too. That’s kind of considered one of the first horror killer movies.
Where did the whole Australian element come from?
AW: During the casting phase, we were really trying to find somebody who wasn’t pretending to be a badass, but actually was a badass and personified what that character was and could show up and just be that and do it effortlessly. Sharni [Vinson] was the only one in the audition process that remotely met those qualifications and plus with her dancing background, she also met the physical qualifications of being able to look like she knows how to fight and so forth. Sharni just happens to be Australian.
And I think there’s also something about Australians in general, there’s a subconscious thing that we all know Australia’s a tough place to live. The bugs are bigger and more venomous and everything else. And so you just associate it with being a very tough culture. Whenever Sharni came to read for it, she was reading with an American accent and we just asked her to do it in Australian. I really liked how it brought out her more natural capabilities as an actress and so we actually were like this is perfect. And Simon retailored some of the scenes to fit her Australian-ness.
SB: Yes, the character was originally written as American and Sharni had prepared as an American. And then she came in and introduced herself and we were like, “Oh, the character of Erin is Australian.” We hadn’t realized that. It really was Sharni. She was so perfect for the role that we discovered things about the role that hadn’t existed.
So this was picked up by Lionsgate a couple years ago. What has this process been like? For better or worse, things sitting around sort of get this taint.
AW: We were in a unique position because almost within weeks that Lionsgate bought us up, they merged with Summit and that was a big deal because both of them had a shitload of movies on their slate and the ones that were already scheduled couldn’t be changed around and they couldn’t release a Lionsgate and Summit movie at the same time. So that meant that a lot of movies were being dropped and they didn’t know where things were going to go. And so, because of that, we ended up missing our slot in 2012 and for a while, we were actually a little nervous. Like, "Are we going to get dumped?"
But Jason Constantine over at Lionsgate, he was 100% assuring us the whole time that they strongly believed in the project. But they had to get everybody at Summit to see the film and make sure that everybody was still on the same page. It was a whole other process outside of the Lionsgate people seeing it and buying it. Then it became a process with the Summit people and I think it became for them, “When are we going to release it? When’s the most optimum date for the film?” And it wasn’t until “Possession” came out and they released it at the very, very end of the summer. I think they had a lot of success with that and they said that’s what we’re going to do. This is the good slot and this is going to give the movie the appropriate audience. They’ve totally held up their promises with everything.