*Guest post by Billy Russell
You’re Next is the new-ish horror movie directed by Adam Wingard (director of the “wraparound” story segments in 2012’s V/H/S, which was originally filmed and completed in 2011, toured on the film festival circuit, and finally saw a release this year in 2013.
The plot of the film concerns an already-uncomfortable family get-together to celebrate the 35th anniversary of husband and wife, Paul and Aubrey, who get some uninvited guests that night wearing very, very scary animal masks and are out for blood.
Important note: the evening before Paul and Aubrey arrived at their secluded cabin in the woods, their neighbors had been killed in a classical, macabre introduction to the action, with the warning, “You’re next” smeared in blood on the window. The family, including their three children and their respective romantic counterparts, are terrorized by these masked psychopaths for an evening.
The cast of the film is made up of veterans and extremely talented newcomers to the horror genre. There’s Barbara Crampton from numerous Stuart Gordon films. Ti West, too, plays a smaller role, who’s been very well-praised as a director for The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers. Joe Swanberg, as the clear parental favorite of all the children, Drake, has appeared in numerous films as an actor and as a director, with his comedic drama Drinking Buddies out this year, as well as an on-screen role in Ti West’s new movie, The Sacrament. Sharni Vinson, who I’d never seen in anything else as of yet, proved herself very capable as the strong, female lead.
With this cast and talented crew backing You’re Next, it’s a bit disappointing how ultimately derivative the execution ended up being. Supplying the faceless killers with such a convoluted motivation for committing bloody murder strips away any fear from the seemingly senseless violence the audience is first exposed to. The motivation for murder, followed by plot twist after plot twist, reminded me a bit of a movie that played out more like a self-aware version of A Bay of Blood meets Straw Dogs, as opposed to the much more frightening and original film it really wanted to be.
All horror movies are guilty of having their characters behave foolishly. Sometimes this is because it makes Plot Point A segue into Plot Point B more seamlessly; sometimes characters act in idiotic ways because they’re stricken with fear that we, as the viewer, don’t have and the terror causes them to act irrationally because they don’t have the detachment we do seeing the action while being removed from it. But when every character, villain and victim, bungles decisions so habitually, it begins to take you out of the moment and the illusion of the film begins to fade; it’s clear you’re watching a writer’s concoction in order to ramp up the gore and blood spilled over the sets.
Deliberately trying not to spoil some of the fun and genuine surprises contained within You’re Next, I won’t cite any specific lines of dialogue, but some of them seem to have been written without regard to how people speak or act or actually think. They’re just lines of dialogue used to be shocking or to be a funny way to break the tension, but there was some woefully bad writing in the dialogue department.
With all that said, You’re Next is still a fine movie. It has shocking moments, some real laughs, good acting and an air of fun surrounding the production and filming. It is also too derivative and silly and predictable in parts. I give this movie a positive review and can assure you that it will be a fun time at the movies if you enjoy horror flicks…but if you’re looking for something that is something more than that, something more than a slasher movie meets a home invasion movie meets the plotting and twisting of Mario Bava with tongue planted firmly in cheek, it may be a bit of a disappointment.
The “other” home invasion movie this year, The Purge, disappointed me in the same way that it didn’t have the courage to be as audacious and ugly as it seemed like it wanted to be. The Purge took the premise of “what if ordinary people could kill without consequence” and made them faceless killers that it was okay to knife, shotgun and club. You’re Next takes faceless killers, contrives a motivation for them, adds too much plot, and then about halfway through the movie decides that the tone should lean more toward the goofier side and not say much of anything about anything except that gore is kind of cool.