“…You’re Next is easily Wingard’s most commercial film to date, and the first to receive a wide theatrical release. However, this tale of a family reunion which is brutally interrupted by mask-wearing psychos is still far from being your (next) average horror movie. The movie’s stars include “real” actors Sharni Vinson (Step Up 3D), Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator), and Amy Seimetz (Upstream Color, AMC’s The Killing) but also an array of indie directors including Joe Swanberg (Hannah Takes the Stairs), Larry Fessenden (The Last Winter), and Calvin Reeder (The Oregonian). The film has blood to spare and the casting of Crampton is an obvious wink to the horror crowd. You’re Next writer Simon Barrett, meanwhile, admits he and Wingard were inspired by previous home invasion horror movies including The Strangers and Michael Haneke’s notorious Funny Games and that they “looked a lot” at Wes Craven’s 1996 horror-lampoon Scream while they were cooking up the film’s concept. But where the humor of Scream derived from directly referencing the horror genre — remember Jamie Kennedy’s detailing of the “rules” one must abide by to survive a terror flick? — You’re Next takes a more subtle approach, establishing an array of naturalistically-portrayed, believable characters and then clobbering them with the gruesome tropes of the terror flick. The movie also takes time to slyly wink at the indie auteur-heavy nature of the cast when Swanberg’s dick-ish character mocks an “underground” documentary-maker, played by yet another of the cast’s directors, Ti West (House of the Devil). “That’s one of the moments in the film where the actors did a lot of improvisation dialog-wise,” says Barrett. “It’s so funny, because Joe is completely, 100% doing an impression of real conversations he’s had with relatives about his own movies.” Swanberg himself recalls that it was “so fun to get to play an imbecile. Believe me, there’s about 20 minutes on the cutting room floor, where I’m riffing on underground film festivals.” But the actor-director emphasizes that it is Barrett who is mostly responsible for the movie’s often blacker-than-black sense of humor: “One of the reasons [it’s so funny] is that Simon is a really good writer and because he’s a cynical f— who’s super-funny and who hates the world.”
The result is a film about a family under attack which itself resembles an indie comedy-drama being savagely mauled by a horror film. Cast member Amy Seimetz says she is fascinated by such genre-bending. “That’s become more and more interesting to a lot of us,” says the actress, whose own recent directorial debut, Sun Don’t Shine, could be said to fuse the indie drama with the lovers-on-the-run crime movie. “This new form of horror, or new form of thriller, that’s straddling a fine line between naturalism and something that’s highly entertaining and pulpy.”
The “us” Seimetz refers to is a group of highly collaborative group of directors, writers, and actors whose low budget, naturalism-favoring movies have been described as “mumblecore” and which boasts a subset of horror-minded “mumblegore” filmmakers, notably Wingard, Barrett, Reeder, and West. Over the past decade, this loose collective has made some of the most inventive and original horror films around, which have entranced many horror fans but made little impact at the box office—at least until now. “We see every horror film that comes out,” says Wingard of himself and Barrett, “and we feel like we’re constantly being insulted.”…
…But some horror filmmakers have ploughed their own bloody furrow, and few more independently than Larry Fessenden. The New York-based Fessenden resembles a younger Jack Nicholson in a world without dentistry — the director was mugged in 1985 and lost an upper front tooth he has never replaced — and his movies are equally idiosyncratic. The filmmaker’s first notable release was 1995’s Habit which starred Fessenden as a heavy-drinking restaurant manager whose new girlfriend might be a vampire. Made for $60,000 this grungily erotic film spends far more time exploring the lives of its downtown New York-dwelling cast of characters than it does the possibility a bloodsucker is dwelling among them. Although the film received an extremely limited release it greatly affected You’re Next writer Barrett, who saw Fessenden introduce a screening of Habit while he was a film student at Ithaca College. “When we were growing up he was one of the few American guys doing these weird genre hybrids,” says Barrett. Wingard too was impressed by Fessenden’s film. The director says it was a “huge influence” on his own early work, including 2007’s drug-fueled, sort-of ghost story Pop Skull.
Fessenden hasn’t just supplied inspiration—through his Glass Eye Pix production company he has helped mentor filmmakers such as Old Joy director Kelly Reichardt (whose 1994 debut, the drama River of Grass, Fessenden starred in and edited) and Ti West. In the early oughts, West attended New York’s School for Visual Arts and was the only “horror kid” in a class taught by Reichardt who brokered an introduction to Fessenden. The pair hit it off and Fessenden funded the filmmaker’s first film, the minimalist, bats-centric The Roost. “He said, ‘If I gave you a little bit of money, could you just go do it with not a lot of help?’” says West. “I probably lied and just said ‘Yes.’ So he gave us $50,000 and we made the Roost.’”
The Roost premiered at the South By Southwest Film Festival in the spring of 2005 but earned a mere $5,000 on its own limited release that fall. However, Fessenden’s Glass Eye Pix company backed several of West’s subsequent projects, including 2007’s Trigger Man, and 2009’s House of the Devil, a note perfect homage to ‘80s horror for which Lena Dunham, a friend of the director, voiced the role of a 911 operator. Dunham is also a friend of Seimetz and worked as boom operator on her 2009 short film Round Town Girls, which Seimetz codirected with Ronald and Mary Bronstein. “Lena was right out of Oberlin and she was a fan of Ronnie and Mary,” says Seimetz. “Mary and I had written this movie and Lena wanted to come on and just help out any way that she could, so she boom-opped for us. But she was so bad at boom-opping! The sound was incredibly bad and the boom was in the shot, or not close enough. I mean, here’s the thing: She was obviously destined for greater things.” Seimetz, in turn, worked as boom operator on Dunham’s web series Delusional Downtown Divas and then appeared in her big screen directing debut Tiny Furniture, whose credits thanked West.
In what would become something of a trope-cum-running gag for the mumblegore crowd West gave Fessenden cameos in his movies, appearances which frequently ended with the death of his character. “Yeah, we keep joking [about that],” West says. “He’s like, ‘You have to kill me! It’s been a while since you’ve killed me in a movie!” For his part, Fessenden says he is genuinely perplexed as to why so many people he has helped would wish him harm, at least onscreen. “I’d like to know!” he laughs. “I try to be polite and pleasant but somehow they see my face and they just want to mangle it, one way or another — which I’ve already done on my own, but they want to put in the final punch.”
When he was at SXSW with The Roost, West met Joe Swanberg whose own debut film, Kissing on the Mouth, was premiering at the festival. Swanberg’s movie, a sexually explicit rumination on post-college life, shared little with The Roost other than a micro-budget. However, the pair became friends and Swanberg cast West alongside Seimetz in his 2011 film Silver Bullets, about an actress who gets a part in a werewolf movie. By the time he was making Silver Bullets Swanberg had become well-known in the indie community as one of the leading lights of “mumblecore,” a loose grouping of filmmakers whose movies had low budgets and naturalistic vibe and whose membership included director Andrew Bujalski (Funny Ha Ha, this year’s Computer Chess). Other mumblecore notables include Greta Gerwig and Mark Duplass, both of whom starred in Swanberg’s best known film, 2007’s Hannah Takes the Stairs. The pair would soon explore the world of terror themselves: Duplass and his brother/co-director Jay cast Gerwig in 2008’s Baghead, about a group of actors whose horror movie idea invades their real-lives and the actress also appeared in West’s House of the Devil. In time, the term “mumblecore” spawned a dark sibling, “mumblegore,” a phrase used to denote those occasions when Swanberg, Duplass and other mumblecore-affiliated directors made a genre movie. Adam Wingard, whose films have appeared on lists of “mumblegore” movies says he is genuinely ambivalent about the phrase: “I don’t care. I think mumblecore is such an obscure term [that] if somebody calls You’re Next mumblegore people would probably be even more confused. But that’s totally fine with me. Mumblecore is still the best way to describe that world we came from.”…
…In 2010, Travis Stevens founded Snowfort Pictures, a boutique film production company specializing in what the executive describes as “elevated genre films. We’re really focused on finding emerging talent — filmmakers that have an interesting eye and some fresh ideas.” Snowfort’s debut movie was the first film Wingard and Barrett worked on together, A Horrible Way To Die. “We kept up with each other over the years,” says Barrett. “Simon really like my movies and I was always a big fan of his screenplays. My career was going nowhere, necessarily, and his career had been knocked down to nothing. So, [we said] ‘Let’s do this mumblecore film.’” The film starred Swanberg, who Wingard had met at the Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham, Ala., and Seimetz. The director had been impressed by the actress’s performance in 2010’s Bitter Feast, a horror movie about a vengeance-seeking sous-chef produced by, and costarring, Larry Fessenden. For the crucial role of Seimetz’s homicidal onscreen husband Wingard recruited actor AJ Bowen, another Horrible cast member who would return in You’re Next.
Just as Fessenden’s Habit can barely be considered a horror film, A Horrible Way To Die often seems less interested in slaughter than in exploring the troubled interior life of a recovering addict played by Seimetz who, like Fessenden, tends to have a terrible time of it on screen in “mumblegore” movies. The actress says she has no problem with the assorted torments her characters undergo in A Horrible Way to Die and You’re Next and, for that matter, Shane Carruth’s recent Upstream Color. “It’s so rare to see parts written for women where you actually do stuff and there are actual things happening [to you] as opposed to being this voice of reason for everyone,” she says. “But it is pretty funny. I called my mother because I had booked The Killing and I was like, ‘Oh, I booked another show.’ And she’s like, ‘Okay, what’s it called? I said, ‘It’s called The Killing.’ And she goes, ‘Jesus Christ.’”…
…Everyone involved in the film, which was shot in Columbia, Mo., stresses that the large number of directors on set was an asset rather than a too-many-cooks situation. “All of us know our place, when we’re acting,” says Amy Seimetz. “But when you’re doing stuff for limited means you want people who know how to solve problems in a filmmaking sense. You want a lot of those brains.” And presumably it’s also cheaper to fill your cast with filmmaking friends? “We’re getting less cheap,” laughs Seimetz, whose other acting credits include Christopher Guest’s HBO show Family Tree. “But, yeah, I will continue taking jobs where I get paid more so I can do this stuff.”
Joe Swanberg says he found the You’re Next shoot to be an inspirational experience, one which helped inform his own new movie Drinking Buddies, which is also released this Friday. Starring Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston, and Ti West, this comedy about brewery workers is both his most generously budgeted and most accessible film to date. “We rolled into You’re Next coming off a period when Adam and I had collaborated on a lot of things,” says the prolific auteur. “He had DP-ed a few movies for me. I had acted in [A Horrible Way to Die]. We were both operating in this like, $10,000, ultra-low budget world. I give Adam a lot of credit for pointing the way of how you can move from one thing to the other thing. When I think back on the production I mostly think how exciting it was to feel like we were on a real movie set and that Adam was the captain of this much bigger ship. We hoped at the time it would reach a much bigger audience and now it looks like it will. So it’s really cool.”…
…You’re Next premiered at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival and was bought by Lionsgate only to be shelved when the company acquired the company Summit — home of the Twilight movies — early in 2012. It took almost a year from its Toronto debut for the film to be given its release date. “It was a very complicated situation,” says Wingard. “But it’s all turned out great.” The company paid for further shooting on the film, including a sequence in which Fessenden’s character faced-off against one of the masked home invaders. “We did this one shot where he’s being tackled by a killer and it was very physical,” recalls Wingard. “We did it over 30 times and Larry just had the best attitude. He was just happy to f—ing to do it. Then he emailed us the next day telling us what a great time he had. I was like, ‘Thanks, I promise it was worth it — we used about take 24.’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, I knew we hit our stride around 22 or so…’” Fessenden remembers things slightly differently. “That’s not true, it was at least 45 times,” he laughs. “I’ll tell you, it was brutal. I was completely naked [except for] a towel and I had to be brutalized at the throat by a very sweet stuntman. Nevertheless, I kept ramming into his hand and my Adam’s apple hurt. In fact wanted to retitle the film Your Necks. Anyway, it was great fun. I hope he got what it wanted.”
Fessenden would also provide practical assistance to Amy Seimetz when the actress came to direct her movie, Sun Don’t Shine. “I had worked with him on Joe’s film Bitter Feast and he donated some money to Sun Don’t Shine,” she recalls. “What he’s doing for independent film is really inspiring to me. He’s just been incredibly giving to all of us with his time and mentorship.” Fessenden-the-producer has certainly been prolific over the past few years in terms of films he has helped shepherd to the screen, a list which includes Kelly Reichardt’s Michelle Williams-starring Wendy and Lucy, Jim Mickle’s apocalyptic vampire movie Stake Land, Rick Alverson’s The Comedy, a forthcoming documentary about Night of the Living Dead called Birth of the Living Dead, and Late Phases, a just-wrapped werewolf movie and the English language debut of much-tipped Argentinian director Adrian Garcia Bogliano. But Fessenden-the-auteur has had a leaner time of it lately. Indeed, since his 2006 eco-conscious horror movie The Last Winter he has directed just one movie, the recently released monster-fish movie, Beneath. “There’s no money for my kind of movie, a subtle approach to horror or a heartfelt terror-driven story that may or may not have enough gore or enough teenagers,” he says. “It’s very hard to get these films financed. The smart actors are scared of doing horror because it seems demeaning, and without a good actor you can’t pursue the kind of stories that I want to tell — which is smart, scary movies. But I live vicariously through the films I produce, and I get to see good work that I advocate for get made, and that’s always exciting.”
Fessenden also remains a busy actor whose credits over the past five years have included this summer’s Jug Face, Swanberg’s as-yet-unreleased drama All the Light In the Sky, and West’s 2009 horror film Cabin Fever 2, an ill-fated sequel to Eli Roth’s 2002 flesh-eating virus tale. West recalls shooting the film — which also featured an appearance from Swanberg– as a “great” experience but the director fell out badly with the film’s producers, which did not include Roth, in the editing process and departed the project. He now essentially disowns the film. “The way I describe it is, it’s like Dane Cook telling Seinfeld jokes,” says the director. “The material’s not so bad but the delivery is just messed up. I’m embarrassed to have my name on it.” West would recover his horror mojo on his next movie House of the Devil and is currently at work on an Eli Roth-produced film called The Sacrament about a Jonestown-style cult. The movie’s cast features three of his You’re Next costars: Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen, and Amy Seimetz. The actress declines to say too much about the film but describes it as “a pretty crazy movie. Ti is incredibly talented and has an incredible vision for exactly what he wants. Ti and Adam are directors who are working primarily in horror but have really shaped it into something interesting and transcendent beyond the genre. Even though The Sacrament is technically a horror film I think people will be surprised by how interesting on another level it is too.” Swanberg is similarly tight-lipped about The Sacrament — which is set to premiere at the forthcoming Toronto Film Festival – but similarly enthusiastic. “It’s very much a Ti West movie but there is a seriousness to it,” says the director. “What I’ll say is that those Jonestown-y elements are not being taken lightly. It’s something Ti did an incredible amount of research into and it’s treated in a very interesting way.”
Check out the full article at Insidemovies.EW.com.