Dissecting Director Adam Wingard!

Last Updated on July 22, 2021


Say friends, how many of you plan to ring in the 2014 fall-horror-season by inviting THE GUEST into your purview this weekend? After-all, the flick is not only generating all sorts of buzz, but it comes from the sick and demented minds of writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard…the duo who brought us the nail-biting home-invasion thriller YOU'RE NEXT last year. Should alone be good enough to accommodate THE GUEST then, right?

We certainly think so, and not just for the former Barrett/Wingard effort. Actually, we're quite fascinated by this Wingard fella, an Alabama native who made his feature length directorial debut at age 19. And not just any debut, but a slasher joint called HOMESICK starring the likes of Bill Moseley and Tiffany Shepis. Since then, Wingard has been operating with a break-neck efficacy, helming genre-joints as wide and varied as POP SKULL, A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE, WHAT FUN WE'RE HAVING, not to mention anthological contributions to VHS, ABCS OF DEATH, VHS-2 – as well as number of interspersed shorts…in and out of genre. No doubt, Wingard's one busy mofo…but never busy enough escape the AITH dissection blade. Ladies, gents…be our very own Guest as we Dissect the 10 year career of writer/director Adam Wingard thus far!



With time comes experience, and with experience comes money. Of course, in the film biz, time IS money. It only makes sense then that Wingard's last film – YOU'RE NEXT – is heretofore his finest! Granted, THE GUEST could supplant such a distinction when it cozies up theatergoers this weekend, but we're not there yet. So YOU'RE NEXT it is.

Taking a page out of the best and most viscerally charged home-invasion thrillers – THEM, THE STRANGERS, KIDNAPPED, INSIDE – Wingard put his own personal stamp of superiority on the subgenre with YOU'RE NEXT. If you didn't see it – Wingard's most commercial film by far – it revolves around the getaway anniversary vacation of the idyllic Davison family. Of course, when a malefic band of baddies comes a knocking, a torturous cat-and-mouse game ensues between the captives and captors. The major wrench? One of the holed-up victims is actually looking for a fight!

Made back in 2011, YOU'RE NEXT finally got a widespread release last summer…and did so with tremendous results, especially for a Wingard flick. It's quite a testament to the filmmaking acumen and freshness of the material to be made in 2011 yet hold up so well and find such a wide audience some two years after. Moreover, even without the subgeneric twist, YOU'RE NEXT is a lean, mean, unforgiving piece of real-time terror. It's the most efficient and effective flick Wingard has yet attempted. That said, I've got money betting on THE GUEST being even better!



Probably because it was produced on a shoestring budget of about two-grand ($2,000), POP SKULL has to be Wingard's weakest link to date. It simply suffers from a crippling dearth of resources, and as a result, amounts to little more than an amateurish effort, a glorified student film. That's not to say the flick is without redemption, because there actually are a few moments of genuine inspiration…namely the subject matter of pharmaceutical abuse.

If you've not seen it, POP SKULL follows the manic exploits of pill-popping Alabama teenager Daniel, who leads a drearily listless life. As he eats more pills, his schizoid receptors begin picking up ghostly vibes in his rundown home, ones conjuring murderous intent. As the terrors persist, Daniel must grapple with how much of these haunting spirits are real, or just in his hallucinating head.

Very intriguing setup, right? Agreed. Problem is, the resources of the production couldn't really support its cool conceit. As mentioned, the flick more or less falls apart after the first half, and a level of inertial sets in that is bound to make you more insane than the fucking main character. And not in an intentionally demented way either!


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It's always a bit tough to identify consistent trends in the work of a filmmaker with only a handful of features. That said, we could cite the independent spirit of Wingard – operating largely outside of the studio system on often miniscule budgets – or his fascination with the home-invasion subgenre (YOU'RE NEXT, THE GUEST). Hell, we can even link stylistic aesthetics through Adam's constant use of unvarnished, hand-held docu-lensing. But really, upon further thought, I think the most impressive trademark of Wingard's is the supporting cast he surrounds himself with. Never shy about casting friends, Wingard continues to feature the likes of pals AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, the Hughes siblings, Amy Seimetz, etc…doing so in a way that doesn't just feel gratuitous or indulgent, but complimentary to the talents of said peeps by lending parts to each that they can all delve into and excel at. And as we know, parts start on the page. And just as bonded as Adam and his recurring casts are, so too Adam and his somewhat newfound writing partner Simon Barrett.

Since 2010, Barrett and Wingard have joined forces on no less than 7 different genre projects. Prior to that fateful year, Wingard wrote most of his scripts solo (HOMESICK, POP SKULL), or collaborated with fellow scribe E.L. Katz. Well, I don't think it's any coincidence that, as Barrett began to take sole control of the keys, Wingard has become a better director. The division of labor is a fruitful one, with each men taking on a well defined role that they can focus on, hone in and perfect. As a result, the flicks just keep getting better and better. By that rationale, I fully expect THE GUEST to rank atop the list!


It's not often a pair of unvarnished jewels lie hidden among a mere 16 lifetime credits, but such seems to be the case for Wingard. Let us explain…

In 2011, Adam hooked up with pals AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Lane and Hannah Hughes (not to mention writing partners Simon Barrett and E.L. Katz) to make an unseen thriller called WHAT FUN WE'RE HAVING. Now, like most, I've not seen the flick, so I really can't speak to how much, if it all, of a true gem it is. But the fact remains it's buried deeper than my dick in a Vietnamese hooker's ass on Christmas day! Here's the ambiguous logline:

An uncomfortable thriller about four sexual assaults in a small American town.

Again, having not seen it, I can't speak with much authority on how good or bad the movie actually is. So, while it undoubtedly hidden, let's address another under-seen Wingard feature we can discuss more critically.


And that movie is A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE, the vicious 2010 revenge-pic Wingard directed from a script by Simon Barrett…the fecund first collaboration in a partnership that continues to flourish to this day. What a sick little flick! If you've not scoped it, the premise is a simple but effective one. When a convicted murderer escapes confinement, the first person he feels impelled to track down his is girlfriend, a disturbed woman trying to build a new life for herself a new small-town. Of course, nothing goes as planned!

What works so well about A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE – a movie that features a stable of Barrett/Wingard day-players including AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, Lane Hughes etc. – is the ultra-intimate, almost granular depiction of a man's escalating insanity. A jilted lover's maddening descent into the heart of darkness! The flick cuts right down to the bone, likely due to its budgetary constraints and limited resources, but also in the way Wingard helms the material under such strictures. Dude makes the no-frills most of what he's given, reflecting the subject matter in the stark visual design – muted colors, dreary decor, hand-held verite camera work and docu-style framing, etc. The result is a oddly captivating slow burn that leaves you feeling about as scummy as the people it depicts. Do wise and peep this shite stat if you've not already!


As foretold, THE GUEST – Wingard's latest – is set to visit your town this Friday. The flick, which more or less essays the flipside of the home-invasion paradigm seen in his latest, YOU'RE NEXT, is already culling killer buzz, in particular for its Downton Abbey star Dan Stevens in the ominous title role. In case you've been too busy to keep up, here's how THE GUEST shapes up:

A soldier introduces himself to 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 seem to be connected to his presence.

Like I said, it's not so much an overt home-invasion attempt, but more of a slow, subtle ingratiation of the guest that turns murderously menacing. I like that shift, especially coming right off of the former kind of home-harassment we saw in YOU'RE NEXT. Additionally, with a larger budget to afford a venerated ensemble that includes Lance Reddick, Leland Orser, Ethan Embry, Joel David Moore, and up and coming horror hottie Maika Monroe – THE GUEST should have a polish and prestige not normally in the cards for Wingard and his micro-budget background. Not sure about you, but I'm pumped to see what the guy can do with a little dough at his disposal!

By the way, THE GUEST is Rated R for strong violence, language, some drug use and a scene of sexuality. F*ck yes!

Additionally, hitting the presses just this week was the tidbit that Wingard is poised to helm the remake of I SAW THE DEVIL, the superb Kim-jee Woon revenge pic from 2010.  In case you missed that one (shame on you), here's the gist: 

The embodiment of pure evil, Kyung-chul is a dangerous psychopath who kills for pleasure. On a freezing, snowy night, his latest victim is the beautiful Juyeon, daughter of a retired police chief and pregnant fiancée of elite special agent Soo-hyun. Obsessed with revenge, Soo-hyun is determined to track down the murderer, even if doing so means becoming a monster himself. And when he finds Kyung-chul, turning him in to the authorities is the last thing on his mind, as the lines between good and evil fall away in this diabolically twisted game of cat and mouse.

And keeping with this here thread, you can take delight in knowing that, yes, Simon Barrett is alongside Wingard to adapt the script.  Not sure this is a film that need be remade, but is it does, we can rest assured that Barrett and Wingard will do the material justice.  Vengeful justice! 



In sum, it really doesn't take a genius to realize that Adam Wingard is one formidable mofo in the current world horror cinema. Dude's got the genre by the balls! Thanks to an indie sensibility he fostered as a teenager, it's clear that as my man gets more and more resources laid at his feet, he's only getting better with each passing project. And by building a rapport with a stable of pals and players from the early days of HOME SICK and POPSKULL, there's no doubt a shorthand and consistency he established with his collaborators on both sides of the cam. To that end, perhaps none more important than the relationship forged with writer Simon Barrett, who solely or at least in part authored A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE, AUTOEROTIC, YOU'RE NEXT, WHAT FUN WE'RE HAVING, VHS, VHS-2, ABCS OF DEATH and most recently, THE GUEST. Since these two have linked-up, each collabo has been better than the next. That's all you can really ask for!

Source: AITH

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Jake Dee is one of JoBlo’s most valued script writers, having written extensive, deep dives as a writer on WTF Happened to this Movie and it’s spin-off, WTF Really Happened to This Movie. In addition to video scripts, Jake has written news articles, movie reviews, book reviews, script reviews, set visits, Top 10 Lists (The Horror Ten Spot), Feature Articles The Test of Time and The Black Sheep, and more.