Interview: Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett discuss The Guest
With You’re Next in their rearview mirror, Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett had a lot to live up to. That refreshing horror, one infused with comedy, self-awareness, and an ample supply of blood made known these two film lovers and filmmakers, and so it was with much anticipation that their next feature was greeted.
The longtime professional partners sought to take things in a slightly different direction with their newfound success and trust; but not too far from their roots.
“In the past, all of our films had to be based around picking a subgenre that was financially stable for investors because we didn’t have much to show for,” explained Wingard while in Toronto to promote The Guest during TIFF. “When it came time to pick our next project, I always wanted to see if there was a chance to connect with our roots. We want to continue the trajectory we started, but we don’t want to completely abandon with what we did with You’re Next. Initially our first instinct was to do a straightforward action, but we realized that wasn’t the right approach, we’re still thinking too logical.”
“Then we thought, let’s do a hybrid that explores different things.”
The hybrid result is The Guest, a film that centers on the enigmatic David, played by Dan Stevens. He is a soldier who seeks out the family of a fallen comrade to impart gratitude and well wishes. They invite him in, he becomes a fixture in the family, and then things get weird. And funny. And violent.
“The idea of staying within our creative comfort zone scares us,” explained writer Simon Barrett. “We are always trying to do something different, even though were just getting started, we really want to make sure we don’t stagnant and are always pushing ourselves and improving. It Isn’t a complete 180 from You’re Next, but at the same time we make an effort to be very different and not repeat ourselves stylistically.”
“You have to take steps,” added Wingard, stating that The Guest “let us explore action, explore comedy in a more overt way.” There are still some scary moments, and plenty of uncertainty during a tense ending, which includes allusions and nods to past work. “At the same time we didn’t want people to think we forgot where we came from.”
Another departure the two sought was with those they were working with. Aside from a bigger, more organized production, the two wanted actors with whom they hadn’t cast before.
“We specifically tried to create a clean slate, aside from [one actor] who makes a cameo, everyone else is completely new to us,” explained Wingard, who added that this time around, there wouldn’t be improvisation, as there was with You’re Next.
Specifically, Wingard and Barrett went after actors who understood what they were trying to do. “They definitely got the sense of humor of the project, which isn’t necessarily an obvious thing,” said Wingard of Stevens and costar Maika Monroe. “Simon doesn’t write people slipping on a banana joke, and there are no direct references. It’s always a good sign when the actors do get the sense of humor. Both Dan and Maika, they were not necessarily the exact thing on the page. I like actors whose take on it is not totally different, but different enough that it’s exciting and they imprint their own personality to it, they bring themselves to it. “
For the character of the titular guest, the two knew the type of actor they desire. “We wanted to find an actor that people had a different context of and wanted to flip that around.”
They do indeed with the actor most noted for his role on Downton Abbey. Mysterious, militaristic, and accidentally hysterical, Stevens’ David is at the center of a unique film that is a formidable and decidedly different follow-up to past achievements. After this, it’s all the more exciting to find out what’s next.