Following the incredible critical and commercial success of The Strangers, it’s an absolute shock that home invasion films never inhabited the hole within the horror community zeitgeist left by torture porn and eventually filled by found footage. With the scares mostly coming from the ominous threat of danger and death, and lending itself to innovation in regards to kills, traps and motivation, the subgenre seems to be a no-brainer for repeat success. And yet it’s not until 2013 that the horror community gets a fitting, if not stronger successor to The Strangers with Adam Wingard’s You’re Next, an absolutely frightening, shocking and unnerving experience that moves too quickly to allow you to get comfortable and define the film.
When I had learned about the film following it’s successful run at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2011, a close friend described the film as “Thomas Vinterberg’s Festen, but if people start killing the family after the first act.” The statement may be apt but incredibly fitting in the best way possible. Wingard establishes the world in a feasible reality early in the film, allowing contentious family woes and realistic romances bloom as the larger threat slowly creeps into the story. At this point, director Wingard flourishes with the quick-witted and darkly humorous repertoire, using misdirection with expertise until the shocking introduction to the character’s dire straits. From there, Wingard is as relentless as the attackers themselves, reveling in madness and unpredictability through a wonderfully stylized voyeuristic viewpoint. In this aspect, You’re Next is the real deal, as it is unforgettably terrifying by encouraging the audience to place themselves in the shoes of the victims, and swiping away logical options with every fault and failure.
But even at this point, Wingard has yet to show his hand with the film. Working from a clever and naturally haunting script from longtime collaborator Simon Barrett, Wingard never lets You’re Next fall into a groove, providing a cinematic counterpoint for every expectation that the previous scene had established. At it’s heart, You’re Next is a terrifying horror experience, unafraid to show the love to the films of genre past with incredible effects (almost all entirely on-screen) and a schizophrenic score that alternates between traditional horror compositions and inspired synthesized mood music. The twists are effective, and rarely predictable, and as you become familiar with the films direction, You’re Next encourages you to lower your guard and have fun with the film rather than lay in wait for the next scary moment.
However, despite the great script, score, direction and Andrew Droz’s appropriately glossy cinematography, You’re Next’s effectiveness is also largely responsible from the absolutely great cast of genre character acting stalwarts. Indie horror golden boys AJ Bowen and Joe Swanberg do incredible work in You’re Next, using their mumblecore roots to establish a genuine rapport and prove why the world outside of the indie horror community should know their names. Rob Moran and Barbara Crampton bring a level of gravitas to the proceeding that seems to elevate every performance around them, which is even more impressive considering they’re being asked to portray seemingly normal, well-off characters. Some of the other performances are genuine and satisfactory, but too underserved by the rapid pace of the first act, including Amy Seimetz, Margaret Laney, Nicholas Tucci and Wingard contemporary Ti West, whose career as a filmmaker is played for laughs in the film.
However, the performance to watch in You’re Next is Sharni Vinson, as she truly dominates the film once trouble erupts. Vinson is absolutely dynamite, delivering in both emotional and relatable moments throughout the film and causing you to root for her along the way. As even though Vinson is absolutely gorgeous in the film, Wingard rightfully never oversexualizes her, allowing her to break down gender expectations as per horror tropes and potentially launch herself into star status. Hands down, there is likely few female performances in any film this year as empowering, vulnerable and definitively badass as Vinson’s.
As a film critic, You’re Next is the kind of film I want to watch, as it allows me to experience the film as an audience member, indulging in the frenzied entertainment as everyone else will consume it and at no fault of its own. The hardest films to analyze are those that you have no emotional allegiance to, as words quickly escape in describing bland entertainment, whereas You’re Next plays with such familiarity and fun that you can be terrified and engulfed by a story simultaneously. You’re Next is a film that the horror community needs, an old-school shock-and-awe horror film without the politics of splatter gore or rehashed techniques that feels refreshingly new all the way until the finish line. Wingard throws down the gauntlet with You’re Next, paving the way for more films with nostalgic horror aesthetics to take the throne of which they had once laid claim. And on top of that, it’s a twisted and startling good time that will likely appear on as many casual filmgoers recommendations as it will for the most hardcore of horror junkies. As a film critic, I give You’re Next my highest recommendations, and as merely a horror fan, I can’t wait to see it again.[This review was originally published in Issue #17 of Diabolique Magazine.]
– By Ken W. Hanley