The tone is set within the first few minutes. A couple are slaughtered in their country cabin by someone wielding a machete who then scrawls the words You’re Next in blood red paint – or maybe the victim’s blood – on a window. We then spend the next twenty minutes or so watching the wealthy Davison family gather at their country home, getting ready for a special family dinner for the parents’ 35th wedding anniversary, all the while knowing that next door there are two undiscovered dead bodies laying around with a killer, or maybe killers, still out there, waiting for the right moment to attack again.
You’re Next, directed and edited by Adam Wingard on a shoe-string budget, is an effective and occasionally surprisingly creative horror thriller that has already suffered somewhat due to bad timing. The film was made almost two years ago and has remained lingering in the can until now.
In some respects, it’s a shame that the film didn’t get a release soon after it was finished. At the time, Occupy Wall Street dominated the news. The enormous difference between the wealthiest one percent and the rest of us was very much in the forefront. You’re Next deals with the murder of some of those one-percenters. Considering the way the film is designed – audiences who enjoy masked murder flicks will no doubt be cheering in a collective gladiatorial style throughout – the effect of attacking the very people who were the subject of the protesters’ wrath would have worked even better. Now, just a few months after The Purge, You’re Next is finally released, and while the issue of killing members of the upper economic echelon has lost much of its luster, You’re Next still packs a solid wallop, and it’s made all the better because of one certain character.
Included among the family members gathering for the dinner are some guests. There’s Zee (Wendy Glenn), the dark-haired, moody girl friend to one of the brothers who looks continually bored with the proceedings and continues to chew gum at the dinner table, and Erin (Sharni Vinson), an up-beat and attractive young Australian who suddenly becomes a no-nonsense, take-charge leader once the masked intruders make their attack.
“I’ve never seen you act like this before,” a family member states to Erin as she runs around the large country home, bordering up windows, boiling hot water and setting nail traps by the windows in the way that Dustin Hoffman’s character did in preparation for an attack in Straw Dogs. What the brother doesn’t know is that Erin, despite her youth and fragile looks, is an experienced survivalist, and her ability to defend, then attack will prove to be far more effective than her attackers. She’s truly deadlier than the male.
You’re Next turns the slasher/cabin-in-the-woods genre on its head by having a heroine at its center who fights back. You can’t help but cheer her on, and even though it may be odd to call a film such as this fun when people are being murdered in continually horrendous ways, You’re Next really is demented fun. But despite its solid foundation, director Wingard occasionally appears to sabotage his own effectiveness.
One of the problems is the over-use of the hand-held camera. Once again, some of the action, particularly early on, becomes a chaotic mess as the nauseous inducing jerky motion of the hand-held comes to the fore, coupled with the dizzying effect of abrupt editing. It’s bad enough that Wingard would spoil his action by making the attack almost unwatchable, but at an early and more peaceful moment when Erin is doing nothing other than simply standing there, studying a family portrait on the wall, the hand-held is jumping all over the place. That’s when you know you’re in trouble. It’s as though the room is being subject to a silent earthquake, and it doesn’t make sense.
The other issue is the final moment. Why do all of these films have to have groan-inducing abrupt endings that leave you hanging? Here’s a challenge to action/horror directors; show us how talented you really are by choreographing an effective though chaotic fight without the easier route of a using a hand-held. And how about a satisfying ending where at least someone manages to walk away to fight another day?
MPAA Rating: R Length: 94 minutes Overall rating: 7 (out of 10)