Director Adam Wingard has received rave reviews for his home-invasion horror comedy You're Next (rated R, out Aug. 23), but his gore-drenched sensibility and twisted sense of humor is not everyone's cup of Darjeeling. In the spring of 2007, for instance, Wingard appeared in the premiere of Fox's On the Lot, a Steven Spielberg-produced reality show depicting aspiring filmmakers in competition. As Wingard recalls, he was immediately put off by the vibe on the televised contest and decided to self-sabotage. So in an unaired segment, he pitched a movie about a giant, skinless, suburbia-terrorizing dog named Roger to the show's three judges: Brett Ratner, Carrie Fisher, and Pretty Woman director Garry Marshall. ''I kept emphasizing how violent the film needed to be, and I was doing a dance as I was pitching,'' says Wingard, who, it is probably worth noting, stands 6 feet 4 inches tall. ''I was shocked they didn't use it on the show. It was gold!'' Needless to say, Wingard did not progress to the next round. ''I don't remember what the judges said,'' he says, laughing, ''but I think they were really disappointed in me.''
Wingard's deliberate failure to make the On the Lot cut did not stop him from making films. Over the past decade, the Alabama-raised 30-year-old has directed or codirected nine features, including 2011's serial-killer thriller A Horrible Way to Die. And despite a lack of big-name actors the best known is probably Step Up 3D star Sharni Vinson You're Next seems poised to gross more than all his previous projects combined. Since the film's debut at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival, where Lionsgate snapped up distribution rights, horror fans have been buzzing about this tale of a family reunion that is brutally interrupted by animal-mask-wearing maniacs. At last month's Comic-Con, You're Next received an unexpected PR boost when Michael Fassbender appeared at the panel for X-Men: Days of Future Past wearing one of the replica masks distributed at the event. Most encouragingly, after years of horror reboots and sequels, filmgoers are readily embracing more original fare, like this summer's sleeper hits The Conjuring and The Purge (which also centers on a deadly home invasion by masked baddies).
And You're Next is certainly original. Although Wingard and writer Simon Barrett were influenced by Wes Craven's 1996 horror lampoon Scream, the pair have taken a more subtle approach humor-wise, establishing an array of believable characters and then clobbering them with all the gruesome tropes of a terror flick. ''What's become more and more interesting to a lot of us,'' says Amy Seimetz, who plays the desperate-to-please-Daddy middle child, ''is this new form of horror, or thriller, that's straddling a line between naturalism and pulp.''