YOU’RE NEXT is a good home invasion horror elevated by confidence in direction and the occasional promise of something more. It’s not a game-changer, but it’s just different enough to stand out from the rest of the all-consuming horror market.
When an apparently normal family get-together descends into the terrifying ordeal of a home invasion by masked killers, it falls to new addition to the family Erin (Sharni Vinson) as the toughest and really only stable personality in the house to fight back against her attackers and find out exactly what is going on.
You’d be forgiven for thinking of Wes Craven’s SCREAM quite frequently while watching You’re Next. Both films are incredibly self-aware takes on very well-worn horror sub genres (primarily home invasion horror for You’re Next and teen slasher for Scream). Both play the scary bits pretty straight and these work well enough, but what makes them stand out is their injection of postmodern humour into other scenes (primarily with jet-black slapstick, or “splatstick” in the case of You’re Next).
Whereas Scream’s knowing deconstruction of horror through Kevin Williamson’s dialogue and genuinely unexpected plot twists was a relatively new concept in the 1990s, we’ve sadly seen far too much of that in recent years for You’re Next to retain any real cutting edge. It’s still clever, but not quite as clever as it might think it is.
Director Adam Wingard clearly knows his stuff – there’s some gorgeous shot construction (I could wax lyrical for a while about how he films a glass of juice in extreme close-up) and competent tension-building, plus a good number of entertainingly gruesome deaths, but he does seem to be trying to make up for contemporary cinema’s postmodern horror overload with plot twists. Unfortunately, these twists aren’t particularly well disguised. From the start it’s plain that something not quite right is going on (even before the animal-masked tormentors arrive on the scene) and the real antagonists might as well be twirling comedy moustaches for how blatantly their odd behaviour marks them out. This is especially jarring in contrast to the naturalistic, almost Dogme-esque family conversations that begin the film (the sit-down family meal in opulent surroundings had me thinking of FESTEN). Perhaps the modern film audience is too well trained in spotting unexpected plot turns, especially if you’ve heard on the grapevine to expect one, then you can usually work it out, and it’s not exactly a challenge in You’re Next.
The film had been doing the festival circuit for a couple of years before it got a wide release, which is interesting in that it implies studios perhaps didn’t know what to do with it. It’s not a remake of a hit from the 70s or 80s, it’s not found footage or so-called torture porn. It’s not in 3D. It doesn’t even have that many deaths by slasher standards (perhaps due to a relatively small number of disposable characters). It’s pretty telling that it wasn’t released around Halloween, but instead at the back end of the summer blockbuster season, perhaps in the hope it would become a sleeper hit through word-of-mouth like THE CABIN IN THE WOODS became at the beginning of the summer season the year before.
I can’t really say much more about the film without giving the game away. It’s well-made, pretty well acted and the suspense, gore, and jump-scare horror beats are all present and correct. Adam Wingard is definitely one to watch, and he seems to take real care in executing his aesthetic vision, in addition to having a pleasingly depraved sense of humour (not many could make pain and death so funny). If only he was around a decade ago, before the horror movie market was so over-saturated, before audiences became so canny at sleuthing (or lucky guessing) plot twists, You’re Next might have had more impact. Still, it’s nice to see there’s still a seed or two of creativity in horror, and I’d say give the film a go. SSP