You Might Be the Killer is a brilliant meta-horror comedy from writer/director Brett Simmons (Husk, Animal) that flips the script on horror tropes. Starring Fran Kranz (The Cabin in the Woods) and Alyson Hannigan (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), it’s a deliriously delightful love letter to the slasher genre.
The film is based on a hilariously spot-on twitter thread between writers Chuck Wendig and Sam Sykes (click here to read it in full) that quickly went viral. In the thread, Sam finds himself trapped in a summer camp where counsellors are dropping like hacked-and-slashed flies, so he reaches out to his buddy Chuck for some sage advice. During their conversation, Chuck guides Sam to the unsettling realization that he might actually be the killer.
I recently spoke with Brett Simmons and Fran Kranz at the Toronto premiere for You Might Be the Killer, where we discussed the genesis of the film, the challenges of being a slasher killer, and their deep love for the horror genre.
Kelly McNeely: So, You Might Be the Killer started as a twitter thread between Sam Sykes and Chuck Wendig, how did that develop into the film that it is now?
Brett Simmons: Oh god, well, I mean, it was really daunting at first because I was just like “why are we dipping into twitter to find our movie ideas?”, but then when I read it I was like ok, I get it.
One of the things I noticed really quickly was that it was only like 60 tweets long, but there are very specific story revelations that play out throughout the conversation. I went ok, so here’s your act break, and here’s your mid point, and here’s your third act, and kind of more just delineating the information that plays out in that conversation, and how to frame a story around it. So honestly, the most daunting thing was thinking about it before we started.
But once we started, it began to kind of find itself a bit better. The twitter conversation isn’t that long and we have a 90 minute movie, so Tom Vitale and I – he’s a producer and co-writer – when we were writing, we were tasked with creating a lot of conversation that didn’t yet exist between Chuck and Sam that still had their voice and maintained their chemistry and kind of the comedy of it.
Sam and Chuck were still so passionate about it and wanted to be involved that we were able to send them pages and they would tweak things here and there, so it was cool. It was really fun to be able to collaborate with them in that way because I felt like they were able to hold us accountable to making sure that Chuck and Sam sounded…
Kelly: Like Chuck and Sam, yeah.
Fran Kranz: I came on just on the screenplay, I never read the twitter conversation because it was too long. [all laugh]
Brett: [jokingly] Too many tweets.
Fran: No, but it’s funny because, sadly, I haven’t met Chuck and Sam – the real guys.
Brett: I actually haven’t either.
Fran: Oh you haven’t either? Interesting.
Brett: I think one lives in Indiana, and one lives in Oregon?
Fran: Ok, sure, yeah. But I’ve been joking that now I, you know, resent them. It’s our movie now, Brett and I –
Brett: [all laugh] You’ve taken over, we don’t need them anymore.
Fran: I came on it with this great screenplay, you know, it was sent to me and then I got on the phone with Brett… and I’ve been saying it’s so funny – so consistently funny – that my big concern was, does the movie have any stakes? If it’s just kind of a joke – so self-aware – does it turn into this horror film analysis or a comedy sketch of a horror film.
But Brett and I were immediately on the same page with ideas on how to keep it grounded, how to sustain a kind of pace that won’t be distracting, that won’t ever let up so that the jokes don’t become distracting and kill the stakes and the sense of consequence in the world.
So I feel like – as funny as it is – it feels like a world where life and death situations are happening, and they matter.
Kelly: The stakes are very real, absolutely.
Kelly: So how did Alyson Hannigan come on board for the film?
Brett: Same as Fran, we sent her the script. What was funny was we sent her the script and her agent warned us ahead of time, like, look, Alyson has a family and she doesn’t really like to do horror movies anymore, I wouldn’t hold your breath. I was just a fan and it felt like an inspired choice, so we just took a gamble.
But she ended up really responding to the friendship that Chuck and Sam had, which really was the heart of the whole movie and that’s what was most important to me. I feel like if we fail at everything else, we’ve succeeded if Chuck and Sam are believable friends, and we believe about them caring for each other. She really loved that, and so it was great because once she came on, she had a lot of ideas of her own and was ready to just come and play.
The thing that I liked was – we have a pretty bold introduction to Sam… Chuck, we don’t. Chuck’s just in the comic shop. So Alyson brings a lot of instant likability where it’s just like, we know she’s safe and we like her, so we can be on board with this as quickly as I wanted the audience to be on board with it. And she does love the genre, so she herself is so knowledgeable. She was just perfect.
Kelly: I love how much chemistry exists between the two characters, even though they’re never in the same room at all.
Fran: I know, it’s amazing! Isn’t that amazing?
Kelly: It’s all just over the phone, but you’re immediately like, “I… get this!”
Brett: We’ve been talking about this, and I’ve gotta say, because I know it’s so funny, Fran was never in the same room with her. He came on set to say hi one time, but they were never acting in the same scenes.
And to me that’s just such a testament to [Fran] and Alyson’s ability, because there’s so much chemistry – that one-sided chemistry – that exists in the editing for me… my job was so easy because it was all there. They created a chemistry that otherwise shouldn’t exist. [laughs]
Fran: It’s funny, I’m wondering if there’s some unconscious Joss Whedon school of acting going on or something, you know what I mean? [all laugh]
Kelly: It’s that wavelength, yeah.
Fran: It was a funny thing because I did come to set to hang out and say hi, and then kind of attempted to read lines off-camera, and if anything, I wasn’t sure it was helpful.
We both were very confident in what it needed to be and understood how we would have to play off each other. But I think sort of knowing the reality of filmmaking and that we weren’t going to be there, it almost seemed unhelpful to be there and try and force it in. And knowing the sort of range we needed to give Brett, and they were able to find it in editing.
But it’s a testament to her talent that she was able to create that performance, because I think it’s harder for her. I feel like, actually, it was easier to be playing the high tension and fear on the phone call, there’s sort of less to do with that in a weird way. Whereas Chuck might have a harder role with playing reaction to that.
She has to be funny and relaxed and kind of comfortable in her element, but not deny the truth of what Sam’s going through, you know? It’s a much harder job, I think, and she does an incredible job with it.
Brett: That’s actually a really good point, because that was my biggest challenge.
I felt like Fran’s biggest challenge was that we were meeting him in the third act of the movie, so from day one Fran was having to show up to set to get covered in blood and play like his world was ending, and that’s a very tall order for a feature film right out the gate. Just like, “alright, so, you’re at an 11, and… go”. Whereas Alyson wasn’t necessarily at an 11, but she was tasked with teetering some of the tricky tone.
Fran: Yeah, real tricky.
Brett: In the sense of, like, she can’t love this so much that she looks like she’s a closet murderer, or like she’s an accomplice to evil, but at the same time she has to also have a familiarity with it where we think she enjoys this without feeling like she’s homicidal. And she cares for Sam.
It was really tricky! I actually – even in the script – was just wrestling with her verbage on so many things that by the time we got to set, she just kind of found it really naturally that I was like [sigh of relief]. It was the hardest thing for me about all of her stuff.
From the beginning of the movie when Sam’s on the phone and says “There’s a serial killer” and she goes “OH”, and her reaction is perfect! And I don’t know what that reaction was going to be that made sense, because, like, there’s a version where you look sick, there’s a version where you don’t look invested, and you need to be both, so where does that lie?
Kelly: It’s hard to find that level of emotional investment – like you said – for someone that’s excited for this, but also does not want this to happen, but is kind of in the back of their mind like [restrained fist pump].
Brett: Yeah! It’s really tricky, yeah. Even moments where, like, you know “oh that was cool, but I shouldn’t be excited right now”.
She has that line where Sam’s on the one side of the phone like, “oh god, this is horrible, I’m so sorry to drag you in to this” – it’s like the friend saying “man, you’re bailing me out of jail, I’m so sorry” – and she says “oh don’t worry, you know I live for this stuff”. But they’re just in two completely different worlds.
Fran: It reminds me of Indiana Jones with like, dangerous supernatural relics, you know? She recognizes the danger, but she’s very interested in studying them too.
Brett: Like “isn’t it kind of amazing how this killer…”
Fran: Right, she’s concerned for all the natives, but she’s still gonna… bring it to a museum, I dunno. [all laugh]
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