You’re Next (2012, Adam Wingard)
Starring Sharni Vinson, AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn
Modern horror is fraught with remakes/reboots, found-footage bandwagoners, and teen supernatural jump-scare-paloozas nowadays. It isn’t that there aren’t good, solid underground films and independent productions produced every year- there are. But the fact that they remain hidden still from the public eye is a bit of an anomaly. Once in a while, though, a gem will sneak through the cracks and be released limited in a few theaters, and such was the case with You’re Next, a postmodern home invasion film directed by Adam Wingard. Released in 2012, the film made little money and I rarely hear anybody talk about it, but it’s certainly well-worth your time.
The film has a familiar setup- a large group of people in an old house in the middle of nowhere being picked off, one by one, by a group of masked assailants. But the film morphs your standard home invasion/slasher formula into its own twisted dark comedy of errors. Unlike The Strangers, which was pretty awful by all accounts, the film’s mysterious assassin’s aren’t random, bizarrely-everywhere pseudo-slashers imbued with the remarkable ability to disappear at a glance and reappear like they have supernatural powers. No, since these are, you know, actual people behind the masks (something The Strangers somehow forgot), they talk to each other like normal people, plan like skilled assassins, and most importantly, do not amble slowly and menacingly towards you. They are there to kill everyone, and kill efficiently. They don’t use threating, vague pseudo-philosophy and gloat at their victims.
Their targets are also not your average group of horny college kids at camp. It’s a family reunion of a very rich family who have an old manor up in the woods. This group of people include the family patriarch and matriarch, their numerous adult children (some of whom are more successful than others, causing friction between the siblings), and various significant others. Nobody here fills a stereotype. There’s no token black guy, no jock, no slut, no stoner, no nerd, no outcast. The fun in the film is figuring out exactly why these people are being attacked and exactly who is really being targeted. That, and the ensuing black comedy as everyone shambles along frantically trying to survive and come up with plans. Some are downright stupid, and many of the family members are completely self-centered and cowardly. They are, after all, well-to-do citizens. The film uses this contrast to great effect, managing a theme of punishing greed and rage against the bourgeoisie far better than the recent Purge: Anarchy did. But of course, it wouldn’t really be a postmodern slasher without a twist on the Final Girl trope.
The final girl is the one who escapes, in spite of being shy, inexperienced, and lacking killer instincts. The classic final girl is one who has a boyfriend but is still virginal, and must overcome reliance on said boyfriend or potentially her father figure in order to come of age and defeat the monster. But here, it’s an Aussie lass, one of the sibling’s significant other, who kept it a secret that she was raised by militant apocalypse preppers in a survivalist camp back home. So she uses these skills to Home Alone the house in a far more deadly fashion, and again the dark humor shines through in these cases. She takes charge almost immediately, and as the large house continues to be infiltrated by crossbow-carrying maniacs, she carefully plans her counterattack. The lack of skill and focus of the others is often hilarious, and the film doesn’t pull punches. Stupidity and gut decisions almost always lead to death. It’s a battle of wits, and that’s what makes it so fun.
The creativity of the kills and ridiculous gore are even better, showering you in blood and dismemberment like any good slasher does. That isn’t to say it fails to be scary- the unpredictable nature of the film keeps you guessing. The acting is sometime stiff, and that’s the weak point of the film. A few side characters are bewilderingly bad in their delivery, but in a way it adds to the underground flavor of the film. Nobody in this film is recognizable outside the horror crowd (I recognized Adam Wingard’s good friend and V/H/S co-director Ti West as one of the houseguests), but I can forgive the spotty performances for everything else the film does right. The blood, the twist on the common tropes, the dark comedy, the commentary on both home invasion films and high class culture, and of course the star of the show, Sharni Vinson, who plays our heroine. Vinson brings such fierceness and brutal precision to the role, and provides a contrast against the woefully inept remainder of her adopted family. Most of all the film is a hell of a lot of fun. It’s pretty similar to the surprisingly great remake of Evil Dead that came out recently in terms of tone and atmosphere. If you saw The Purge and The Strangers and thought they were pretty much awful (like I did), check this one out. It deserves far more praise than it got.