4 September 2013


Last year, Drew Goddard's genre-bending horror flick The Cabin In The Woods had some of the wind taken out of its sails by trailers that revealed one of the film's key twists. By contrast, You're Next has a bloody good trailer. It's iconic and memorable, without telling you much about the film it's promoting, in vast contrast to most horror movies. And like Cabin, this has a couple of surprises up its sleeve.

The film takes place around a cushy middle-class family reunion in Missouri, to celebrate mum and dad's wedding anniversary. Their grown-up children bring their partners along for the weekend, including Crispin and his teaching assistant girlfriend, Erin. When the house is violently besieged by masked men, all hell breaks loose. But as the attackers soon discover, Erin is particularly adept in rallying the guests to fight back.

Perhaps the most enjoyable thing about You're Next is the way in which scriptwriter Simon Barrett keeps changing the playing field throughout the film. Director Adam Wingard keeps things tight too, never allowing the audience enough time to get very far ahead of the characters themselves, or to anticipate the next twist in the tale. The result is startlingly unpredictable and, uniquely, it's a horror film which gets most of its shocks from not knowing what the heroine is going to do next.

Without saying too much about Erin, her character is one of the strongest female leads that the genre has had in a long time, out of a genre that isn't known for promoting female characters unless it can be all 'meta' about it. Erin is an un-self-consciously tough and intelligent character, and Australian actress Sharni Vinson gives a terrific breakthrough performance in the role. That she's since made Bait, a movie that centres around a shark in a flooded supermarket, goes to show that roles like this are few and far between in horror movies, and she deserves to go onto better things now that You're Next has finally been given a wide release in cinemas.

You'll sometimes see horror heroines like this in sequels, sure, but they've only taken a level in badass after surviving part one, using that final girl status to step up when the terror returns for seconds. Scream took two whole sequels before it did anything interesting with Sidney's final girl status, in Scream 4. The effect on Erin's character in You're Next is that it almost seems like we're watching her in the sequel to a horror film they never made, because the genre has conditioned us to wonder how women are so savvy- it's like that same bullshit trope where a guy is surprised that a girl knows about geek culture. When you eventually find out the source of her skills, it makes far more sense than the genre formula, and thus improves it immediately.

Although Erin certainly comes to the fore, there's an ensemble quality, and thus a slightly mean edge to the process of demolishing the comfy middle-class getaway. Once the violence starts, there's equal opportunity dismemberment and death- some of the characters don't deserve a bit of the horror that's inflicted upon them, but they get it just as bad as the arsehole characters. One obnoxious brother, played by mumblecore director Joe Swanberg, has a comically high threshold for pain that provides a bit of dark comic relief, but then there are no quick deaths here.

Happily, the tone is much more mischievous than misanthropic. The film doesn't outright show us the attackers for a little while, using quick cuts and oblique reflections of their animal masks in windows to build the suspense. Their early crossbow assault from outside the house is about as terrifying as the film gets. Once we start seeing them in stark reality, their menace is intentionally diluted- one of them screams like a little sissy girl. Without telling too much, this continues in a really cool and unexpected way throughout the film.

You're Next succeeds in turning the home invasion horror genre on its head, by doing it without constantly going on about it in the process. The film is as unpredictable as anything I've seen since The Cabin In The Woods, and even if the graphic violence makes it a little more mean-spirited than that film, it's about as much fun. It zigs when you expect it to zag, and the more it goes on, the more times it's able to sneak up on you and show you a terrific time. This is the best horror film of the year so far, by a long way.

You're Next is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen You're Next, why not share your comments below? As good as it is, do we need a sequel to this one? Like I said, this already feels like Erin's sequel.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch


NerdyRachelMay said...

In my ongoing quest for ‘Horror Rehabilitation’ this one is something I’m quite interested in.
I’m still a bit of a Horror-Wuss but I am getting better (e.g. I’ve recently watched The Woman in Black and Quarantine and I was fine with them and The Cabin in the Woods is one of my favourite films), tell me, will ‘You’re Next’ have me running from the cinema screaming like a child? x

Mark said...

In horror terms, if you've seen Cabin In The Woods, you should be fine. It's a bit more violent though- not Saw levels of gore, but inventively gruesome.