You're Next (2011/2013) ReviewA movie review article by: Paul Brian McCoy
Home Invasion movies are kind of a dime a dozen these days, and aside from the classic Straw Dogs and certain scenes from A Clockwork Orange and Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer (and maybe the first hour of Haute Tension), there's not a lot about them that interest me, but I can understand the attraction (although by all accounts I, and by extension you, should check out The Strangers, Inside and Them). There's something immediately terrifying about the idea of being trapped, hunted, and/or murdered in your own home. Home is where you're safe; where the horrors aren't supposed to get to you.
I don't know if there's anything quite as unnerving as that loss of security, but it's rare to find a film that plays in that sandbox, while also providing strong character work, a naturalistic script, and both disgusting gore and thrilling action. You might get some of it, but almost never do you get the total package.
Well, with You're Next, you get the total package and more.
I'm fairly new to the work of Writing/Directing team Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard. I wasn't terribly impressed with their work on the framing short "Tape 56" for V/H/S, but I enjoyed the quirky "Q is for Quack" in The ABCs of Death. And I'm especially looking forward to their piece in V/H/S 2, "Phase I Clinical Trials" after watching You're Next.
What really got me interested in seeing You're Next was the cast, though. Not only was Barrett & Wingard regular Amy Seimetz involved (who blew me away in Upstream Color), but film makers Joe Swanberg (whose new film Drinking Buddies, I need to see) and Ti West (of the fantastic House of the Devil, The Innkeepers, and the upcoming The Sacrament) were on board as performers. AJ Bowen was another name that caught my attention, having been a highlight of The Signal and Hatchet II.
Bowen and Swanberg, along with Seimetz, are practically in the Barrett and Wingard repertoire theater, so right away there's a comfortable feeling among the cast. Their relationships are believable and natural in a way that you don't really find in most horror films. They form a nice core around which Wingard and Barrett built a very successful cast, most notably horror icon Barbara Crampton as the still extremely hot mom celebrating her 35th wedding anniversary. Her husband is played by comedy icon Rob Moran, with Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn, and Sharni Vinson (and a cameo appearance by indie horror icon Larry Fessenden) rounding out the cast.
The unmasked cast, anyway.
The plot is pretty straightforward. It's the Davison's 35th Wedding Anniversary so they've invited all the kids (Bowen, Swanberg, Seimetz, and Tucci) up to the manor out in the middle of nowhere. The kids all bring their significant others along to meet the family and dysfunctional hijinks occur. If we hadn't seen creepy neighbor Fessenden and his college student mistress get offed in the opening minutes of the film, this could have been your standard mumblecore dramedy setting up. In fact, I was a little surprised not to see a Duplass name in the credits anywhere, especially given the amount of sly humor and awkward situations we get in the first half hour or so.
The acting and dialogue has that natural feel that marks the mublecore genre, and many of the shots are very tight - tighter than one might normally expect - which helps to create a sense of claustrophobia as all of the characters feel trapped in the house before anything horrible even begins happening. And once the violence kicks off, it doesn't let up.
The star of the show, though, is Sharni Vinson as Bowen's girlfriend, Erin. She's an Australian Master's student in Literature and luckily, she was raised in the Outback by a crazy, survivalist father. It's such a bizarre character history that I was immediately won over. The humor of the film isn't overemphasized; it's all played very straight, which adds to the absurdity. Of course the Australian girl can kick ass. She's Australian.
The killers hunting our family of victims all wear animal masks and one of them has been holed up in the house for days, watching them for at least 24 hours before the killing starts. I wasn't sure about the animal mask choice before going in, as it seemed a bit cliché - especially after the creepy masks of The Strangers. But once we discover the motivations behind the murders I realized that the masks were a metatextual conceit, meant to signify movie murderers and create a narrative for the police to interpret when everything was said and done.
Did that make sense?
I'm trying to explain it without giving away anything. Because this is a movie that works really well when you don't know what's coming. You may think you do, and you may even be close, but once everyone's secrets are revealed I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.
I was, anyway.
For the gorehounds, the violence is pretty graphic and bloody. You ladies who think crossbows are sexy after The Walking Dead, might just want to think twice about that. At the same time, the violence is fairly funny and entertaining, especially the death of obnoxious brother Drake (Swanberg) and Erin's first murderer takedown. In fact, now I kind of want to go buy a nice heavy meat tenderizer to keep by the bed for home defense. Combine that with the most awesome death by electric blender you'll ever get on film and I was tickled to death by this film.
And the music! Regular Barrett and Wingard collaborator Jasper Justice Lee does the music along with contributions by Mads Heldtberg and Kyle McKinnon and I don't know who was responsible for what, but when Erin starts fighting back and the music shifts into a classic Carpenter meets Goblin meets Metal Machine Music mélange and I got a little lightheaded and giddy. I was very glad I'd opted to give this one a try despite some initial misgivings about the genre. Bravo.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor/editor for Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is available at Amazon US & UK, along with his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation (US & UK). He recently contributed the 1989 chapter to The American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s (US & UK) and has kicked off Comics Bulletin Books with Mondo Marvel Volumes One (US & UK) and Two (US & UK). Paul is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy.