The Creepiest Movie Ad Campaign of the Summer

Most movie posters these days are Photoshopped hack jobs barely worth a second glance, but a series of clever new Lionsgate posters demand a double take. At first, they seem like conventional one-sheets for the studio’s spring and early summer slate (which includes the comedy The Big Wedding and the Tyler Perry films Temptation and Peeples), but a closer look reveals an unnerving detail: Overlaid on the posters is a silhouette of the animal-masked killer from Lionsgate’s August 23 horror movie You’re Next. The effect is subtle, so at first it seems like a reflection of the poster itself, but a closer look reveals it to be something haunting Perry’s latest and a joyous Robert De Niro: Cue that oh-so-familiar horror-movie warning in the back of your brain, “The killer is behind you!”

This creepily invasive campaign is a good thematic fit for You’re Next, a slasher film where a family must fend off home invaders who’ve crashed their reunion getaway — and it’s all the more impressive for its apparent coordination: How did Lionsgate pitch the promo to the filmmakers whose movies would be invaded by the silhouette? Well … they didn’t, exactly; I hear they took an ask-for-forgiveness-after-the-fact approach rather than an ask-for-permission one. Perry and the Peeples filmmakers were said to love the idea enough to request some of the silhouette posters for themselves; the team behind The Big Wedding, however, was not as enamored. But the studio maintains that the You’re Next ads don’t cannibalize the outdoor buy that had always been earmarked for Wedding and the other Lionsgate titles; instead, they’re additional posters sprinkled throughout a handful of top markets.

They’ve been a long time coming, too: Lionsgate acquired You’re Next in 2011 after a galvanizing premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, but when the company began its merger with Summit a few months later and took on nearly 40 new films to promote, the You’re Next filmmakers had to wait nearly two years for a viable slot in the release calendar to open up. To some, it seemed that the movie was destined to suffer the same ignoble fate as All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, another horror title that, in 2006, was bought off of its hot Toronto premiere, then languished for years on several distributors’ release slates until Radius-TWC finally picked it up for an on-demand bow this summer.

But You’re Next has always been a favorite of Lionsgate chief marketing officer Tim Palen, who lenses most of the studio’s campaigns himself. After requesting a set of the killers’ animal masks from the movie, Palen has spent the last few months shooting them in random locations; when the marketing guru took a spooky snapshot of the mask in a plane window’s reflection on a trip to Atlanta to meet with Perry, the idea for the viral campaign was born.

Though the You’re Next marketing budget isn’t strong enough to compete with the biggest summer blockbusters, sources indicate that they’ve got additional meta tricks planned in the months to come to build up word of mouth for the late-season release. Translation: Don’t be surprised if that creepy silhouette turns up on your laptop monitor soon.

This article has been edited since its original posting.