Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett are known for their collaborations on A Horrible Way to Die, You’re Next, and the V/H/S franchise. They’re back at their unique brand of darkly comedic horror with The Guest (review), which opens in theaters nationwide on September 17th.
In The Guest a mysterious soldier shows up on the doorstep of the Peterson family, claiming to be a friend of their son, who died in action. After the young man is welcomed into their home, a series of accidental deaths occur, which seem oddly connected to his arrival.
We got a chance to catch up with them to ask a few questions… hope we didn’t overstay our welcome!
Dread Central: How come you built the story around a soldier, who is evil? Was there any hesitation in presenting America’s hero as a villain?
Simon Barrett: No. I mean, it’s funny because I think Adam and I both saw all the post-Iraq war movies, and I’m specifically thinking of like Stop-Loss and Jarhead and In The Valley of the Lost and films like that. And those films all were kind of box office failures regardless of the individual film’s artistic merit. It felt like a lot of filmmakers during that period were trying, I think Adam said this before, to make important statements on the war. It felt like the filmmaking community had to respond.
Adam Wingard : But it also felt like, even beyond that, people wanted to make a definitive Iraq war movie statement. But if you look at the Vietnam movies, a lot of those, you know like Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, and things like that, they’re actually really interesting, entertaining movies that have a very fantastical take on war. And they kind of forgot that this time around and they got on their high horse about it and nobody wanted to see those films because we know that war is bad and who cares? You’re not really saying anything.
SB: Yeah, I think a lot of people, myself included, were so kind of morally outraged about the Iraq war in 2003 that they forgot to tell entertaining stories. I first started writing the script that became The Guest in 2007 and I got about 20 pages in and I was like, “I’m literally writing a story for no one and this is stupid and pointless and I don’t want to keep doing this with my life,” and I stopped writing it. But it was a completely different project. But it was funny because when Adam started talking about the film that he wanted to make and how it be this kind of fusion of The Terminator and Halloween and stuff, I don’t know why it just fused instantly organically with that story in my mind about a returning soldier that would deal very obliquely with themes like PTSD and the military industrial complex, but it did and it just clicked for me. That’s a way to actually make that story entertaining and there’s certainly some political commentary in The Guest but it’s an entertaining movie first. If you don’t politically agree with Adam and me, you’re still going to enjoy the movie.
AW: And you know we don’t have any delusions in thinking that our opinion on that type of stuff is any more important than anybody else. I mean, we’ve never been in the military. I don’t even think we have close family in the military. I have a friend that has gone over to Iraq and stuff but none of them have had their leg blown off or something like that so I almost feel like it would be disingenuous for us to come at everybody and say we’re going to tell you why this is bad as though you don’t already know. And if you don’t know, a movie is not going to change your mind anyways. If anything, it’s just going to push your Republican hard body stance on the whole situation even harder just because you don’t like somebody preaching it.
SB: Yeah, you know, like some of the Hollywood liberals who don’t know what they’re talking about, which we admittedly don’t, preaching to you. And it’s interesting too because if you look at, say, the post-Iraq war documentaries and the post-Iraq war dramas, it’s not like those movies were changing anyone’s mind. You didn’t go see them if you didn’t agree with them.
AW: Fahrenheit 911… it won Cannes and all that stuff, but you know what? We still elected George W. Bush. It didn’t change anything.
SB: Yeah, and more than anything else Adam and I do not want to make movies that are just preaching to the choir. We want to make movies that everyone can enjoy that can reach people like the movies that reached us when we were younger and affected us, which weren’t, by the way, documentaries.
AW: And I hope this doesn’t come off as defeatist, but at the end of the day the world is going to do what it’s going to do and we’re just making movies and we don’t have any delusions about that necessarily. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t comment on things in our own way but we have to be true to ourselves and we can’t take that out of perspective.
SB: Well, I think you can change people’s minds with a film, but you have to make them actually want to see it. You know, having a strong female protagonist in You’re Next, a lot of people kind of called attention to the fact that we were trying to do something different with Sharni Vinson’s character of Erin in You’re Next, but we weren’t trying to make a feminist horror movie specifically. We don’t necessarily come from a knowledgeable place for that. We were just trying to make one that wasn’t sexist. And I think that’s kind of our attitude towards our political statements and stuff in The Guest. And yeah, we did specifically want to touch up on this subject matter that it feels like Hollywood kind of got scared away from with all those dramas. We did want to be like, “We’re going to do our take on that and you’re going to want to see it because it’s going to be fun.” I think that was part of the challenge but we knew we were going to make a fairly over-the-top movie in a lot of ways with The Guest and we did want it to be grounded in a kind of reality for the characters, for the plot, and for the story so I think that’s why we embraced certain elements of that.
AW: You’ll also notice in the film that the movie never specifically says where Dan’s character served. It doesn’t say that he went to Iraq or Afghanistan and we wanted to keep that obscure because it doesn’t really matter. There’s always going to be some sort of weird third world conflict that America’s involved in. And to us it was like, I wanted this movie to stand up over time and to also be relevant. The relevant thing is there’s always going to be special forces somewhere doing some sort of weird CIA covert ops.
SB: Yeah, messing with someone else’s economy and what not. Actually the script only specifically referenced at one point on one draft we made it in Somalia or something like that just because we specifically didn’t want to make it seem like we were making a statement about Afghanistan or Iraq just because we didn’t want to make it seem like we were preaching about something we’re not fully knowledgeable about even though we read Noam Chomsky.
DC: On a more fundamental level I’d like to know, as a director, Adam, and as a writer, Simon, how did the two different types of psychological horror come in when the killer is invited into your home as opposed to some slashing stranger with a machete?
SB: Well, that was just kind of more of a follow-up challenge to You’re Next because we’ve done one type of home invasion, which is they come in through the windows with crossbows, and here’s a different kind of home invasion where he charms his way inside and ends up, in some ways, kind of dismantling the family from within. I don’t necessarily find one more horrific than the other. I would be quite scared if someone came in through my window with a crossbow. But it was more just after You’re Next that was what I felt in the mood to write. I think Adam and I have a lot of creative guidelines, but one of them is we try really hard to never repeat ourselves.
AW: Yeah, and even on a structural level… You’re Next is a movie that takes place in a very condensed amount of time. It basically takes place over a few days with the emphasis being on one really long night. With The Guest I think we wanted to world build a little bit more and kind of stretch out and let the time play out in a longer kind of way. Even though The Guest still just takes place over like a week or something. But it’s really funny because recently Simon and I went and saw Face/Off at the New Beverly theater and a lot happens in Face/Off. A lot happens to those characters in that film; they go through a lot [and] at the end of the movie you feel like this must have been taken place over three months or something like that… and then someone just casually mentions, “This has been a crazy week.” Like what? This is all one week?
SB: I re-watched the film, since then at the Beverly… and the movie plays on reality because at the beginning of the movie he sets that bomb which, insanely, he sets for like nine days in the future. Anyways, the structure of that film is really fascinating.
DC: You were talking about your decelerating time frames in your films from one night to now about a week; do you think you guys will ever be doing the “1900 of horror movies”? [laughter]
AW: No, we’re not Bertolucci! Yeah, it’s project by project, and to be honest with you, I actually prefer doing movies that take place over one night just as a director because it gives a focus. You know the trajectory of the film and actually that’s much easier to do than to try to balance over the course of a couple days and make that work in a fluid kind of manner and keep it all coherent and everything.
SB: In terms of our future projects that are at various stages right now, I can think of one that actually takes place over a couple months, but I can’t imagine wanting to do like the Boyhood thing. But I do think one thing Adam and I always try to do is we try to make our movies very tight and precise, and if anything can be cut from the script [or] from the film, we try to cut it. We try to make movies that have a really solid momentum to them because those are just the films that we enjoy the most right now. And those kinds of narratives do kind of lend themselves best to a short period of diegetic time.
You’re Next, V/H/S, V/H/S/2, and A Horrible Way to Die‘s Adam Wingard directs from a script by Simon Barrett while Keith Calder and Jessica Wu produce for Snoot Entertainment. Look for the flick in theatres on September 17th.
The Guest stars Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Brendan Meyer, Sheila Kelley, Leland Orser, and Lance Reddick.
David is the perfect guest. Friendly and helpful, this young soldier arrives on the doorstep of the Peterson family, claiming to be a good friend of their beloved son who died in action. The Petersons welcome David into their home and into their lives, but when people start mysteriously dying in town, their teenage daughter Anna starts wondering if David is responsible. Distributed by Picturehouse, THE GUEST visits theaters Wednesday, September 17th. Let us know if you’ll be letting him in.
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