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"You're Next" an Ultimate Home Invasion Thriller
Wingard found comfort for his self-described paranoia in what some might consider an unconventional place: classic home-invasion movies, including Scream and The Strangers and French favorites Inside and Them. “I started thinking about the fact that the last few movies I really enjoyed were all home-invasion movies,” he says. “And when I watched Scream—just randomly on Netflix—I was reminded of how much I loved the opening scene and how well-constructed, creepy, and fun it was.” Pairing his viewing habits with the realization that “the only thing that was really freaking me out was the idea of someone breaking into the house,” Wingard started to think about doing his own home-invasion film.
That’s when he approached writer Simon Barrett, his collaborator on A Horrible Way to Die, with the idea. “It was a really good matchup because of the way Simon and I approach something—once that inspiration is struck—it’s ‘OK, what defines a home-invasion movie?’ and, most importantly, ‘What are the things that we don’t like about home-invasion movies?’” Wingard explains.
“I really enjoy being scared and jumping out of my seat and getting mad at a movie for getting the best of me—for tricking me into jumping,” he adds. “I wanted to do my own version of that with YOU’RE NEXT.” Barrett was on board with creating something that was “scary and intense,” but he wanted to make sure the story was surprising as well. “From a writer’s standpoint, he was sick of seeing people tied to chairs and being tortured. We’d already seen [in other movies] how tortuous and awful a home-invasion scenario could be, and Simon wanted to tell a different story.”
With Wingard’s inspiration, Barrett went to work. The men have a long history of cooperation. Among other collaborations, they both starred in the “Tape 56” portion of 2012’s horror anthology V/H/S (Wingard directed the section, which Barrett wrote). A year later, they both directed and executive produced portions of the follow-up anthology V/H/S 2 (Wingard also acted in the film, which Barrett helped write). “One thing that people don’t know about Adam’s and my working relationship is that he never knows what I’m writing until I deliver a complete draft that I’m happy with,” he says. “He has no idea what I’m doing in terms of tone, story structure, or anything. That way, when he sees the script, he can approach it kind of as a viewer.”
A month and a half later after they first talked concept, Barrett came back to Wingard with the first draft of YOU’RE NEXT—a home-invasion thriller like Wingard had envisioned, but with the plot twists and turns that were so important to Barrett. “It was so much different than I expected,” Wingard acknowledges. “But that’s never a bad thing. I was really excited that [the script] was already something that was challenging me and putting me in a different direction—kind of keeping me off guard.”
Integral to the filmmakers’ plan to amp up the terror factor that audiences have already come to expect from their films were the variety of weapons that the masked attackers would use in their assault. “It was about using stuff that might be in any house but trying to show it in a new way,” he says. “I remember growing up in my mother’s home, where we had a meat tenderizer. It was a metal mallet that she used to bang on steaks, but I always thought it looked like a barbaric instrument; something that was made to kill people in armor during the Crusades.”
Wingard wasn’t sure at first. “I remember reading the script and thinking it was kind of surprising that they were using crossbows,” he says. But he embraced the idea of using unconventional weapons when he realized it would help him “push the style of violence” in the film. “A guy getting shot in the head with an arrow is horrifying and violent,” he says. “But at the end of the day, there’s something surreal about that image. And that was a good starting point for us in terms of the violence. We wanted it to be hard and realistic, but at the same time, we wanted the audience to be able to cheer along with the film.”
As horrifying and violent as YOU’RE NEXT is, the filmmakers were careful to avoid making a slasher movie. “No disrespect to that genre—I think you can do a lot of cool and empowering things with a slasher film,” Barrett says. “But we wanted to make a smart home-invasion movie based on the idea of, ‘What happens when you and your family get together and then, in addition to all drama and dysfunction inherent with that kind of gathering, people start attacking you from the outside.’”
The crossbows and meat tenderizers in YOU’RE NEXT would just be crossbows and meat tenderizers if it weren’t for the Davisons—the dysfunctional family in the crosshairs of this home-invasion film. Casting of the family members—and their significant others—was key to realizing the filmmakers’ vision for the movie. And that started with filling the part of Erin, a scrappy college co-ed from Australia who is meeting her boyfriend Crispian’s family for the first time.
“It seems like most female heroines in horror films are either girls who get lucky and get away, over and over again—or girls who get victimized for the entire film,” Wingard says. “We wanted to take a different approach with Erin—and have a character who was able to take matters into her own hands and didn’t have to rely on guys to take charge of her life.”
As Barrett explains: “You can’t have someone fake the kind of toughness Erin has. So when Sharni Vinson (Step Up 3D) auditioned for the part, “there was almost nothing said afterward. It was like, ‘Okay, everyone agrees that was the person, right?’ Sharni had just spent months in constant agony doing Step Up 3D. And, in addition to being a great person, she is genuinely one of the toughest people I’ve ever met. She is hard core.” Although Erin, as originally conceived, was an American girl, the filmmakers made her Australian immediately after meeting Vinson. “There’s something inherently tough about being Australian,” Wingard explains. “I think the bugs are bigger there and everything is more venomous and so forth.”
Vinson says she spent a good deal of her childhood watching and loving horror movies. “Growing up I would have slumber parties with my girlfriends and, from a very early age, we would go and get all the Freddie Krueger Nightmare on Elm Street movies, Scream, Pet Sematary, Chucky, and Jaws.” Nevertheless, it was her dance training that turned out to be especially handy when it came to making YOU’RE NEXT. The fight scenes, especially, “were like choreographing a three-minute dance, where we got to use props and gadgets and elements of oil and water to change up the game. It was absolutely incredible,” she says.
Wingard and Barrett didn’t have to look far when casting three of the four Davison children—Crispian, Drake, and Aimee (played by AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, and Amy Seimetz, respectively). That’s because the actors all had roles in A Horrible Way to Die and their parts in YOU’RE NEXT were written with them in mind.
Crispian, a college professor who is constantly struggling to live up to his parents’ expectations and his older brother’s seeming successes—is the kind of a character that you think is, initially, going to be weak,” Barrett says. “But part of the fun of the film is finding out the ways he reserves his strength—and surprises you.” His character is also a bit of a talker and, “AJ is sort of our go-to guy for monologues,” Wingard explains. “He has a real talent at tackling a huge string of dialogue that’s critical to the story and just going with it.” Bowen says there was never any question, in his mind at least, that he’d participate in YOU’RE NEXT. “It was both a career and life-changing experience for us to find each other in the first place,” he says. “So no matter what the content would have been, no matter what the script would have been, I would have been interested in doing it.”
Swanberg, too, found that joining the cast of YOU’RE NEXT—as the egotistical and obnoxious oldest brother Drake—seemed almost like second nature after the long history he has shared with the filmmakers. “Adam and I spent a lot of the last year working together,” he says. “We co-directed a film, I acted in another film of his, and he acted in several films of mine and helped me shoot a few [including Autoerotic, which Swanberg co-wrote with Barrett]. So we already had a short hand coming to make YOU’RE NEXT.”
Amy Seimetz, another alum of A Horrible Way to Die and Autoerotic, plays spoiled sister Aimee. “I’ll do anything for Adam. I’ll do 10 seconds in any movie he ever directs,” she says. “I think he’s extremely talented—and really humble about it.”
Nicholas Tucci rounds out the cast of siblings, portraying youngest brother, Felix, who Wingard describes as “the runt” of the family, and Wendy Glenn plays his Goth girlfriend, Zee. Ti West, who was a co-director on V/H/S along with Wingard and Swanberg, portrays Aimee’s filmmaker boyfriend, Tariq, while Margaret Laney plays Drake’s wife, Kelly.
Notably, YOU’RE NEXT marks the big-screen return of horror-movie legend Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator), who plays matriarch Aubrey Davison opposite Rob Moran’s Paul Davison. “I always wanted Barbara Crampton for the mother and I just didn’t think we could possibly get her because she was kind of retired,” Barrett says. “But Jeffrey Combs and Stuart Gordon, who made Re-Animator with her were at an early screening of A Horrible Way to Die and were really positive about it.” When the men came to speak with Barrett after the screening, he took the opportunity to bring up the idea of Crampton working on YOU’RE NEXT. “I said, ‘I’m sure she’ll turn it down, but when she does, I can tell her to talk to [you guys],’” he says. “And as soon as [Crampton] read the script, she said, ‘OK, I’ll do it. I’m not retired anymore.’”
Crampton herself was surprised by her decision to return to film. “I was just raising my kids in San Francisco and teaching gardening at their school,” she says. “I hadn’t acted for 10 years, didn’t think I was going to act again, and didn’t care.” Still, working on YOU’RE NEXT was kind of like a dream,” she says. “A really lovely, beautiful dream.”
It was kind of a dream for her cast members, too. AJ Bowen, who Crampton describes as one of her “new favorite people in the world,” explains: “It’s such a privilege when you’re a fan of film and you then get to make films for a living, especially when you get to work with people whose work you’ve revered for years. So there was part of [working with Crampton] that was very intimidating, when you first meet and start working. But by the time you’re four takes into something, you’ve dispensed with all of that and are sort of living in the moment—actor to actor.”
Ultimately, “living in the moment” is what the filmmakers hope audiences will do when watching YOU’RE NEXT. That, and take a little bit of the story home with them. “When you’re making a good horror movie, the goal is, in some ways, to deliberately put things in the film that people have to think about when they’re alone later,” Barrett says. “It’s like putting a character under a bed so that when you’re lying in bed at night you’re like, ‘Oh wait,’ and you think about the movie while saying to yourself, ‘I should recommend that to my friends. That was a scary movie.’”
(Story Courtesy of Lionsgate Entertainment)