Directed by: Adam Wingard.
Written by: Simon Barrett.
Starring: Sharni Vinson (Erin), Nicholas Tucci (Felix), Wendy Glenn (Zee), AJ Bowen (Crispian), Joe Swanberg (Drake), Sarah Myers (Kelly), Amy Seimetz (Aimee), Ti West (Tariq), Rob Moran (Paul), Barbara Crampton (Aubrey), L.C. Holt (Lamb Mask), Simon Barrett (Tiger Mask), Lane Hughes (Fox Mask), Kate Lyn Sheil (Talia).
I heard about Adam Wingard’s You’re Next when it played as part of the Midnight Madness program at TIFF all the way back in 2011. The reviews from genre sties were universally wonderful – they painted this as both as scary example of the home invasion horror movie, a deft black comedy sending up horror movie clichés, and a mainstream example of the Mumblecore movement that actually had a chance of breaking through. In short, many thought You’re Next was a game changer. For whatever reason, it has taken nearly two years for the film to finally get released – and while it isn’t the game changer some have claimed it to be, it’s still a hell of lot better, and more entertaining, than most horror movies released in a given year. I may not think it’s quite the masterwork that some want it to be – but I also know why they love it – and why Wingard has been able to make a nice little career for himself off its back.
The film opens with a bang – as an older man (Larry Fessendam – the first of several directors to appear in roles in this movie) is having sex with a younger woman (the immensely talented Kate Lynn Sheil) – and while he walks away satisfied, she decidedly does not. She walks over, put on a CD on repeat – to Dwight Twilley’s Looking for the Magic (and if you see the movie, be prepared to spend the next few days with this song stuck in your head). Inevitably, these two will not last long – they aren’t the main characters in the movie, but function like Drew Barrymore at the beginning of Scream – to plunge the audience straight into the horror of the film from the opening scene. It is a brutally effective scene – just like the rest of the movie.
The main thrust of the plot is about a family gathering at the isolated house of their parents to celebrate their 35th Wedding Anniversary. Mother Aubrey (1980s Scream Queen Barbara Crampton – Re-Animator, Chopping Mall, From Beyond) is more than a little on edge, on various medication, and just wants her family together again. Father Paul (Rob Moran) is a rich man, enjoying retirement, although he can still be hard on his kids. Their four adult kids will arrive with their significant others – Crispian (AJ Bowen), a little pudgy, a college professor going nowhere and his girlfriend, and former student, Eric (Sharni Vinson), Drake (Joe Swanberg), who is clearly an asshole, because why do you cast Swanberg, and his wife Kelly (Sarah Myers), Felix (Nicholas Tucci), clearly the black sheep, and his goth girlfriend Zee (Wendy Glenn), and lone daughter Aimee (Amy Seimetz), who no one ever believes, and her “underground filmmaker” boyfriend Tariq (Ti West). If that sounds like too many characters to keep track of in a horror movie to you – you’re not wrong, but don’t worry too much. Once the bloodshed starts, the numbers thin quickly.
The film is essentially a home invasion horror movie – something that has become increasingly popular in recent years. The great French film Them is still the best of the recent entries, but The Strangers (2008) with Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman is a really under rated film, and this summer’s surprise hit The Purge is pretty much a home invasion film, with a dystopian twist. Home invasion films are so effective when done correctly, because there is supposed to be nowhere we are safer than in our own homes – and when that is violated it’s something we can all relate to.
You’re Next gives the audience what it expects from a home invasion movie – creepy people on the outside in masks (this time animal masks) who seem to know just where to be to be able to hack, slash, stab or shoot whatever victim they have deemed to be next. These scenes are well handled – and while the movie is bloody, it’s not as bloody as you probably think it is – as much of violence is more hinted at that actually seen. We know that one-by-one the numbers will dwindle – but there will be one “survivor girl” who inexplicably makes it much farther than we expect – this time it’s Erin, played in a wonderful performance by Vinson – and Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett actually make her survival seem more realistic than it is most of the time. This film should get Vinson far more roles in the future.
But the film is also a subtle, very black comedy. Even as the bodies start to pile up, this family, who doesn’t seem to like each other very much, they still bicker and reopen old wounds. One of my favorite moments is pretty much a throwaway one when the family argues which one of them should try and run for the car, and poor Aimee complains that “no one ever believes in me”, only to be reassured by her father that he believes in her – only to then promptly show why they probably shouldn’t have believed in her.
You’re Next is an effective horror movie – it’s clever without being too clever, it’s scary and bloody, but never crosses the line into torture porn, it has some plot twists you see coming, and some you don’t. In short, it’s an effective little horror movie. Not the masterpiece some wanted it to be, but pretty damn good.