By Niall McArdle
You’re Next is a hugely enjoyable, blackly comic home-invasion thriller, high on violence and gore, that never once makes the mistake of sending a knowing wink to the audience.
The set-up is familiar. A big, rambling, well-appointed but isolated house; a disparate group of people (in this case a well-to-do family and their significant others); the good son; the wayward younger brother; the daddy’s girl; a goth girl; a relative outsider … then a nice dinner interrupted by murderous psychos on the rampage. In fact, while I was watching it, I had a sense of seeing it before, particularly as it has a twist reminiscent of an old Ice-T thriller called Below Utopia that I saw years ago.
I suppose all horror films are at some level home-invasion thrillers: it is perhaps our most primal fear. The home, after all, is simply an extension of our ancestors’ campfire, and ghost stories and tales of things that go bump in the night were told around that campfire to remind us of what lurked out there in the dark. Sometimes the threat is supernatural, as in vampires or zombies violating your personal space, or Freddy Krueger invading your dreams. More often than not, though, the danger is all too real, and it’s usually about something other than weirdos in strange masks wielding chainsaws. Jaws is a home-invasion thriller (although technically the ocean belongs to the shark, so perhaps the enemy in that one is us). Alien and The Thing are sci-fi variations, and Alien has a lot to say about corporate greed and the severe cost of cutting corners.
Straw Dogs, the granddaddy of home-invasion thrillers, is about stereotypes of masculinity. Most of the films that followed it played with ideas of community and the fear and anger that can bubble under the surface of a seemingly placid suburb: When a Stranger Calls, the Halloween series. Home Alone is a home-invasion thriller for kids (and it’s unbelievably violent).
You’re Next is an admirable addition to the genre. I should point out that this is a very funny film, and not in the knowing way that the Scream movies were. For a story like this to work, you need a great big house to run around and hide in, and the film has that. The characters behave like real people caught in a nightmarish situation, not like the usually ridiculously attractive and smart-alec types that usually populate this genre, and unlike other slasher films, you’ll probably care about the characters and will be genuinely upset when they’re killed. Because it is a family, there are the inevitable family tensions that erupt over dinner, and even as the blood starts flying, the siblings are sniping at each other (and some of that sniping is rather funny).
The screenplay is by Simon Barrett, and the film is directed by Adam Wingard. They have worked together for several years, exploring different genres, with a staple of actors that includes A.J. Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, Lane Hughes.
Many of the films they have been involved in might be loosely termed mumblecore: a sub-genre of indie cinema usually marked by very low production values, amateur acting and a seemingly deliberate lack of focus, as if polishing things like script, casting, editing and direction were antiquated notions best left to mainstream cinema. In many ways, mumblecore has taken Lars Von Trier’s Dogme 95 rules and reduced them even further.
Now Wingard and Barrett have taken the mumblecore idea and applied to the slasher genre: is this the first Mumblegore film?
It doesn’t look like it was an expensive film to make, but it does have decent production values. Budding screenwriters may want to study this: there are several clues given early as to why the mask-wearing killers might want to attack this family, and all of them are blood-red herrings. An early scene mentions that the father is retired from the Defence Industry, which these days is a very easy way for a film to set up a villain. You can almost hear the audience saying, “oh, evil fucker, you’re gonna get what you deserve.” The very fine eco-activist thriller The East used a similar strategy.
The script also deals with back-story very efficiently: one character tells another “I grew up on a survivalist compound in the Outback,” which explains everything you need to know about her character. She’s played by Sharni Vinson (very good, very easy on the eye). The weird goth chick is the very cool and rather fetching Wendy Glenn. Genre legend Barbara Crampton plays the mother.
You’re Next was filmed in 2011 but not released until last year, and it was overshadowed by the similarly-themed The Purge.
You really don’t need me to describe the plot: it’s a fun ride and it won’t tax your brain (it might bash your brains in, though). The bad guys are very creepy. The masks they were have become something of a cult.
Verdict: Four skulls bashed in by a meat tenderiser out of five.
The DVD includes a behind the scenes feature and TWO filmmaker commentaries. The film uses a song called “Looking for the Magic” over and over, and after you’ve seen it, you’ll be looking for it. Here it is: