Dir: Adam Wingard
Starring- Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci, AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Wendy Glenn, Amy Seimetz and Ti West.
Whilst attending a tense family reunion in a mansion in the middle of the forest, the Davison family are suddenly under siege from a trio of animal mask-wearing assassins seemingly intent on killing everyone. One family member is more than they appear, however, and the would-be killers soon find themselves faced with a deadly opponent.
Just what have we horror film fans done to deserve this year? I certainly do not mean that in the despairing and negative sense. After so many long years when the number of good horror films per year could be counted on one hand (or finger), when the low budget indie scene was the only resource that could be counted on and wave upon wave of franchise-baiting and indistinguishable mediocrity became hits with the shrieking hysterical ‘Friday night horror’ ‘fans’ which lead to the studios believing that this was what horror film fans clearly wanted, again I say what have we done to deserve this year?
A year that set itself up to be like every other with remakes of beloved classics and yet more installments of rubbish franchises has suddenly become the greatest for horror in a considerable amount of time. I certainly cannot recall the last time I found myself genuinely struggling to decide on my favourite horror of the year in the light of so many fantastic offerings. The best horror of the year has seen the dawn of some exciting new talents and solidifying the status of others. Most importantly, in light of all this, I have been actually scared watching some of them, a practice that seems to be all but forgotten in mainstream horror.
All of the above brings me to what would sadly appear to be (although I’m happy to be proved wrong) the last significant horror release of the year in Adam Wingard’s first stab at the big time in home invasion horror ‘You’re Next’. Right away I can tell you that I don’t know whether to love it or hate it as it has just made the decision of Best Horror of the Year award that much harder to decide. Initially I was skeptical as for me the ‘home invasion’ horror sub-genre reaps about the same merit as that of the much maligned ‘found footage’ horror but this is Adam Wingard as writer and frequent collaborator Simon Barrett so I should have been prepared to experience something different. What I did not expect however, was a film that completely turned the sub-genre on its head and delivered the one-two punch of a film that is shockingly horrifying as well as being downright hilarious.
Beginning with a chilling piece of pre-main story build up, the film then gently eases into a disarming family drama that simply oozes with wickedly nasty malevolence as the relationships within the family are ‘fraught’ to say the very least. If you have been able to avoid all the hype then the film does a spectacular job of keeping its cards close to the chest as to which one of these characters are to be the heroes or villains or who indeed will be the unlucky soul to first get it in the neck, or in this case, in the skull. Perhaps the film could have done with slightly more of the entertaining darkly comic inter-family warfare that played out like the magnificently cruel ‘Festen’, however once the proverbial shit hits the fan in such emphatic fashion, no one can deny the filmmakers’ desire to do what they do best and get right down to the nitty gritty violent horror.
Please note two ‘spoilers’ will follow but if you’ve seen the trailer, you already know them! Sadly for fellow ‘West-erners’ (he should totally use that by the way), Ti West’s acting debut is short lived as despite having a hilarious line about being ‘a filmmaker’ (please note horror fans that, like me, you may find yourselves the only ones laughing at that point in the cinema), he’s the first one to bite the dust as the tension is ramped up as crossbow fire disrupts the altogether unpleasant family meal.
As mentioned previously, one of the most enjoyable aspect of the film is that due to its lack of any truly ‘big name’ star, it becomes a morbidly fun guessing game as to who will be ‘Next’ and even after the film has established its ‘lead’, there’s still no guarantee that they’ll make it to the end and just when was the last time we could say that about a horror film? I’ll refrain from dumping the superb Sharni Vinson into the over-used ‘final girl’ box as I feel this does her significantly different character a disservice. Her character of Erin is an outsider to the family and is made to suffer through their harsh inquisition-like scrutiny, appearing to be nothing more than an ordinary young woman. As soon as events take a significant turn for the worse, however, she becomes a lethal Kevin McCallister, resourceful, strong-willed, protective and very dangerous.
It has to be said that that part of the impact of the shock at her bad-assery in purely down to the fact of her lesser-known status, although after this I’m sure that this is something that will rapidly change! (She’s already up for a part in Expendibles 3). She is more than just the ‘kick ass heroine’ stereotype, she’s no muscular juggernaut , just a dangerously resourceful character who provides a fresh take on the meek and whimpering characters that usually clog up ‘home invasion’ horror. In the later part of the film she even gets her own brilliantly cheesy 80s synth soundtrack to accompany her, a playful piece of genius from Wingard.
The best element about the assassins, apart from providing the easiest and most easily identifiable Halloween costume ideas in years, is that they are shrouded in mystery and deadly in their dedication to getting the job done. Unlike other teeth-grindingly stupid explanations from other ‘home invasion’ horror about just why their doing what they do (hang your head in shame ‘The Stangers’ with ‘Because you were home), the assassins here very much have a dark but firmly established purpose to what they’re doing and the film delves into their horribly meticulous methods, establishing without needed characterisation, their limitless capacity for brutality. In yet another example of subverting expectations, it is refreshing to see the killers get the fight taken back to them, often at times you will find your sympathies tested as to which of the violent players in this game is being the most cruel!
The film has already had many comparisons to ‘Scream’ in that it is a joyfully self-aware and referential horror and makes no apologies for it. However, whilst ‘Scream’ can arguably be said to go more directly down the comedic homage route, ‘You’re Next’ is more like the still shocking pre-credits sequence with Drew Barrymore but for its entire running time. This is not to say that the film isn’t funny as it very frequently is with many a morbidly humorous line of dialogue, but when it wants to be nasty, it is still incredibly nasty, brutal even. Implements such as a meat tenderiser, machete, screwdriver, boards with nails in, axes and a blender (yes really) are all used and the resulting bloodshed is never turned down.
That being said, the film is by no means malicious and the horror is found in moments of genuinely tense atmosphere and moments that come from out of nowhere than make your jaw drop at their audacity. The plot is full of brilliant twists and turns and even though you may feel deprived of shock knowing that twists are coming, only the powers of clairvoyance or extremely lucky guesswork could make you prepared for them.
It is very clear that Wingard and Barrett are both absolute die-hard fans of horror, they represent us by understanding and playing on our preconceptions of the ‘home invasion’ horror and completely use that against us to ramp up the scares and leave us totally in the dark and in the same unsettling situation as the survivors as to just what or who awaits them around the corner. The film’s best example of this is in one agonisingly drawn-out trap that is set up but never used, having you itching in your seat in an enjoyable way with several false build ups until its gloriously hilarious pay-off.
Already, sadly, words of ‘franchise’ are rearing their ugly head which would completely destroy the work Wingard and Barrett have put into making something so uniquely different. I can understand desire to make money, but the whole reason why ‘You’re Next’ is such a winner is that it is completely unexpected and constantly pulls the rug out from under audience expectations. With a sequel, audiences would already know to expect the unexpected and as a result would feel disappointed that they weren’t as blindsided as before.
The raw impact of this film is one thing that will never be lessened and it should be considered every true horror film fans’ duty to go out there and see it, make it a success and show to the studios that THIS is the horror film we want. Believe the hype and believe that Wingard is a name that will soon become synonymous with horror. Miss it at your peril!
Verdict: Wingard smashes into the big time with a brilliantly subversive, shocking and hilarious gem that is not your parents’ home invasion horror. 10/10