A woman named Erin has traveled with her boyfriend, Crispian Davison, to a vacation home in rural Missouri. It is a family reunion held by Crispian’s parents, Aubrey and Paul. Also joining them is Drake, Kelly, Felix, Aimee, Zee, and Tariq. Drake is Crispian’s older brother and Kelly is the former’s wife. Felix and Aimee are Crispian’s younger siblings – their partners are Zee and Tariq respectively. Unbeknownst to this family, a man wearing a lamb mask has recently killed a woman, writing the words “You’re Next” in blood. This simple reunion will hit a snag when this killer decides to pay a visit.
Within seconds of introducing the main family, the first problem plaguing You’re Next manifests. In the grand tradition of early 2010s horror features, the cast this film is roundly unlikable. Indeed, it doesn’t take long for the viewer to realize that Crispian’s family is highly dysfunctional. Drake is the stereotypical jock, which forms a contrast with his younger brother’s more unassuming personality. Naturally, the former is more beloved by his father. These characters then proceed to trade passive-aggressive insults with each other, which makes any scene involving them highly tedious to sit through.
It almost feels as though the film agrees with how bland and unlikable these characters are because it wastes no time throwing the audience into the thick of things. The heated dinner conversation comes to an abrupt end when two crossbow bolts are fired into the dining room. One kills Tariq while the other wounds Drake. Although I can appreciate wanting to move things along quickly given how unlikable the characters are, the narrative still failed to provide audiences a reason to emphasize with them. The first victim, Tariq, has practically no characterization whatsoever before he is unceremoniously killed.
Also not helping the film’s case is that neither the dialogue nor the acting performances are compelling. You’re Next draws inspiration from the mumblecore movement. It is an umbrella term for a style that originated in the 2000s. It was primarily intended to be an alternative to the Hollywood style, encouraging actors to turn in naturalistic performances. While dictation in fiction is highly unrealistic and rehearsed, you could expect all of the “likes” “yeahs”, and “uhs” to pepper character dialogue in a mumblecore film.
Paradoxically, despite the film’s attempts at realism, I never bought that these characters are part of a family. They instead come across as actors and actresses who know they’re in a bad horror film and are playing exaggerated caricatures of caricatures. Almost none of these jokes successfully land because You’re Next doesn’t seem to know what kind of film it wants to be. Once the plot begins in earnest, it turns into a fairly standard home invasion film, yet when the characters pause to tell jokes or allow humorous shenanigans to occur, it takes me out of the narrative instantly. I’m astonished in hindsight the writer had the restraint to prevent his characters from breaking the fourth wall.
Not helping matters is that the villains aren’t particularly intimidating. I like the concept of these mercenaries wearing animal masks because there is an interesting juxtaposition of silliness and seriousness to be found in this stylistic choice. While they are scarily efficient at first, their mystique falls apart whenever they interact with Erin. In these situations, their competence sinks like a stone, and they’re reduced to bumbling stooges. I do appreciate the idea of making the antagonists ordinary humans because it’s an interesting change of pace from the often supernatural nature of the horror genre. The problem is that a lot of the tension is removed when you can identify the horror.
Then again, this development makes a lot of sense because the family does more than half of the work for the mercenaries. With their assailants having enough common sense to put a cellphone jammer in place, Aimee attempts to run outside to get help. However, the mercenaries placed a garrote wire just outside of the front door, which slices her throat. While it was stupid of her to try to run outside, there is something to be said for risking her life in an attempt to save her family. What is less excusable is when Paul goes upstairs with Aubrey seconds after they lose Aimee. For some reason, he then thinks it’s a perfectly reasonable idea to leave her alone in a bedroom with the lights dimmed as she recovers from her trauma. In one of the most shocking twists in cinematic history, one of the mercenaries takes advantage of the party splitting up by appearing from underneath the bed and killing Aubrey.
I also have to comment that the cinematography isn’t good either. For You’re Next, Adam Wingard opts for a handheld camera. Although it’s serviceable for most of the experience, the problem occurs whenever a particularly erratic scene occurs. During dramatic moments, you can expect the camera to begin flying all over the place. This style of filmmaking was often employed by directors who had to specifically avoid the R-rating. This way, they could show scenes of extreme violence while also making it difficult to see. Although it was irritating to deal with, one could at see why directors would resort to the technique given how rigid standards were at the time. The problem is that You’re Next already has an R-rating – and not in the sense it’s really a PG-13 film whose characters swear like sailors. At one point, Erin kills one of the antagonists by placing a blender on his head and making a puree out of it. Because of this, the moments in which the camera swerves all over the place speak to the film’s overall tonal inconsistency.
If it’s one saving grace You’re Next has, it’s Erin. Her actress, Sharni Vinson, is the only one in this entire cast who turns in a good performance. The exact second things begin to go wrong, she immediately knows what to do, taking all the steps to not only survive, but also systematically remove every single assailant. Despite the ostensibly self-aware nature of the other characters, she is the only one I feel has actually seen a horror film or two because she manages to singlehandedly wrestle away control of the situation from the mercenaries with little effort. In a lot of ways, the mercenaries are like a disorganized group of criminals. They don’t enter a situation looking for a fair fight, so when they encounter someone who can stand up to them, they crumble instantly.
It’s a shame, then, that the film decides to throw away this small amount of goodwill in the last ten minutes. The biggest twist is that Felix, Zee, and Crispian are in on the plot to murder their family. The motivation is a fairly basic one you’ve seen a million times: kill the rich parents to earn their inheritance money and bump off a few siblings to increase the profit. Erin proves to be a living spanner to their plans when she kills everyone involved, including her boyfriend. Just as she delivers the coup de grâce, the police arrive to arrest her. Even worse, one officer falls victim to a trap she set up earlier, ensuring she will likely be found guilty of murdering the family. Although this was likely intended to be subversive ending, it comes across as highly obnoxious in practice. The one good character in the film still manages to get the short end of the stick. She deserved to be in a better film than this.
To describe You’re Next accurately, I feel it necessary to mention Poe’s Law. This axiom was named after and formulated by one Nathan Poe, who described his observations of the heated arguments that would occur on Christian forums – particularly when Creationists and Evolutionists clashed. To sum up his observations, he had the following to say.
“Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is utterly impossible to parody a Creationist in such a way that someone won’t mistake it for the genuine article”
To put it another way, it is extremely difficult to parody extreme behaviors without coming across as though you’re supporting the exact behavior you’re condemning. The opposite holds true too – many people who are sincere with their extremist beliefs are dismissed because no one in their right mind could possibly think that way.
This relates back to You’re Next in a fairly straightforward manner. The horror genre had built up a fair amount of goodwill in the 1970s and 1980s, only for it to lose steam in the 1990s before hitting a brick wall in the 2000s. By the end of the latter decade, the genre was running on fumes. It had a dedicated fanbase, but to the mainstream, horror was considered a complete joke with only the surface elements of the defining classics remaining. Even those who had never seen a horror film in their life could rattle off the associated tropes in their sleep. Unfortunately, in its attempts to parody the insipid 2000s slasher film, You’re Next comes across as just that. All of the basic home invasion tropes are played completely straight with nary a trace of irony to be found. One could argue the humorous moments lend the film a degree of dark humor, but they’re so subtle and easy to miss that it comes across as tonally discordant rather than the successful mixture of genres Mr. Wingard was doubtlessly aiming for.
You’re Next has aged very poorly in the years since its release for one simple reason: it hates its own genre. To be completely fair, the horror genre was very unappealing in the early 2010s with directors either being highly complacent to rely on formulas or ramping up the shock value in favor of innovating. However, You’re Next is ultimately a film that sides with those who despise horror. It’s very easy to forget what makes the genre so appealing when watching this film because there is a distinct lack of sincerity to be found. Meanwhile, several up-and-coming directors such as Jordan Peele and Jennifer Kent would shake the world with their debut horror features over the next few years, showing the world what one can accomplish by being genuine.
To add insult to injury, although You’re Next premiered in 2011 at the Toronto Film Festival and the Fantastic Fest, receiving a high amount of praise during the former, it wasn’t released to the public until 2013. The timing for this film’s wide release could not have been worse, for in that two-year interim, another director by the name of Drew Goddard made his debut in the form of The Cabin in the Woods. His film managed parody the horror genre in a respectful, intelligent manner and, more importantly, he let his audience in on the joke. By the time the public got ahold of You’re Next, it felt woefully behind the curve. However, I don’t think it matters which film was released first because The Cabin in the Woods rendered You’re Next obsolete either way. I can envision a group of friends watching this film during a party and having a good time with it, but there are countless superior alternatives. If one cannot muster any enthusiasm for a genre, they cannot expect the audience to muster any of their own.
Final Score: 3/10