You're Next - Surprise Crossbows & Home Alone Traps

You're Next
Directed by: Adam Wingard
Written by: Simon Barrett
Starring: Sharni Vinson, A.J. Bowen, Joe Swanberg 
Release Date: August 23, 2013 
Run Time: 94 minutes

The Davison family are having a reunion in their secluded vacation home in the woods to celebrate mom and dad’s 35th wedding anniversary. Mommy and Daddy Davison, their four children and their spouses all gather at the house and tensions immediately boil over. The fighting is cut short when a tumultuous dinner is interrupted by an assault from relentless animal-masked murderers. Overpowered and out of their element at first, the family is surprised to learn that Erin, girlfriend of the fat sheep of the family, Crispian (whose name I refuse to acknowledge as a real name), was trained by her father as a survivalist expert for 15 years and has a series of Kevin McCallister traps for this very occasion.

You’re Next starts with standard slasher pacing. You get introduced to two random people. They fuck. They get murdered. Title card. After that you get to spend some time with the family before shit hits the fan. If you're going to make a movie with a family locked together in a secluded house in the woods, why not make them a dysfunctional mess that can't make it through a single dinner without passive aggressively insulting each other under their breath? You're given time to get to know all of them and they each get their own unique personality traits so their inevitable deaths actually matter. 

Among the family are some of the frontrunners of the "mumblegore" movement. Oldest brother Drake (Joe Swanberg) is an instigating piece of shit who can't let a scene go by without taking a pot shot at one of his younger brothers. Even with an arrow sticking out of his back he gathers the strength to demean his little brother and call him a lowlife piece of shit. Crispian (AJ Bowen) who began dating our main character, Erin (Sharni Vinson of Step Up 3D fame), while she was his TA and does not take jokes about his weight very well. There's a point in the film where they are being hunted like animals and he still feels the need to yell “IM NOT FAT ANYMORE GOD DAMMIT."

This dysfunctional family sits down for dinner. People are taking pot shots at one another, voices are getting raised, spouses are staring at their plates hoping if they concentrate hard enough everyone will disappear. It’s Thanksgiving as I know it. Just when tempers reach their peak - Boom. Surprise crossbow. Just like that they’re all trapped in a secluded house in the middle of nowhere being hunted. What makes You’re Next so great is it lets you laugh at the characters doing stupid shit and encourages you to root for the unlikable ones to meet a terrible fate. It also gives you someone to root for: Crispian's Australian girlfriend Erin, who is meeting the family for the first time and just so happens to have over a decade of survivalist training.

There have been hundreds of female leads who fight back. I can’t remember any who decide they can’t hide in the basement because they believe the attackers will gas it and light a match. 

I love strong women in horror movies that aren’t there solely for their big stupid tits to be on screen. I’m not 14 anymore, seeing boobs in a horror movie doesn’t justify that character’s existence. She’s a big beautiful black Australian woman who don’t need no man, and she has absolutely no reservations about bashing someone’s brain in with a socket wrench to protect the people she met only a few hours ago.

On one hand you get to revel in bickering, whiny family members eating a big mouthful of sledgehammer, but at the same time the killers aren’t an unstoppable force like Jason. They’re just dudes in creepy animal masks so you also get to enjoy the bloody revenge that follows. It’s the best of both worlds. It’s a perfect storm of violence.

If there’s one type of horror movie I love, it’s a self-aware horror movie that doesn’t rely on being meta. It knows what type of movie it is and knows all the tropes, but everything is played straight - all the jokes are in the dialogue. This movie has in-jokes for fans of the genre and trusts them to get the references without having their hand held through it. I love Scream, but it’s not the most subtle movie to take on genre cliches. When Erin is boarding up the doors, at no point does she take time to explain the rules of horror movies to the surviving family members. Instead Drake pulls the arrow out of his back, stares at it, then passes out with an exaggerated prat fall. It’s not a subversive meta-comedy that shakes up the slasher genre to its very core, it’s a home invasion movie that's made with reverence to its predecessors, not winking at the camera. 

You’re Next isn’t a particularly scary movie, but it’s tense as all hell. There are a couple of loud jump scares, but like so many other choices they’re there almost out of necessity. You can’t have a movie crafted with such love and adoration for 80’s slashers without having a long, quiet scene of the father investigating a noise only for a screeching noise to blare over your speakers and for his son to be there with a big shit eating grin instead of the scary masked killer. The jumps all but disappear once the killers begin their assault on the house. The film is able to maintain the tension because of how well Wingard uses the geography of the secluded area they’re trapped in. The two people murdered before the title card turn out to be their only neighbors, and the time before the attack lets us learn not only about the family but the layout of the house they’re trapped in. Later in the movie when we see a character by themselves in one room, we know exactly where they are in relation to everyone else. If a window in one room is busted open, you know exactly who is in immediate danger without waiting for the movie to explicitly tell you. 

I’ve mentioned how much I love about the movie, but not much about my problems with it. My problem is the 80's synth score and the fact that it doesn’t show up until the climax. The only thing that can make a good home invasion movie a great home invasion movie is to set it to a John Carpenter score, and I wish it had played throughout the entire movie. Luckily Wingard fixes this in his next film The Guest. I don’t want to go on a rant about how horror movies aren’t like they were in the good old days (but I'm gonna!), but modern horror lacks distinctive soundtracks. You know the Friday the 13th score. You know the Halloween score. You know Freddy’s music. Tell me, what was your favorite song from The Conjuring or Paranormal Activity? If you told me Blumhouse Productions had a CDR with tracks like “Something Moved Downstairs,” “Ghost Outside Window,” and "Ghost Boy in Pilgrim Clothes" and just plugged them into every one of their movies, I’d believe you. It’s so refreshing to hear something that harbors back to a time when every slasher came with fake blood, masks, and a Casio keyboard. Long story short, my biggest problem with the movie is they did something really well, but they didn’t do it enough. 

You’re Next spent years sitting on studio shelves but has already become firmly entrenched in horror fans’ rotations. It’s a relentless movie that never stops ratcheting up the tension. It’s a hard-R slasher with practical effects (no CGI!), Home Alone traps, memorable villains, and synthesizer. This movie was made for me. You can tell just by watching it how much Wingard and Barrett loved the horror films they grew up watching and how they wanted to make their very own. Their passion comes through in every frame, and their visual nods and references are done in admiration and not snarky in-jokes. Average movies can be elevated when a creator’s love and affection shine through, even moreso when the movie is already good on its own merits.

You’re Next is a collaborative effort of Indie horror icons such as Joe Swanberg, Simon Barrett, Ti West, AJ Bowen, and Adam Wingard who are leading the charge into the next generation of horror. Their passion shines through, and I had as much fun watching it as they had making it. 


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