The fast-rising filmmaker talks to Elbert Wyche about paying homage to the masters and his desire to break – albeit briefly – from the confines of genre filmmaking.

Adam Wingard makes his third appearance at the Sundance Film Festival with his genre-bending Park City At Midnight selection The Guest.

The story of a mysterious soldier who befriends the family of a fallen comrade marks the first time Wingard will screen a full film at the festival, following earlier contributions to the horror anthologies V/H/S and V/H/S/2. The world premiere takes place on January 17.

How did the movie come together creatively?
It’s with the same producers and screenwriter from You’re Next [Wingard’s home invasion thriller that premiered in Toronto 2011 and went on US release last August through Lionsgate]. After doing You’re Next we decided that we didn’t want to do something that was a straightforward horror film; we wanted to do something that was more of an action-thriller type of thing. We initially developed an action film to be shot in South Korea and we actually spent a couple of weeks down there location scouting. For various reasons that one ended up falling apart. That was kind of depressing, but I was sitting around one weekend watching Halloween and Terminator back-to-back. I went to Simon Barrett, the screenwriter, and told him I had a vague idea of a story that combined elements from both of those films. It turns out that he already had a story in his mind that also fit the headspace that I was in. Simon wrote the script and we went to our producers Keith Calder and Jess Wu.  They green-lit it and we went and shot it. 

What are some movies that inspired you or informed your style?
By-and-large this film is heavily inspired by my own perception of 80’s cinema in general, mixed with my own aesthetic. I don’t want to do the whole ‘Grindhouse’ thing where you’re emulating something very specifically. A lot of that started with the music, using very synth-y pieces of music and letting that inform my decision making in terms of the look, style and colours used in the film. 

Was it always clear to you that the horror genre was the best fit for your qualities as a filmmaker?
It was something that started with doing low budget films.  When working with a low budget you’re looking for ways to elevate your film beyond it. Horror is just one of these spices like you throw on a meal that just livens things up. It doesn’t necessarily cost any money but it does draw the viewer in. When you have something that costs no money, the audience needs a context of why they’re going to watch it. They’re not going to watch it because some unknown director did it or because it stars a no-name cast. They’re going to watch it because someone told them that it had some scary stuff in it. Furthermore, I’ve been lumped into the whole mumblegore group. Before, I was just one of these struggling independent filmmakers in America who did genre stuff. Now there’s an easy category that aligns you with other successful filmmakers like Ty West and Joe Swanberg. I love horror movies first and foremost; it’s just what I do. The Guest is less of a horror film and more of a thriller. At the same time it does take place during Halloween and it pays homage to the Halloween films and horror movies. It’s very subtle but it’s all there.

Is The Guest a momentary departure from what you would like to continue doing?
I was talking to Simon about our expectations of how the audience was going to take the movie. We realised that with You’re Next it was pretty obvious that we were going for a certain crowd and a certain response from people.  We knew how to elicit that because we had the framework of this being a horror film and [within] the horror film sub-genre this is a home invasion movie and expectations are pretty low.

The Guest is a little bit different. It’s the first time that we’ve made a film where we just had a story to tell. We didn’t start from the perspective of what type of horror movie is this. It’s really the first film that we’ve made that really speaks to our motivations and influences as filmmakers. I don’t think it’s necessarily a departure from horror or a goodbye. I’m sure we’re going to bounce back and do plenty more. We do want to set a tone that says that we aren’t just horror guys, we can do whatever we want. Hopefully the same people that like our horror films are going to like The Guest. I think people are still going to be creeped out by the movie and there’s a lot of tense stuff in it – it’s just not full-on horror.