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Friday, October 8, 2021

‘You’re Next’ at 10: A Bloody Disgusting Oral History With Adam Wingard, Sharni Vinson and More

In a post-Scream world, it seems slasher fans expect and deserve more from their favorite style of horror. The sub-genre remains reliant on buckets of blood and gratuitous violence, of course, but an expectation of the unexpected has become the new tradition. Story structure and character has changed, shifting away from the virginal Final Girl to far more complex and interesting leads, as we find in such standout films as The Final Girls, Tragedy Girls, and more recently, Freaky. There’s one slasher, in particular, which defied the odds to become one of the most important turning points in modern horror. With its 10th anniversary this month, You’re Next stands as a beacon of the slasher/home invasion hybrid, a marvelous display of storytelling and craftsmanship with Erin, the definitive final girl, at its swirling center.

Converging on a rustic country estate, a well-to-do family struggles, internally, with clashing principles regarding wealth and class. Erin (Sharni Vinson), once Crispian’s (AJ Bowen) under-grad student and currently in her final year of studies, is the clear outsider, accompanying her now-boyfriend on holiday. The rest of the family 一 including Felix (Nicholas Tucci) and girlfriend Zee (Wendy Glenn), Drake and his wife Kelly (Margaret Laney), and Aimee (Amy Seimetz) and her indie-filmmaking boyfriend Tariq (Ti West) 一 arrive the following day. During an elegant evening dinner, mayhem ensues when a trio of masked intruders begin picking off the family, one-by-one, in the most disturbing of terms. It’s a simple enough premise, but the magic lies in the taut storytelling, wicked setpieces, and powerhouse performances.

The film, written by Simon Barrett and directed by Adam Wingard, made its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on September 7, 2011. Despite immediate buzz and critical acclaim, it would not see a proper theatrical release until nearly two years later (on August 23, 2013). It opened with just north of $7 million its first weekend, eventually grossing a little more than $18 million. It wasn’t quite the runaway hit as it could have been at the time, but its legacy has only flourished in the last decade, earning it somewhat of a cult following now in 2021.

“I can’t believe it’s been 10 years. It’s one of those things where time flies. For Simon and I, that was our first sort of attempt at trying to do a movie that we kind of consider to be done with conventional filmmaking style,” reflects Wingard, who’d already gained quite a bit of cred with such cult films as A Horrible Way to Die in 2010. “Up until then, everything, for me as a director, had been very experimental and very low budget. This was the first time that we had a big budget, which was essentially half a million dollars. To us, that seemed like an unbelievable fortune. It was our first shot at doing something more mainstream.”

“In many ways, I feel it was ahead of its time. I think a lot of people are very conscious about the role that feminism plays in terms of the way that modern horror is approached and digested. We weren’t part of any kind of movement,” he continues, “and there was no sort of agenda going on with the film. We just looked at what we saw in the horror world, and we saw that the films just weren’t appreciating the characters in the way that we thought that they should have. We saw that there weren’t a lot of frequently strong female characters, and I’m proud that we did that without being part of some sort of a group thought. Ours came from a very pure place.”

The film’s central star Sharni Vinson delivers a lifetime performance, infusing Erin with the sweetness of Laurie Strode from Halloween, the ingenuity of Nancy Thompson from A Nightmare on Elm Street, and the strong-willed determination of Sidney Prescott from Scream. In many ways, she emerged as the definitive final girl, fully embracing the history of powerful women while also flipping everything we’d come to know about the genre on its head.

“It seems to be one of those films that has always built momentum from the beginning. It’s really been thanks to word of mouth and the horror fans that have put it in that category. It was an amazing film to make, but I think that it was just so well received and then it sort of traveled through the crowds,” she says. “I grew up watching horror movies, and I absolutely loved the original ‘Scream,’ and I feel like this movie is almost a modernized version of that. It’s pretty flattering to know that it’s still something that people can turn on today and go, ‘That’s a really great movie.’”

In celebration of the film’s 10th anniversary, I spoke with Wingard, Barrett, and Vinson, and several other cast members, including Amy Seimetz and Joe Swanberg, as well as composer Jasper Lee and production designer Tom Hammock. Our discussions consisted of everything from developing the film’s style and key plot points to assessing Erin as the definitive final girl. Check out edited excerpts of our conversations below.

Photo Credit: Tom Hammock

Over a Korean barbeque dinner, several key players, including producers Jess and Keith Calder, Wingard, and Barrett, began volleying around different ideas of what they could possibly make next.

Jess Calder: “We all sort of coalesced around the idea that for a while, at least from my memory, horror films at that time had a very different tone. Our main goal was to make a home invasion film that still kept a sense of fun. Maybe this is too lofty when I say this, but I feel like after we made that film, other filmmakers who saw it were reminded again that horror can be a lot of fun. If nothing else, when I think about the legacy of the film, it’s the idea that horror doesn’t have to be oppressive.”

Keith Calder: “Horror movies can not just be about all the horrible things that the bad guys are doing, but also the amazing things that the heroes are doing to fight back. A lot of our influences were pulling from films like ‘Die Hard’ and ‘Home Alone’ and even going back to ‘Aliens’ and things like that, which were much more about the amazing things that the protagonist does to turn the tables on the horrific situation.”

“Over the course of that meal, we realized what a shared sensibility we had for horror, film, and influences. We also had a shared sense of humor and approach to how we thought movies should be made. There’s a sort of freewheeling spirit to the way that we all approach low-budget filmmaking that I think infects the movie with an energy that is like lightning in a bottle. It’s hard to really capture that, and it’s a testament to how Adam shoots. It was also bringing in other filmmakers and cast. That gave it permission to kind of experiment and try different things and really push what type of character relationship you’d normally see in our work.”

With extensive knowledge on the slasher and home invasion genres, as well as mystery novels and screwball comedy, Simon Barrett set to work on a script.

Simon Barrett: “‘You’re Next’ is probably the film I’m most proud of. I wrote the script incredibly quickly. I didn’t outline it or really plan anything. I just knew how I wanted it to end and kind of reverse engineered it from there. I was pulling from Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None’ and the screwball comedy, as well as a lot of different ideas based on what Adam had thought we should make next. It turned out to be something that did work out better than we could have expected. But at the time, it didn’t feel like things were working out. Even when the film was released, it didn’t feel like things were working out, or anyone was that into it.”

Earlier this year, film critic Marcus Shorter argued the film as The Quintessential Horror Film for Millennials. Barrett offers his thoughts on the matter.

Barrett: “Well, I think Adam and I were way ahead of our peers in our willingness to talk openly about being very poor. We had no connections and came from working class backgrounds. I’m from Missouri, and he’s from Alabama. We were more open about those kinds of issues. Everyone we knew was kind of broke, and it felt really relatable 一 the income inequality in America. I wanted to set that up, and then try to pay it off in a way that was more in the tradition of a screwball comedy, where each character in the family has their own kind of motivations, then people turn out to be different than you would assume they would be.”

“I wanted the killers to have real world motivations. I thought if we kept bringing up specific amounts of money, it would really call attention to that. We also focused on the notion that the father made his money through working for a defense contractor, and the guys his children ultimately hire to come after him are veterans of one of our recent skirmishes, presumably, in the Middle East during that period. But we didn’t want to pause the movie to make any kind of statement. It just felt like these things were part of the reality of our culture at the time. I wasn’t really seeing a lot of films addressing them. So, you know, we put them in ‘You’re Next,’ but really not a lot of people commented on any of that stuff. To me, the movie clearly has a large theme of people being different than you would assume.”

Barrett continues playing on such expectations through the use of three animal masks (Lamb, Fox, Tiger) and their respective arcs within the film.

Barrett: “The lamb mask killer turns out to be the most ferocious of the three, and the tiger mask killer is dispatched instantly. You’re trying to always subvert expectations in a certain way. When you’re doing that, you do want to make sure that you’re following the rules of certain themes, and you’re doing it for a reason. I wouldn’t say it’s a political movie, but when you start talking about these kinds of killer motivations, you can’t leave that out of it somehow either.”

“Picking the masks ended up being something that I initially put very little thought into. I was trying to think of pagan-feeling animals from old folklore and so on. And I came up with those three. Then, I thought they would look particularly cool. I wanted to also make sure that we were picking things where we actually could find pre-existing plastic masks that could then be painted and redesigned, not only because that’s all we could afford, but because I wanted it to feel realistic to the characters that they could have made these masks. I didn’t want the mask to feel too designed.”

Hammock: “The masks seem like a really simple thing. But the thing is, I don’t know if this is interesting to you, the masks had to be able to read on camera in bright light without burning out the camera, in moonlight, outside in total darkness, and inside in total darkness, because Adam likes long takes, to go from different lighting situations without causing any issues. So, the masks are actually covered in literally coats and coats and coats and coats of very delicate airbrushing. That gives them this false depth. I’m talking about 40 layers of paint, so it gets darker around the edge. The shadows are built in. You can have a mask under direct light in the dining room for the action sequence, but then you could also have the mask in the pitch-black closet. It was an annoying technical thing that took so much time. But it makes me look back on it fondly just because it worked, and the masks ended up being so special.”

Photo Credit: Tom Hammock

The mansion, located in Columbia, Missouri, was found a week before principal photography began. Originally, a very different kind of house was going to be used.

Tom Hammock: “Originally, it had been written to take place, very specifically, in an isolated tract house with beige and white walls in this very empty shell of a place. I had a lot of discussions with Simon, and we looked at a bunch of places. And I felt that it wasn’t right, that you needed more space for everything that was going to happen. We also needed more detailing in the walls for Adam’s long-lens style of photography to keep interesting frames. Even though we had a house that would work and would have been fine, we kept looking. An eldery couple put [this] house up for sale, and it was in really bad shape. They hadn’t maintained it. We were able to work out a deal with them where we cleaned it up and did a bunch of restoration work, so they could put it on the market in much better shape in exchange for letting us shoot there.”

“I love that house. It is a little bit carved out of its landscape which is interesting. You know, people post pictures on Bing and that sort of thing and when you actually go there, you realize that there are houses on either side and there’s a golf course immediately behind it and all that kind of stuff. But Adam and Simon were really careful to carve it out of its landscape and make it feel incredibly isolated. You move the camera even millimeters to the left, and the illusion’s gone.”

Once they had struck a deal to film on location, the crew took to renovating every room, including the basement.

Hammock: There was a lot of broken glass and that sort of thing that we cleaned up and put new panes in. Everything that could rust and seize up like windows, door hinges, locks 一 it had all happened. So we went through and tried to replace all of that stuff. Then, we did a lot of wiring work. It had very old wiring, but to keep the naturalistic sense of shooting, we tried to build in a lot of fixtures and a lot of wall sconces, so that Adam could stage 360.

Jess Calder: “There was mold covering every single wall. Literally, the weekend that we decided that this was going to be the house, all of us got into our sweats and we scrubbed the walls with bleach. You would never have thought that it could be this beautiful, rich place in less than a week. We almost didn’t have a movie if we hadn’t found that house.”

Much of the film’s magic stems from the score, a mix of organic instruments and synthetic. Jasper Lee composed the music with Kyle McKinnon, a frequent collaborator with whom he’d come up with on the festival circuit for such films as Pop Skull and A Horrible Way to Die. Later in the game, Mads Heldtberg came aboard to do some score work, with Adam Wingard doing final tweaking and adding in musical cues of his own.

Lee: “I remember thinking that because the whole film is set in a mansion, it gave it a sort of a subtle theme of being a haunted house. That’s not implicit in the story, and I wanted to read into that a little bit. Going off of the setting of the house, I thought that a lot of the instruments that we used should be made of wood, and they should have this old feeling to the sounds and things that could suggest creaking floorboards or windows rattling or doors creaking open.”

“I recorded a ton of cello parts and these really intense string parts and just layered a cello, bowing it as hard as I could for some of these string sequences and getting lots of scraping, scratching sounds. With some of the music, you can tell that it’s a string instrument, and some of it, you really can’t tell what it is. I used the instruments in unconventional ways. There are also things like a zither, which is a small harp with 12 strings, and I created some really atonal melodies and then used a lot of percussion, like wood blocks and pieces of scrap metal.”

“One of my favorite things is there’s some stingers where you hear these crazy blaring sounds, that sound like an ancient ceremony happening, or some sort of death knell. That blaring sound is a bunch of tiny party horns that me and Kyle just blew, and we recorded and mixed it in such a way that it just sounds frightening. The other thing I really wanted, that I always try to do in any score that I work on, is to mix organic sounds with synthetic sounds. I’m very passionate about this idea that that score should still have this organic feeling to it. It became a really big thing for scores to, in the past 10 or 15 years, to be completely synth-based.”

“It’s a trend that developed and people got really into these synth scores, which are an 80s throwback. I appreciate some of that, but that’s not my style at all. I like to put in plenty of actual instruments that have these organic textures that you just can’t really recreate with a synth.”

“Adam asked me and Kyle to record the initial music, so we worked on it for several months. I was doing the engineering and recording, and then we both played instruments. Then, I believe, a little bit later towards the end of the editing process, Adam asked Mads to do some work. It became sort of rushed toward the end where I was getting busy with other projects and so was Kyle. We had already done this huge amount of work on it, and Adam needed to just wrap it up. So, he ended up recording some music for it, too.”

“I usually don’t see the full movie before I start working on the sound. For this, we started working before we even saw anything. We were recording the music at the same time that the shoot was starting. That was something that I appreciated about how Adam works. I would send him tracks, and he would listen to them and sometimes respond visually to the music. We ended up with some really interesting shots that way. It wasn’t until towards the end of the scoring process, we probably had at least maybe half or two thirds of the score done, and then we started seeing some of the scenes and Adam gave us some notes.”

Photo Credit: Larry Fessenden

The opening scene, in which Larry Fessenden’s and Kate Lyn Sheil’s characters meet a gnarly death, is as prolific a setpiece as anything that follows. The sequence, which serves as a title reveal, also works because of the jarring contrast against Dwight Twilley’s “Looking for the Magic” playing on repeat in the background.

Larry Fessenden: “The way [the film] came about for me was very pleasing. I was actually living in Mexico at the time, and I got a call from Simon. Him and Adam seemed quite tickled to invite me aboard. It was a small role, but somewhat significant 一 that’s how they pitched it. Even back then, I was already someone associated with the genre, and a few really invested people knew who I was. In fact, I had met Wingard earlier in the 2000s, and he had liked my film ‘Habit’ that I made years ago, so they obviously thought it’d be fun to have me aboard. It’s probably the same motivation that got them to pull Barbara out of retirement. They were putting together a bunch of cool people, and I was happy to join the gang.”

“And then I was tickled to have the reopening kill. I don’t know if you know this, but it is a fun story. A year later, the film sold at TIFF, and we were all tickled pink because you never know when you make a small film. They got enough money from Lionsgate, and Lionsgate said, ‘We want to beef up the opening.’ So they called me up and said, ‘We’re going to refilm the opening kill.’ They rebuilt the location, that bedroom. It’s the sequence after the shower when I come out, and there’s the writing on the glass, and then I get axed myself. That was all a redo at Lionsgate’s expense.”

“We laughed at the time. We said, ‘This cost probably as much as the whole movie did to do this sequence.’ [laughs] The other thing is that that’s all Adam had to do that day in a studio in Hollywood. So we shot it 一 I have the numbers somewhere 一 but I’ll say maybe 48 times. Every time, I had to turn around and slam my Adam’s apple into the stuntman’s hand and get it just right, and I had to drop the towel. All the executives were on the other side of the glass. It was a grueling, embarrassing day. When I left, I said, ‘You should call the movie ‘Your Necks,’ because my neck hurt so much from the experience.”

Lee: “The song was not in the script, and Kyle deserves the credit for it being in the movie. He’s a huge fan of obscure, classic rock from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Some of it borders on really cheesy. We used to listen to this record by Exile, and it has the song ‘Til the Night Close In.’ It was a hit single, but not many people just listened to that record. But we would listen to that. I didn’t know anybody else who knew about Dwight Twilley, but Kyle found that record. He was just so into it and suggested it to Adam to twist the mood of the opening a little bit. They somehow managed to get the rights to it.”

With the pivotal dinner scene, the viewer is brought directly into the eye of a very dysfunctional storm. The dynamic among the characters is not unlike the actors’ real-life chemistry.

Swanberg: “We credit that to having a cast and a group of filmmakers that knew each other so well, you know. We benefited so much from the comfort and the safety we felt around each other. We had all made some movies together, and so many of us had come up on the festival circuit together. Many actors in the movie are also directors themselves, and I remember feeling like the family dynamic was already in place. The idea of Amy playing my sister, I was like, ‘Yeah, Amy basically is my sister.’ [laughs] I remember before we got there, we were all kind of [nervous] about Barbara being in the movie. It was so cool, but we were a little intimidated and were unsure what the vibe was going to be like. Any little windows you get into these people prior to the mayhem then makes the mayhem so much more fun. You just have a way better understanding.”

“It was helpful that Sharni was the outsider to some degree. We maybe felt a little bad for her. She was walking into a group of people who knew each other so well, but then that helps with an added dynamic. The family dinner table scene where the first arrow comes through and starts the madness is probably my favorite scene. It’s just a really cool, interesting way to move from character study to chaos in a horror movie.”

Vinson: “I love that it’s a horror comedy. To be honest, it was out of my element, and it was still a concept that was quite new to me. It wasn’t really until I met Joe and Ti and AJ, and we did that dinner table scene at the beginning of the film. It was scripted but the guys just went so far off on their improvisational tangent from being friends, and they were able to really pick up off each other and create this scene. I think we shot that scene for like two nights straight. There’s probably about 12 hours of footage from that scene alone. [laughs] It was just brilliant. When you see the way Adam has edited everything, it’s like, ‘How do you have to go from experiencing feelings of true fear and being scared and horrific stuff to loving?’ It’s that blend that made it a super unique combination.”

Hammock: “I can tell you my single biggest contribution to the movie is that dinner scene. In the original screenplay, they had written this elaborate fish dinner. I was just like, ‘Guys, we’re going to shoot in one location for virtually an entire movie, and we’re shooting the dinner scene day one. You’re not going to want dead fish sitting there for four weeks under hot lights as we shoot around it again and again and again.’ I suggested we use turkey instead.” [laughs]

As the family erupts into an argument, Tariq spots a figure outside the window and is swiftly dispatched with an arrow to the head. A firestorm of arrows proceeds to rain through the dining room windows, scattering the cast into other parts of the house.

Hammock: That sequence was really complicated. The arrows were razor sharp because they had to be fired into the wood walls and stay. So, we had a complex process where shot by shot we would cover wood panels in the walls so an arrow could be shot at them. A bunch of shots were run in reverse, like when the arrow goes through the chair by Margaret’s face. The close-ups for the room had to be shot out in order from the wood wall to the doorway, because we didn’t have doubles of anything so we couldn’t go back. The times to shoot the wides were carefully considered so we could shoot them when the right amount of close up damage had been done in continuity.

Barrett: Essentially we’d start each day of the entire production filming a quick close-up of an arrow going through a chair or breaking a window, just to create a piece of that scene while Sharni was in makeup, and then we’d usually finish the day by grabbing another closeup of that scene while the crew was packing up. So the dialogue portion of that dinner scene was filmed over a couple days, with some of the action, and then later pieces were grabbed whenever it was safe. We used plexiglass to protect ourselves from flying arrows and all the usual business; I tested the crossbow myself and it could punch an arrow through plywood, so we didn’t want many people around when it was in use, even if we were being very safe.

Photo Credit: Sharni Vinson

Tariq’s unexpected death is the catalyst into utter mayhem. In an effort to dodge more arrows, many of the characters slip underneath the dining room table. The heat of the moment nearly cost Sharni Vinson her left eye.

Vinson: “In that opening scene where Aimee turns up at the house with her boyfriend, Tariq, she comes running in, and she’s got the highest heels I’ve ever seen. When I had to crawl underneath the table, I wasn’t aware that she was actually already underneath the table. And I do everything a million miles an hour, so I jumped off the chair and onto the table to do this big crawl under the table. As I slung up the table cloth, I didn’t see her under there, and my face just came straight in contact with the stiletto part of her high heel. It could have been in the eye 一 but I’m not kidding, it was like two centimeters from the center of my eye and pretty painful. It gave me a black eye and drew some blood, so we had to cut to that moment and shoot everything that was involving the back of me or the side and not my face.”

Seimetz: “When we’re crawling underneath the table right after the dinner scene, I had these spiked high heels on, and Sharni was right behind me. And this was day one essentially. I got her really good with my heel. She’s lucky she didn’t lose an eye. It was right under her eye. I thought, ‘Wow, I’ve ruined the movie.’ [laughs] When you get around people like Joe, AJ, and Ti, in the room, there really is this sort of one upping each other, in a weird way. We all have a weird, funny family dynamic, too. So, doing the dinner scene and just performing with them was kind of what the dynamic of the family was.”

Coming soon after Tariq’s arrow-to-the-head, Aimee’s wire death punctuates the high-stakes and serves as a gut-punch in much the same way as Terry Chaney walking into the middle of the street in Final Destination. The final product required an assembly edit, a composite of additional pick-up shots, including the blood dripping from the wire and other smaller details to bring it all together.

Seimetz: “Simon and Adam gave us all space to create these characters and to improvise and create the family dynamic. Very quickly, me, Joe, and AJ were like, ‘Let’s just be the most awful version of the rich kid family. So it was finding that chaos, but also keeping the character in there. In that sequence, I did my own stunts. There’s a harness on me when I kick back, which was probably the wrong move for my neck and my back, as I’m getting older 10 years later. [laughs] I do remember laying in blood on the floor. Once they set the wound, I was just like laying in a pool of blood for probably the next four hours. I couldn’t move.”

Hammock: “I was worried initially reading the script because it is the kind of thing where you know something’s going to happen. Yet, you’re still shocked when it happens. I think that’s testament to Adam and Simon to make that happen. Then, my worry in that scene is for the staging to work and for them to undo the doors 一 those were antique, solid oak doors that were extremely old. We couldn’t drill into them. So the lock that’s turned is actually attached with blue painters tape, just barely hanging on there for the length of a single take. Obviously, we needed one person on one side and one on the other, and for them to be opened perfectly to pull the scene off. But there was no way to adjust the doors to accommodate that. So, we cheated it and we had a bunch of takes that were wrecked with the heavy lock, just like crashing off the door in the middle.”

Jess Calder: “While making the movie, we would keep coming back to this scene. We knew it had to be a really signature moment, and we kept layering other ideas of how to make it better and better and better. Part of the trick of filmmaking is that you never want anyone to see that effort and the layering and what that process was like. When you can do it, it does elevate what a moment can be like. Shout-out to costume designer Emma Potter for giving Amy a white shirt in that scene. That was intentional to make her seem like an angel as she’s running. When we saw that in slow motion, it was like, ‘Oh my god, this is incredible.’”

It’s no secret the film served as not only Barbara Crampton’s comeback to horror but as a springboard into another impressive run of films, including recent releases like Jakob’s Wife. For the filming of ‘You’re Next,’ it was a collaboration nobody will ever forget.

Vinson: “Barbara is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. She’s such a joy to work with. She’s like this age defying goddess, and it was just such a pleasure to be able to have her on set. I honestly can’t imagine it without her. She just brings such a genuine, loving, motherly feel to the whole thing. We filmed for five weeks straight all through the night and never saw daylight at all. It was the real vampire life; we started filming at 5pm and wrapped at 7am 一 and then we slept all day. You do that for a month and you start to go a little bit kooky. Barbara helped us stay grounded.”

Crampton: “When I got on the set with those people, they were so committed and so in the moment. There was a lot of ad lib and improv while filming. But I didn’t do a lot of that, because I wasn’t feeling as comfortable as them after being gone for so long. They were inspiring to me because they were so in it and so believable. I remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, these young people are so good. I hope I’m as good as they are.’ I had a good feeling about this movie, and I just wanted to be there for all of them.”

Wingard: “I’m so proud of Barbara for taking the opportunity and getting back into acting. She’s just brilliant. She’s done so many interesting roles since ‘You’re Next.’ I can’t take credit for that. We were making a low budget movie, and we wanted an interesting actor in that role. Fortunately, she said yes, and she was just so fun to work with the whole time.”

Keith Calder: “We all felt it was important for the film to feel like part of the legacy of horror. Her horror work in the 1980s is so exceptional. We had all missed her from movies. When we heard that she was a possibility, we sort of jumped at the chance and made the offer. I don’t think we realized that she wasn’t constantly being offered work. I think her big concern was that she looks so incredible for her age, and it was a bit of a trip to figure out how to make her look like the mom and not just the eldest sibling.”

Barrett: “That was one of those special things about [the film] at the time. We were kind of making strange choices, because we didn’t necessarily know any better. But that turned out to be much more correct than if we’d gone about things in a smarter way. We always wanted to cast Barbara, and she was my first choice for the role. I just never understood why she’d stopped working. That came up really early on. I wrote this role really with Barbara in mind. ‘Re-Animator’ was one of my favorite films, and I just thought she would be really right for the part. It didn’t even occur to us that she was retired.”

“I think Barbara didn’t know how popular she was. She wasn’t really online. I remember being on set while Barbara was signing up for Twitter. I was like, ‘People are definitely gonna want to talk to you on there!’ She’s such a sweet person, and I think it just never really occurred to her that people really remembered her work and would be excited to see her return to the screen. That was immensely gratifying to be the movie that did that. She gives us a lot of credit, but I also think someone would have done that eventually. It’s not like she worked in this and then went back to taking a break. Now, she’s in like 10 movies every year, and she’s producing her own movies like ‘Jakob’s Wife,’ and really developing them. She’s really become not just an active actor in the genre again but an active producer in the genre.”

Barbara Crampton in ‘You’re Next’

Crampton’s character Aubrey is the moral fiber of the group, the matriarch who keeps the family glued together. As violent as the film is, her death was entirely offscreen with only the suggestion of graphic imagery to set the stage for the big reveal of YOU’RE NEXT splatter on the wall above her.

Crampton: “I wish I had died on screen. [laughs] Aubrey really loved her family so much. She has her own issues as a character, of course. She’s a little bit weak and sad. Maybe she wasn’t drinking, but there were some scenes in there where she took some pills, and some of that was cut out. You know, she was a little skittish as a person and not really sure of herself. But there was no doubt that she loved her children. And she was so happy that they were coming together for this reunion.”

“Adam gave me the opportunity to show that I had a lot of warmth towards my family and they had a lot of warmth towards me, and we really loved one another. When I do get killed, it’s quite shocking. When you love a character, and you think they’re nice and they get killed, it’s sad. It’s like Meg getting killed in ‘Re-Animator.’ That sets the stakes very high, emotionally, for the rest of the film, I think.”

“The whole thing was devastating on an emotional level. I do feel that the best horror movies, or the ones that are the most long-lasting to me, anyway, are the ones that do have an emotional chord. If a movie is like music, you can have those high points of horror and shock, but I think you have to have those deeper moments of that emotional connection. We have that with a lot of the characters in ‘You’re Next,’ and it’s shocking and sad when each one of them die one by one.”

Barrett: “We actually made the choice to not show her death any more explicitly, because we were becoming concerned about finding the right tone. You want the movie to be fun and dark and scary in a certain way, but you don’t want it to ever feel punishing or cruel. Colin Geddes with Midnight Madness was mentioning to me that there was a glut of submissions one year, and he described them as films in which women are tied to chairs. I was like, ‘Oh, that’s interesting. I should do one of those where that doesn’t happen.’”

“I was avoiding the omnipresent threat of sexual violence. With the character Aubrey’s death, it felt like one of the things where if we made it too violent, it might feel unpleasant or cruel or mean-spirited to watch. It’s hard to almost define these things in a film like this, but you have to know when the tone feels right. But we also wanted her death to feel appropriately brutal and have an impact and not feel torturous.”

Hammock: “I recall being really cramped. I’m thin, and I was the only guy who could fit under the bed in the costume. For a bunch of those sort of tight space shots, I ended up doubling the killers a bunch and in particular, that one with the Fox Mask turning around the camera and the reveal. The bed was built into the room so it was really, really tight underneath. And all I can remember is literally having some of the grips shove me in there sideways and hoping I wouldn’t get stuck. I just had to do the head turn a bunch and so I didn’t get to see a bunch of the filming up top.”

Keith Calder: “She’s the reason why all the kids are coming back together, in an emotional sense. The relationship with the father is a little more complicated, but the relationship with her is strong for all of them. What’s interesting with all of the kills in the movie is there was an approach to make them creative, visually, in how they happen but also for the kills to feel like they’re escalating over the course of the movie. It needed to feel thematically and emotionally appropriate to how we felt about the character at the time.”

“That’s one of the things that sometimes falls to the wayside in horror movies 一 that in the effort to make the kills as creative as possible, they sometimes aren’t also matched to the emotional requirement for that character. That’s something we thought about a lot with [this film], trying to make sure that the scene on the page and in the production and in post-production, we’re delivering on what you wanted the emotional experience to feel like.”

Regarding her acting approach, Crampton uses certain method techniques, among many others, to drive her emotionally-grounded performance, from the dinner scene to Aimee’s surprising death.

Crampton: “I use all of the techniques, because I know all the disciplines of acting. It depends on what’s going to work for me in the moment. In the scene with Amy Seimetz, when we’re in the foyer, and we’re all really upset, I did use one of my children, thinking, ‘What if that was one of my own children who just died a horrible death? How would I feel?’ I visualized that in my heart and in my mind, and I fooled myself into believing that that was true. Once you can get your body to start reacting, you can kind of keep those juices flowing, and then I’m able to use what’s going on inside of me and apply it to what’s happening on the set.”

“Because Amy is such a good actress, and she was crying and wailing and really upset, I was able to work off her energy, as well. When I find myself dipping and not really connected anymore, I can then go back to the source of where it came from, thinking about my own family members and losing them. I just have to work with the instrument of my own body.

“After that day of filming, I was exhausted the next day because your body doesn’t know you’re pretending. You’ve forced your mind and your body to get a certain emotional and physical reaction, and it feels like your body is going through something traumatic. You have to give yourself some space to recover from it sometimes. If the scene is really well written, and I’m just so connected to the writing of the story, and if I have a lot of time within the dialogue working with somebody else to believe the scene enough as it stands, without using any emotional recall, or any sort of method exercises, then I can do that as well. That’s more like the Meisner technique of just really being in the moment and seeing what comes and trusting whatever’s there is going to be the right response.”

“That works better when you’re having more ‘your turn / my turn’ dialogue scenes where you’re getting something from somebody else. With that scene in the foyer, we’re mostly crying and freaking out, so we had to work ourselves up for that because there wasn’t a lot of dialogue there. I will scream and yell and sort of carry on on the set and just work myself into whatever state I need to 一 to be ready when the cameras start rolling and the director says action.”

The first moment of shocking violence from Erin occurs after she is attacked by the Tiger Mask killer, and she proceeds to crush his brains with a meat tenderizer.

Vinson: “It’s been very drilled into her how to react in these situations. If anything was ever to go wrong, this is how you react, and you almost go into that fight or flight mode. In that moment, she chose to fight, and it wasn’t even, I believe, a choice that she made. It was a drill sergeant [moment], and it was already in her. That was one of the best moments because so many times we watch horror movies where a character will get one shot in on the bad guy and then run. If you had your opportunity, wouldn’t you make damn sure that the person wasn’t gonna come after you? We always find ourselves saying that, so this was to the extreme. He was gone about 35 hits ago, but you just keep going there to make sure. She was very much like a cornered animal.”

“She had fallen and the knives spilled everywhere all over the floor. So she’s lost all her weaponry and has nothing to use. All she could do when he was coming over her with an axe was kick him in the balls, and then get up and grab a weapon and go straight for the back of the knee and break the knee and then straight over the top of the head and just keep going until you know he’s not going to get back up. These are all things I think that her father in the course of time had instilled in her of how to fight back. I don’t even think she made the choice.”

Crampton: “She was taking care of business. She was just the normal, regular, fun-loving girl who had a fling with her professor. We didn’t know what she was capable of. I think there was something very satisfying, as a woman for me, to watch that film and see her take those guys down as effectively as she did.”

In the film’s standout moment of twistedly dark humor, Felix kills his brother Drake while on a mission to the basement. He stabs multiple screwdrivers into Drake’s chest, while proclaiming, “Will you just die already?!” Both Nicholas Tucci and Swanberg play the scene completely straight, and that’s the key to its charm.

Barrett: “I was inspired by the film ‘Pornostar’ [also called ‘Tokyo Rampage’]. There’s a scene where the guy is just carrying a suitcase of knives. I thought it was a great image, almost a porcupine look. I knew it was something we could do fairly cheaply. But I did also just really love the idea that Felix would be so entitled, that the moment would just be entirely about his own suffering.”

“At that point in the film, ideally, you’ve grown fairly fond of Joe’s character, which is kind of part of the movie’s experiment in empathy, which I think is always a good thing for a film to experiment with, if possible. Joe made a wonderful choice to play that scene just completely heartbroken. He is unafraid to be very funny, but he’s also unafraid to attempt total sincerity in the moment.”

Swanberg: “Getting cast in the movie, I was just so thrilled to have such a cool role. I always have this hunch that horror movies can be scarier and more disturbing if they’re played real, even if the situation is really amplified. The more depth you give the characters, the better it is for the audience. There’s no way to go wrong with sincerity. I have two brothers in real life. When I read the script, and we talked about the scene, I did not want to lose track of what that moment would feel like when you thought you and your brother were on a mission together to help people and then suddenly… not only is he dealing with the physical sensation of being stabbed but it all has dawned on him right in that second that this entire experience has been not what he thought.”

“The only way I would have played it differently is if I had done it like that, and Adam said, ‘It’s not working.’ I really trust Adam. I also think it’s a nice arc for Drake. He’s such an asshole throughout the movie, and it culminates with his character being sympathetic in that way. To me, his dickishness is a defense mechanism. He’s trying to be the alpha and appeal to his parents and be the favorite son 一 all these very understandable and human things. But in the end, you realize he does love his brothers and is really hurt on an emotional level. No matter how many times he calls Felix a lowlife or thinks Felix’s piece of shit or whatever, he never in a million years would think he was capable of something like that.”

In the third act, Erin displays how resourceful and clever she is when she lures the Fox Mask killer down into the basement using her camera’s flash. Once he’s ensnared in her well-laid trap, she cracks open his skull with a log.

Barrett: “That was a late addition to the script. I don’t really remember what it was replacing, but we had a setpiece we were trying to figure out 一 something that could be done fairly cheaply, and you could create it a bit in the editing room. We realized we had 24 days to shoot basically 16 special effects scenes, which always go very slow and poorly, so we were trying to simplify the film in pre-production. I’m pretty sure that’s when I came up with that. It was funny because I think Adam wasn’t so sure. What we’re actually using for the camera flash was this giant industrial LED flashlight. We’d gotten a really expensive one, but then it was stolen, so we ended up having to use a cheap one.”

Vinson: “We weren’t sure how we were going to shoot that scene, because it was so reliant on the effects and the timing. It was making sure that it was lit enough so that you could see the emotion and the blood splatters and things like that, but then dark enough so that it still has that element that she could believably be hiding in the dark. That was quite a challenge to shoot, but it worked out really really well. It definitely showed a different side of her in the sense of her wits in how she’s setting things up in a way that you just would never think.”

“You’re always told in horror movies the person that goes down to the basement is next. In [this film], it was that same idea that if you go down to the basement, you’re not coming back. But it wasn’t her that wasn’t coming back. It was the Fox.”

Wingard: “That sequence was a great opportunity to do some really interesting style and mix up the kill scenes 一 and to show Erin’s really clever. The reason she survived isn’t just that she goes in there and charges the villains and fights them head on; it’s that she’s smart. She’s setting traps, and she’s clever about her strengths and her weaknesses. She has the upper body strength to crush somebody’s head, but she knows that she has to get them into the right position to do it first. She’s a thinking character.”

Shari Vinson in ‘You’re Next’

One of the most iconic shots, perhaps in all of horror, occurs in the third act, as Sharni goes toe-to-toe with the Lamb Mask killer and “poses” in the window holding an axe.

Barrett: The iconic shot of Sharni through the window was actually scripted, although the moment itself was different in the script, as it followed the Lamb Mask character’s elaborate decapitation. But in the script I wrote that she takes a moment there. Once we realized we wouldn’t have time or money to film the scene as written, I wrote a simplified version of the Lamb Mask just getting stabbed in the head through a window, as in the film, but Adam and Andrew Palermo correctly realized right away that made the moment afterwards more iconic, as we could film Sharni through the window. So there was always the idea that this “pose” moment would work well at that point in the film – kind of openly acknowledging that Erin had become an action hero, and giving her an appropriate beat for the audience to enjoy it there – but the moment itself was a collaboration between many people, including Sharni, as is often the case in movies, of course.

Despite everything she had endured, and the lengths she took to survive, Erin goes for the jugular with the film’s most grisly scene: blending Felix’s head in the kitchen. Paired with Wingard’s raw directing and the score, it is the film’s most bonkers moment.

Vinson: “It’s such a moment. You talk about wanting to end with a bang in movies. If the middle of the movie was shocking, the end needs to be even more shocking. You are thinking at that point, ‘What else can she go through?’ She grabs the blender and you think it’s cool enough that she just breaks the glass over his head. But then when you see her pick up that power cord and plug it in and turn it on 一 and you’re like, ‘No, she’s not going to blend his face off.’ Then, it happens, and it’s spectacular. There’s no other movie I’ve seen that has done that.”

Crampton: “Sharni really put a lot into that role and really held that role in her physicality, as well. In everything that came out of her body and out of her mouth, she was really in it from the inside out. I’m often surprised that after the film, she didn’t go on to a huge franchise or something. I thought it was a waste because I think she’s quite talented. I haven’t seen her get the kind of roles that I know she deserves.”

Lee: “We were trying to get a psychological state of her absolute madness at that point. So, you hear the strings start to ramp up there, and it gets more percussive with literally more banging, violent crashing sounds. That’s one of the themes where we also used samples that we made of the sound of scissors opening and closing. Then, there was a sound we used of blowing through a drinking straw. Little things like that have great texture, but you just don’t know what it is when you hear it mixed in with other elements. We wanted those non-musical sounds to add to the psychology of the scene and to influence the audience.”

Wingard: “That’s all credit to Sharni totally getting what it would be like in that moment to blender somebody’s brains. She’s not an action hero in the sense that this is just something she does all the time. She would have been totally fine if her entire life she never had to use these skills. Presumably, this is the first time she actually had to apply them in a real violence situation. All this stuff’s going down, and that survival instinct totally kicked in. She just totally goes for it.”

Barrett: “We really wanted Erin’s fighting to feel as realistic and brutal as possible, while also, of course, being violent and silly. We needed to have a moment like that where she surveys her surroundings for a moment and decides that she does have time to murder Person A before attacking Person B. It would make what we were telling you about her character feel real. We had the fortune of not having to fake it with Sharni. She herself is a genuinely tough person.”

“Our stunt coordinator Clayton Barber is a very gifted martial artist. He practiced Taekwondo and kickboxing styles. Although it wasn’t an action movie, the joke of the film was ‘what if there was an action movie character in a horror movie,’ without the winking and self awareness and just played totally sincerely.”

Photo Credit: Sharni Vinson

Moments later, Erin confronts Crispian about his involvement in the murders. Admittedly, Vinson struggled with the moral dilemma on whether Erin would (and should) kill her boyfriend in that final moment.

Vinson: “This was a struggle mentally for me 一 that choice of how certain she is that this guy is gonna get it. It’s also about wanting more answers. This is the guy that you love. In this one moment, you have to take away absolutely everything that you thought you knew about this person and replace it with the most hideous, heinous things. It’s just such an unbelievable circumstance to be in that there has to be an element of hesitation 一 almost inside of you, hoping to god that this is not the case.”

“With Erin, it’s the difference in how fast she processes the information. That all happens, really, from the moment she answers that cell phone in the kitchen. She’s already been through so much. Then, for that phone to ring and to answer it and to hear what she hears, there is no coming back. He’s admitted in that one phone call that he was involved in the planning of this whole shit show. Then, by the time he crawls through the window, she has actually already come to the decision of ‘you’re not walking out here live, but I’m going to stand here and let you just talk shit and cement that you are insane.’”

“That speech AJ gives to her at the end of the movie is just so brilliant, and he’s such an amazing actor to deliver it the way he does. I remember saying to him, ‘I don’t want a rehearsal. I’m sorry, if that’s not fair to you, because you have so many lines, and I just have to listen to it, but I don’t want to hear what you’re saying until I hear it for the very first time with the camera rolling. The way you’re gonna deliver it and this element of surprise and hearing what you are saying will be even better.’ I stayed away from ever looking at that scene again, because I just wanted it to be like I’d never heard what he was about to say before, and let the cameras catch the reaction of hearing that for the first time. That is how we filmed it. I had not heard what he was going to say, and it was all a complete genuine reaction. I think we only shot it once, and that was it.”

“We had joked on set that at the very end when you think she’s gonna kill him, she turns around and says, ‘Okay.’ That would have been completely the other way. So there was always that that could have been.”

Originally, Erin was supposed to die at the end, adding to an already bloated kill count.

Barrett: “That was just the wrong creative direction. It was very similar to how the film actually ends. We’d considered having the cop shoot her in the head before walking inside the house to get an axe in the face. The joke would be that the police would find 16 dead bodies with no explanation whatsoever, except with the words ‘You’re Next’ written on the wall in blood. I never was totally confident with that ending, although I did push for it initially. But pretty much as soon as we cast Sharni, we realized it wouldn’t work to ever die at the end. That would have felt cruel. The character had gone through so much, and we’d seen her fight so hard to survive, that it wouldn’t be funny at all. It would just be mean.”

Vinson: “I think maybe a bit it would have undone her character. And I see why they wrote it that way. Simon was trying to break every stereotype in a horror movie. One of the greatest stereotypes is that the final girl always lives, and as long as you’re expecting this girl to live at the end, you’re never really that scared for her. That was gonna be the very last breaking of stereotypes in the film where you just really don’t expect her to actually die.”

“We did film that ending; we filmed both endings. It was only a very slight change. I feel like the impact of that shock wasn’t actually lost in the movie because she gets shot and she falls down. You think for that second she’s dead. So that element that they were creating of the shocker is still in there. Nothing really changes. I just think that they wanted that element there of shock, and I think the fact that she does get shot and goes down and the way it’s all edited together is just so brilliant that you really think for a minute she’s done all that for nothing. I think it’s quite nice that you see her at least crawl to the door and warn the cop not to open it. At least, she didn’t go through all this for nothing.”

Sharni Vinson in ‘You’re Next’

As mentioned in the introduction, Erin is emblematic of the genre’s long history of the Final Girl archetype 一 riffing off not only Laurie, Nancy, and Sydney but other important figures like Ellen Ripley from Alien. Screenwriter Simon Barrett found himself pulling from Steven Seagal and Bruce Willis movies, as well.

Barrett: “I can’t help but be influenced by Sydney in ‘Scream’ and Ripley from ‘Alien’ when I’m writing a horror movie. Those are the movies that shaped my brain and understanding of cinema. To a certain extent, they’re going to influence tone and style. But I certainly wasn’t trying to emulate any kind of pre-existing cinema heroines. Obviously, I’ve seen almost every slasher movie ever made, and every gialli pretty much ever made. And I’ve read a ton of mystery novels. Working in the territory that ‘You’re Next’ was, I just had an understanding of that history of cinema. My knowledge is greater than that of any mentally healthy person.”

“When writing the script and revising it, I always saw that character, as being who she was on the page. But, of course, I didn’t really know who that character was until Sharni came on board. Sharni’s take on the character was what really informed who Erin was in the film.”

“We had a great collaboration. In fact, we had a specific methodology that I’ve never done with any other actor. At the beginning of the day, when she was going through hair and makeup, Sharni would like for me to be there, if I was available, depending on my producing and acting duties. We would go through the day’s lines and dialogue and see if there was basically any way we could make them better.”

“She had a tougher take on the character in some ways that really worked well. At the time, I almost took for granted how physically-gifted Sharni was as a performer and how good and tough she was at the fighting [scenes]. Something Sharni and I would always talk about was how movies get things wrong about being tough. In real life, people don’t act tough. They don’t posture, and they don’t have to say how tough they are. They just genuinely are scary, tough people who are formidable. If anything, they have a different relationship to it. The key to understanding Erin is that, if anything, she was somewhat embarrassed of how tough she was. She knew it would emasculate her partner who turns out to be a terrible person. So, we were trying to say interesting things about that. I think Sharni thought that was a really funny and interesting idea. And fortunately, AJ did, as well.”

Vinson: “Strangely enough, the character was incredibly loosely-based on Macaulay Culkin in ‘Home Alone.’ Absolutely not a horror movie at all. That is a very light comedy, where you have this child who has been stuck in a house, and he basically has no choice but to lock himself in from the baddies outside and start fighting back where he sets the traps and becomes really smart. If you look at [that character] and Erin, you actually see a lot of similarities. In the other sense, of the Final Girl, you definitely see the comparisons with Neve Campbell in ‘Scream’ and with a lot of those characters that just stand up for themselves and fight back and do the opposite of what you would typically find in a film.”

“Originally, Erin was written as sort of an American brat ex-army type character. When I auditioned, I initially had an American accent and they said, ‘Oh, we know you’re Australian. Can we hear it in an Australian accent?’ They thought that that sounded tougher. [laughs] When people stereotypically think of Australians, they go, ‘Everything down there can kill you.’ So if you’ve grown up in the outback in Australia, you must be pretty tough. They wanted to stick with that. I think being Australian did give her a bit of an edge. It definitely gave her an air of mystery. Where she’s come from, anything could have happened down there in that crazy camp that she talks about. It’s a good backstory to the character, as well. It’s not just like, ‘Why does this petite girl have these skills?’ There’s really a backstory there that says, ‘Well, this is why.’ And it’s believable.”

Crampton: “As a final girl, Erin was someone that you really didn’t expect. She was a natural badass, but you didn’t know it. That’s another thing; they put the humor into the film. Everybody chuckled when all the shit started happening, and she’s like, ‘Oh my god, we’ve got to do this and we’ve got to do that.’ And then AJ’s character says to her, ‘How do you know all this?’ And then she finally reveals that she’s grown up in a survivalist community. That’s kind of funny.”

“It made her into more of a Ripley character in a way, you know. She was already strong. She didn’t have to be like Nancy and learn how to be strong through the situation, which a lot of final girls do. They develop the skills through the film to beat down their oppressor or beat down whatever horror icon is coming at them. Erin had those skills already. She was like a breath of fresh air. When the movie came out, everybody was touting her performance and saying how great she was. We got to cheer her on, and we got to see her really take the guys down in a really effective manner by using the skills that she had already had.”

Seimetz: “There was a running joke on set about how I really wanted Sharni to know that I was a good dancer. [laughs] AJ called me out. He was like, ‘Sharni, Amy wants you to dance for her.’ She’s just a badass, in general, and charming. Even with ‘A Horrible Way to Die,’ Simon and Adam create cool female characters and bring a strong female presence to the forefront of the work. Previously, you didn’t really see that, except for ‘Friday the 13th’ Part II, which was one of my favorite movies. With ‘You’re Next,’ they took it up a notch, and Erin is a complete superhero.”

Swanberg: “I was really excited by what Simon was doing with that character. He was a big believer in having such a capable and exciting female lead. Any subversion we were doing was just making the movie more exciting and not hinging on that twist. When you start to figure out that she is extremely capable, it gets up to another level.”

“Anybody could have thought about this over the whole history of horror movies and read the script and been like, ‘Oh my god, Simon, you’re a fucking genius. What a good idea!’ What a funny thing to have this character be totally trained in survivalist techniques. It’s really smart. But none of that stuff works if you don’t have an incredible lead performance. It’s all conceptual until you start shooting the movie, and you’re like, ‘Holy shit, she really is a badass.’”

Wingard: “I’ve watched a lot of horror movies, especially since [this film] came out, and one of the things I’ve noticed is that a lot of, especially slasher films, get too hung up on the notion of the ‘Final Girl.’ Once you start approaching the final girl character as such, you’re backing into a stereotype, even if you’re trying to break out of that stereotype. For us, it was never about trying to create the ultimate final girl or anything. We really just looked at her as a character within the movie. A lot of slasher films try too hard to be meta, and then it dehumanizes the characters. So you end up with these stereotypes, even if that’s what you’re trying to deconstruct. It’s hard to deconstruct a stereotype, if you’re just creating more stereotypes.”

“We looked at what would happen if somebody who has her background ended up in this situation. Her character was always more about how she’s underestimated at every step. The family underestimates her. This is a rich family, and she’s seen as a total outsider. The whole movie has a push towards this sort of deconstruction of class and all that kind of stuff. Then, of course, her abilities to fight back are totally underestimated by the villains.”

Keith Calder: “With movies that are close to real time and take place over a day or two, you’re better off having the audience’s realization and the character realizing the situation rather than the characters themselves changing. Most people don’t have major singular changes over the course of a day other than the ways that they have to manifest who they are and dealing with the problem. Partially, Erin is realizing how strong she is over the course of the movie. That’s what allows her to kind of have her final moment with her boyfriend in the way that she does. At the start of the movie, she wouldn’t have been able to deal with that situation exactly how she did. But the course of the movie reminded her who she is and what her position should be in a relationship.”

Another key element to the writing of Erin is the lack of sexual violence against her in the film. Typically, the protagonist must endure tremendous trauma on-screen in order for them to find that inner strength. Instead, Erin simply exists as a warrior-in-waiting.

Vinson: “Simon is a genius writer. The thing that’s great about the character is that she doesn’t have to go through all those issues you just mentioned, in order to be seen as the lead. There’s no element of nudity to that character, and there’s no typical sex scenes. She’s just who she is.”

Hammock: “It’s really interesting that Adam and Simon felt that you could do this character arc that doesn’t take your heroine to rock bottom, and then bring her back. She starts there, and it’s just an escalation, as things get worse and worse and the body count piles up. I thought that that was an amazing take on it and so different from everything else I’d seen. It’s a culmination of that strong female archetype where there isn’t sexual violence and you can just start with a character who is incredibly strong. But through the circumstances, and I think that it really helps that it takes place, not in true real time, but in the course of an evening, and that allows the character arc to proceed in a really great direction.”

Wingard: “She did come from a survivalist compound. Her trauma is maybe a little more abstract. It’s not the conventional type of thing. She definitely went through some hard times, which you have to have to get to be such a brutal sort of badass as she is. A lot of times you feel like a female character has to be punished in order to do great things, and that’s not what we wanted to do at all. We didn’t want to sexualize the character at all in a movie star kind of way. She’s considered sexy just like male action heroes are considered sexy. But it doesn’t mean that you have to dress her in a provocative way and leer at her. Her power is sexy. There have been some other movies, which I won’t mention, that have some pretty good final girl characters, but it feels like they couldn’t help themselves and shoot it from the male gaze.”

Jess Calder: “It always seemed that if it was going to be a woman as the hero of a horror film, something terrible would have to happen. Maybe she’d be tortured before she would finally have the strength to fight back. What I loved about what Simon wrote was that Erin has all the strength in the world. She’s just been sort of in camouflage for the first 20 minutes of the dinner party, and then she doesn’t hesitate to bring it out. I think that that is more indicative of how women are.”

Regarding her acting style, Sharni Vinson is method by trade, stemming from her earlier work on the popular Australian soap opera ‘Home and Away.’ Much of that work came in handy on the set of You’re Next.

Vinson: “I was trying to do everything method on that show. I would set myself off to the corner for five minutes and really work myself up to some tragic memory or some horrible circumstance that I could draw on and relate to in order to produce natural tears. I just wanted everything to be real. I still do that, but it doesn’t take me as long to get there. With practice, you learn how to tap in and tap out of things a lot easier. I would get myself into these states of true panic, and then I wasn’t able to turn it off. I would come home from 10 hour shoot days, get huge headaches, be very dehydrated, just super low in energy. Now, I’m able to cut it off as quickly as I turn it on, so I can conserve energy and save my mental state that way.”

“In the behind the scenes [for this film], there is a really great moment that shows Wendy Glenn and I onset singing a happy, upbeat, fun song right up until action. All of a sudden, you can see this switch off from this song and into this super intense mode of survival. It’s really quite funny.”

“While working with Simon, I remember most the scene where he had to smash his fish through the glass window and grab the back of my head and pull my hair. He was so concerned that he was going to cut me with the glass when he broke it and that when he pulled my hair it was going to hurt. I was like, ‘Dude, pull it hard because the harder you pull it the better my reaction will be.’ In that sense, I just remember how caring he was and how he did not want to hurt anybody. I’m totally method, you know; I want to be hurt, in a sense to produce some element of shock 一 not even pain because your adrenaline is so high that nothing actually hurts. But the shock element of someone smashing through a window and grabbing the back of your head is perfect. You don’t have to act too much. You just have to respond.”

You're Next

The killers of ‘You’re Next’

Infamously, it took two years for the film to see a wide theatrical release, owed largely to Lionsgate buying Summit Entertainment in early 2012. By the time You’re Next was playing nationwide in August 2013, The Purge was the talk of the town.

Swanberg: “It definitely felt like ‘The Purge’ stole some of our thunder at the time. The home invasion was the main thing, and Jason Blum beat us to the punch. I remember in the summer of 2013 internally talking to some of the people and there being a little bit of a feeling of ‘fuck, we got scooped a little bit,’ despite the fact that we made our movie years before.”

“I love that movies take a while. We have a longevity aspect in how we assess cinema. A movie’s theatrical release is a small part of the picture. ‘You’re Next’ is really proving it has legs. It’s so exciting to see people still discovering the movie, and that the fan base has grown in such a big way. You can market the hell out of a movie, and you can kind of pay for the instant reaction. There’s a lot of movies that have opened number one at the box office that everyone thinks are bad. Getting people in for the first weekend or two is a marketing and money challenge, not really a filmmaking challenge. I do think [this film] is clearing the most difficult hurdle. It’s a movie that not an insignificant number of horror fans tell me is their favorite movie. To me, that’s a whole other category. There’s a lot of great horror films and a lot of horror films that have had legs. But [this film] is one that really stands out for people or they have a really personal connection with it.”

Barrett: “That was really just the stroke of bad fortune in the entertainment business. The film that was released instead of ‘You’re Next’ was ‘Sinister,’ which was a huge hit. We’d been slated for basically the same day, and so they bumped us a year. That did feel like it took the wind out of the sails of any festival hype that we might have had, so that by the time the movie came out, it didn’t really feel like that new of a thing anymore. But then again, the thing that you have to remember with any movie is the initial reaction doesn’t matter as much as the film standing the test of time. A lot of movies are kind of rapturously received upon their initial release, and that can sometimes be good for the financiers and good for the careers of the people involved. But if the films are immediately forgotten, then I don’t really think those people are happy with that artistic output. I’ve definitely been involved with films that have been forgotten. Some of them very justifiably.”

Riding high off festival buzz, the creative team toyed with what a sequel would look like.

Wingard: “I doubt we would ever do a sequel, but if we were going to do a sequel, which we had talked quite a bit about before the movie came out, in case it was huge box office success or something, the idea was going to be that Erin was actually going to get falsely blamed for all the murders. I don’t know exactly where we would have taken it. We’d talked to her about a bunch of different ideas, and we had some pretty crazy ones 一 like a girl prison gang, that sort of ‘The Fugitive’-style gets wrecked on their way to being transferred. There was going to be some sort of crazy rigged-up meth house. I don’t know that we would have actually done that. It would have been a very different movie, and probably a pretty expensive movie, honestly.”

“I think that would still go along with the message of what this movie is trying to say about class. It would be just so cool to see Sharni come back as that character 一 unless she was in prison this whole time. The idea of Erin being in prison for 10 years is too depressing.”

Barrett: “I wouldn’t do a sequel, partially because I just don’t think there’s any demand for one. Secondarily, I think the film’s legacy has gone on to be almost better than I could have possibly hoped for. I wouldn’t want to do anything to potentially spoil that. At this point, I doubt that I could come up with a better idea for a sequel than what fans of the film would have in their heads. So I’d rather whatever’s in their heads just be the reality for them. If you’d asked me closer to the film’s release, I would have said I’d love to do a sequel.”

“Stabbing Crispian actually would have been pretty hard to defend herself against, and we just assume things snowballed from there. After sentencing, she’s chained together with a group of other women in a prison van. The van is then attacked by the Lamb Mask killer, who survived the original film, and several of his new colleagues, and he can no longer feel pain because he was stabbed in this frontal lobe. So, Erin and the other women try to do a ‘Cut-Throats Nine’ thing and make their way to the woods and take refuge in a cabin that turns out to be a meth lab that’s been extensively booby trapped by its methamphetamine cooks.”

“Maybe the movie isn’t as conceptual as the original, but we’re just going to deliver such a polished series of set pieces, ideally, that people would really enjoy it, anyway. I think you can hear from the description that this was not really a movie that needed to exist. It would have gone a bit too far away from the tone of the original, which feels more grounded in a recognizable reality. Adam and I hoped we could get Gareth Evans to direct ‘You’re Next’ 2. That was also part of our strategy, and Gareth would just figure it out for us.” [laughs]

Photo Credit: Sharni Vinson

In our conversations, the cast and crew share favorite moments from the film.

Vinson: “There’s not a weak scene in the movie. It’s a very strong film from start to finish. A couple [scenes] that come to mind I would say is the scene when the Lamb Mask killer takes a golf club to Kelly’s head, after she runs next door to get help. That whole anticipation of the small swing and then the really big whack, as though you’re hitting a golf ball, and the sound effect of it going into her brain 一 I just remember thinking, ‘God that was horrific to watch.’ Maybe I’ve had a nightmare about that before or something.”

“My best friend, Wendy, gave a pretty damn good performance on that bed. And she gave one of the most memorable lines of this movie, and perhaps any horror movie, when she said to Felix, ‘I want to fuck you on this bed next to your dead mom.’ That was a little bit crazy. She’s just mental.”

Crampton: “Working with AJ, I thought he was so natural in his approach to acting. Whereas, when I was growing up, it was just a little bit more studied. I think my acting has gotten more natural, as I see the evolution of the way acting has gone over the last 40 years, starting with movies in the 40s and 50s, into the 60s and 70s, and then in the 80s. I mean, the ‘70s was actually much more relaxed. But in the 80s, in the movies I was in, there was this big, over the top way of acting that has now gotten more natural. When I was working with AJ, I couldn’t tell where the acting started and real life ended. Every time he talked, he was just having a regular conversation.”

“One fun moment I remember was when I was on the bed, and Zee came in and she tried to make love with Felix next to his dead mother. I said to Wendy, as I was laying there, ‘Do you need to take my ring off? Because you guys really want the money. You’re all in this for the money. So take my wedding ring and put it on your own hand.’ She said, ‘Oh, that’s a good idea.’ And that’s exactly what she did. You can see that in the scene, she takes that off and puts it on. It was just nice for me after not working for like 10 years, to collaborate with the people on the set and just come up with moments like that.”

“It was a really fun and inspiring experience to work with all of the people, especially Adam and Simon and Keith and Jess. Look what they’re doing now; look at the kinds of movies and shows they’re making. I knew them when, I guess. [laughs] I’m grateful for the opportunity to have worked with all of them. I thank my lucky stars because that movie brought me back to acting and to working in the business and created a love for the business and a renewed sense of commitment to the business that I hadn’t had before. I really credited it to working on that film.”

Fessenden: “I liked the naturalism at the dinner table, and I love the animal masks. As an actor, you’re preoccupied with your scene. I have the weird thing of not just getting killed in the beginning, but then being the corpse later on, which actually was great fun. I always remember the rubber glass they used. I think that was beyond the budgets I’d ever had. So, the window shatters, and the bad guy comes in, and he’s chasing [Kelly] literally around my corpse. That was a fun scene to do; they were all, you know, jumping around and crawling all over. Then, shattered glass was all over the couch where I (my corpse) was sitting.”

Hammock: “I really love the basement sequence with the lightbulb flashes. Chris Harding, one of the producers, and I had gone down there, because obviously, it’s a real basement with the hanging plastic just to make sure everything was safe, and we found a copperhead. We brought out a snake guy to catch it, and he couldn’t find it. But we had to shoot the scene anyway. Everybody was extra on edge about that. Chris and I were sort of waiting in the background. I think one of us might have had to be painted out of one of the shots. We had brooms to try to brush it away if it decided to emerge from wherever it was to find the light. Adam did such a great job editing that sequence. It feels so naturalistic, but it is very constructed with the flashes and all the little effects to make it work.”

Photo Credit: Tom Hammock

The rabid, cult following surrounding the film is undeniable and unsurprising. Not only is there a tremendous amount of heart in the work, but the craftsmanship is running on all cylinders, from the script to the score to the performances.

Seimetz: “Everyone just got excited to play with the genre. All of us grew up with 1980s horror on VHS tapes. Around the time [of this film], it was this revival of falling in love with horror again. Now, everyone’s doing more, and it’s just fun to see. Everyone is wanting more horror films in a way that’s the last woman standing, as opposed to just watching women get slashed all over the place. Within independent film, you’re making movies with your friends. I say that not to dismiss it, but it is incredibly fun. What is incredibly crazy to me is that we just continued to do that and make bigger and bigger things.”

“They realized that horror can be fun and good. Even with ‘It Follows,’ there’s a real opportunity to make, essentially, an art film 一 but also have an art film be fun. I think a lot of filmmakers, for a bunch of different reasons, gravitate towards it, because there is a built-in audience so you can get your film made, period. In addition to that, they fall in love with it, because it’s this sort of a device into a world of telling stories, and you have this immediate relationship with an audience. You can kind of go anywhere and get as weird as you want within that format, which you can’t get away with in straight drama.”

Crampton: “I think the story and the structure and the script all were great. The cast was energetic and fun and inspiring. I think the kills were very effective, and some of them really hadn’t been done before. I don’t think we’ve ever seen anybody have a blender put on top of their head or with a blender blade and get killed. So that was very inventive. Joe Swanberg’s character getting killed by his brother with the 15 different [objects] in a funny, sort of irreverent tone, was also very unique.”

“Everybody worked very hard to create a story that was going to be a crowd pleaser. I know that’s what they wanted to do. Something that I noticed recently is that a lot of filmmakers are doing very well. At the time when the mumblecore rage was going on, these guys were helping each other make their films. So when I came on the set, I noticed that Adam wasn’t just a cinematographer or director. He was also an editor. Joe was an actor, producer, writer, and director. Ti West was acting in our movie, but he was a writer and a director. I was just lucky enough to get cast in a film, where everybody was not only at the top of their game, but they were at the top of many games. They were all helping each other make the best movie they could make on a low budget. Lightning really struck.”

“They tapped into the zeitgeist, and they made something that was energetic and refreshing and seemed new. But also had its roots in some good scares and good gore to satisfy the horror fans, but something that was also really commercial. They didn’t know how it was going to be. Nothing about the movie was silly. All the humor and the jokes came out of something that was happening, situationally, and that’s what makes a good horror/comedy, if you want to call this a comedy. It’s a dark comedy. It really uses humor in a way that enhances the scares and doesn’t take away from them.”

Vinson: “The things that I remember the most that stand out are the moments that actually happened behind the scenes. As a family and as a team, we’re all just sitting down having supper on break, and you look around the dinner table and everyone’s sitting there having their meal. But if you just look at everyone individually, it’s just such a ridiculous vision because you’ve got Joe with an arrow sticking out of his back eating a sandwich. AJ is sitting there with this eye prosthetic, and the knife sticking out of his eye, trying to eat dinner. And Ti has the arrow sticking out of his forehead.”

“Adam and Simon together are such a brilliant combination. They know each other so well, and they know each other’s styles so well. It’s one thing to write a movie, and it’s another thing to be able to bring that vision [to life] exactly how you see it. Adam was so great at explaining to me the shots. From the moment that first arrow comes through the window, we’re really seeing things through Erin’s eyes. That was really important for me to know, because if I know that, I can translate that into the performance.”

Photo Credit: Sharni Vinson

Fessenden: “It’s really effective in that isolated house/home invasion vibe, but it’s not quite as dark. There’s a certain fun to it, which I think makes it distinct from some of the real dread-filled home invasion type movies. That makes it more of a perennial because you’re going to watch it again and again because it’s kind of fun 一 where some of those movies are traumatic, like ‘The Strangers.’ I love that movie, but I don’t know if I could watch it over and over and over again. I remember watching that movie, and at the end, when everybody’s tied up, and they’re about to be brutalized, I thought, ‘Well now, why do I watch horror movies? I can’t even remember. This is so awful.’ I had the theatre all by myself, and the family was away. And I’m like, ‘This is how I need to spend my time being traumatized.’” [laughs]

Swanberg: “From the very first time I read the script, I thought the film was going to be a hit. So, the success of the movie has not been surprising to me, but it never works out that way, you know. The ingredients were all there to make such a fun, cool movie. I’ve said that before about a lot of movies, and they just haven’t hit in the way that ‘You’re Next’ did. I felt vindicated, and it was also an indication that the tastes were finally aligning or something.”

“I’ve acted in a lot of movies, and I’ve made a lot of my own movies. And ‘You’re Next is 100 percent the thing I get recognized for the most, generally out in the world. It’s maybe the safest thing that I know I can throw on for any audience, and they’re gonna like it. The movie just works.”

“We all were feeling like we were making a bigger movie than any of us had done. Maybe Ti had worked with bigger budgets, but within our little lo-fi indie film community, it felt like a real movie. That added so much excitement and put all of us in a really good headspace to try and work hard and elevate the work. We were such a tight knit crew, during work and outside of work. We were doing karaoke all the time. Sometimes, you just show up on these jobs, and you don’t really get to know anyone you’re working with. You report to work when they tell you to be there, you do your best job, and then you go home. But I felt like with [this film] we were living and breathing the movie non-stop in the best way possible. Everyone was there for that reason, and we felt comfortable around each other and trusted each other.”

“Adam is just an amazing filmmaker, and it’s no secret at this point, like the guy is working at the top of Hollywood. I remember having a feeling that I’d never seen him this dedicated and focused. When we all did karaoke and hung out a lot after such a fun shoot, Adam immediately went home and was editing and thinking about the next day. He was such a machine. You don’t make great movies unless you’re that committed.”

Lee: “I thought it succeeded in creating a really suspenseful atmosphere. It was a big deal to see it in a chain theater. It was the first thing I worked on that was distributed nationally. I saw it in a random theater in Birmingham, Alabama, and it was so cool to see something that had been recorded here. It was still pretty unusual. I was actually living in this tiny town in Montevallo at the time, which is south of Birmingham. There’s only like 2000 people there. We recorded it in my apartment in this old house, and we had to shut off the AC units whenever we were recording. The window units would make too much noise. So it was really neat that that was recorded in those circumstances with very minimal resources and equipment. Then, to see that play in a theater, people were really into it.”

Wingard: “It’s easy to forget that our origins as filmmakers were so humble in so many ways. I didn’t make a full-time living as a filmmaker until about the time I was doing ‘You’re Next.’ That was really the first movie that allowed me to even get my own apartment for the first time. I guess you could call us new money. I don’t know. We’re not rich yet, either. [laughs] But, at least, we have one job, and that’s making movies at this point. I look at [this film] in such a proud way. I even think about the song ‘Looking for the Magic’ in a weird way, the repetitive mantra of looking for the magic was our way to conjure our own filmmaking destiny out of this movie. It’s almost a magical ritual. It really kind of felt like that, weirdly.”

“When you make movies, all your memories of it are usually very fond and nostalgic. But the experiences of making them are very brutal and traumatic most of the time. ‘You’re Next’ is probably, I would say, in the top two hardest movies I’ve ever made. The resources were just so low, and the shooting schedule was so short. And there was just so much action and practical special effects. It just felt like nothing was ever going right on set. I had a horrible root canal toothache the entire filming of the movie. The experience was mainly really difficult, and everyday, it felt like we were behind. But through all that, I remember there were quite a few moments during that production where I had these weird blasts of clarity. I would look around and see Sharni holding a mallet and Lane Hughes in his fox mask, and I remember thinking it looked so iconic, even at the time.”

“It’s one thing for a film to be quickly digested and praised right when it comes out. More and more these days, the hyperbole and online discourse on films and the celebration of releases means less and less in the moment because it’s such fast food. The only true test of a film’s real, captivating power is time. Throughout everything I’ve made, ‘You’re Next’ still might be the best movie that I’ve made in some way. It may not be the most technically perfect film because of the low budget limitations, but maybe that’s also part of the charm.”

Photo Credit: Sharni Vinson


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