UK Release Date: August 28th, 2013 (UK)
Running Time: 94 mins.
Director: Adam Wingard
Writer: Simon Barrett
Starring: Sharni Vinson, AJ Bowen, Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn, Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, Ti West, Barbara Crampton, Rob Moran, Simon Barret, Lane Hughes, L.C. Holt, Margaret Laney, Larry Fessenden, Kate Lyn Sheil
“It should be interesting. You’ll see.”
The film opens on a student (Lyn Sheil) and her older professor (Fessenden) having sex. The professor rolls off the girl and heads to the shower while the girl, evidently unsatisfied, heads over to the stereo and plays the song “Looking for the Magic.” She peers into the garden seeming to sense that someone is observing her…
The song is on repeat for a while but the professor doesn’t twig that something is wrong. He heads out to the kitchen where he sees the girl’s blood is used to write “You’re Next” on a glass door and then sees her mutilated body before he is killed by a man wearing a Lamb Mask (Holt).
Failed writer and academic Crispian Davis (Bowen) and his Australian girlfriend Erin (Vinson) are on their way to see Crispian’s parents on their 35th wedding anniversary. His father Paul (Moran) has recently retired from his job as an advertising exec for a defence contractor to his vacation home in Missouri. The place is isolated and their closest neighbour is the teacher from the prologue…
Paul is with his high-strung medicated wife Aubrey (Crampton) who seems to sense that someone is in the house but her fears are put on the back burner as Crispian arrives for the family get-together. Also attending are Crispian’s older brother and alpha male Drake (Swanberg) and his high-maintenance wife Kelly (Laney), younger brother and outsider Felix (Tucci) and his goth girlfriend Zee (Glenn), and “princess” sister Aimee (Seimetz) with her documentarian boyfriend Tariq (West).
At first it seems like the idyllic location and event will be the setting for a harmonious family reunion but it does not take long to see cracks appearing in the family as brother Crispian and Drake argue with each other and others vent their frustrations and worries. Fraternal rivalries are the last thing they should be indulging in because their house soon comes under siege from Lamb Mask and his two associates Tiger (Barrett) and Fox Mask (Hughes) who want the Davis family dead for some reason…
You’re Next was directed by Adam Wingard and written by Simon Barrett and was made back in 2011. It finally saw release in 2013. It is regarded as one of the key titles from the emergent ‘mumblegore’ genre, a field of horror films created by writers and directors from the more indie-side of American film. These creatives work less with big-budgets, big-crews and big-studio trends and are more hands-on and more interested in exploring how rotten normal people can be, the psychological twistedness that can create monsters in seemingly normal people and channelling their 80’s and 90’s influences into their films. Other titles in the mumblegore genre include titles ranging from around 2011 like V/H/S, A Horrible Way to Die, all the way through to 2013’s Cheap Thrills and V/H/S 2.
You’re Next is not the sort of thing you would normally expect to see in a mainstream cinema but it managed its entry into big chains across the UK because it is the most accessible (and maybe polished?) film with the mumblegore tag. That written, Ti West’s The Innkeepers is pretty neat and scarier but lacks the humour of this title.
You’re Next draws upon the home invasion formula where masked killers terrorise a family in an isolated home. It is reminiscent of The Strangers (2008) what with the setting and masks but what makes this film different is that writer Simon Barrett creates humour and surprise through having the victims being an incredibly dysfunctional family.
“Nobody believes in me!” “You fat f*ck!”
The build-up to the family dinner is one of expertly written dialogue and acting where snide comments and sardonic grins and mocking raised eye-brows reveal the years of arrogance, contempt and bitterness that everyone carries. The characters and their struggles are neatly sketched so we come to see how characters are disconnected from each other. It all culminates at an awkward dinner-table conversation which starts polite but soon descends into a painfully funny family squabble and the parents try and reign their children in. The laughs continue when chaos breaks out the characters are still at tearing strips off each other or venting their self-hatred as crossbow bolts pepper the dining room. The entire cinema burst into laughter as characters poured forth vitriol and Erin tried to shepherd the squabbling family to safety.
The battle in the family takes on all sorts of different and even more blackly humorous dynamics but it goes deeper than family issues with hints of class politics such as the differences between the dead-eyed killers and the family. There are the differences between generations like the kids and the parents. Even the wars in the Middle East get brought up obliquely. Everyone is embroiled in an ugly internecine argument which is very contemporary and it is all filmed in an unsentimental way, dissecting a very contemporary family.
The film is not very scary or original but it is energetic and ferocious when it comes to the kills and being gory and gruesome. Tension is built up in hearing creaking floorboards, seeing the killers watching people, their masks reflected on windows. Those masks are unnerving and the implacable killers are equally menacing before the humour undercuts everything.
The kills are brutal, brutal, brutal. There are machetes used to hack people up, huge hammers used to batter and bludgeon people to death, and a glorious bit with piano wire. People are peppered with crossbow bolts and stuck with sharp objects. The camera is unflinching in recording these moments and I must admit that I winced but there is enough black-humour during the worst moments to ensure the audience are not totally turned off and the editing keeps thing snappy so there is little gawping at corpses or downtime between the next sequence. Characters will continue bitching about life all the way to their bloody end and the script is witty enough to keep the kill sequences for these thoroughly dislikeable characters entertaining.
Adam Wingard may be an indie director but it is all filmed brilliantly as the camera records each scene effectively, giving the floor to funny, smart kills and a funny, smart script. The actors, all mumblegore familiars, are compelling and fun to watch especially because we are never quite sure who will survive and who will die. Anyone with a like for the horror genre will find the chaos and carnage fun to watch.