Rumbling out of the mumblecore movement (or a splinter of it dedicated to horror referred to as, wait for it, mumblegore), writer/director partnership Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard have caught some limelight recently for their work in short film, providing notable sections for the V/H/S movies and for their contribution to The ABCs of Death. Asserting themselves as a pairing amid a new wave of dynamic young horror filmmakers, You’re Next is their most high-profile release yet, even if it has taken the better part of two years to reach us. And whilst this may not be their debut piece together, it does showboat just how successfully the creepy edge of their V/H/S work can be applied to the darkly comic side evidenced in ‘Q is for Quack’.
If all of the above means nothing to you, then let me rephrase simply; horror’s got some new players in town, and You’re Next is their coming out party.
First of all, you’ve got to admire their decision to take on perhaps the genre’s least appealing hoary old chestnut; the home invasion movie. Very difficult to get right, recent offerings ranging from The Strangers to Them to Silent House have seemed preoccupied with as much navel-gazing as possible. Such is the failure rate that the very notion is associated with dour, humourless exercises in making a short movie feel like an interminably long one.
Seemingly keenly aware of this, Wingard and his scribe Barrett have decided to refurbish the sub-genre as a kooky, comedic rollercoaster ride, snipping out the misery and replacing it with – whisper it – fun.
Not that this is immediately apparent.
Truth be told, You’re Next starts off fairly run-of-the-mill. A so-so teaser sets the usual serious tone as a couple fall victim to an unknown number of masked troublemakers in and around their home. The poor girl’s innards scrawled on a window becomes the movie’s title card. Following this surprisingly brief and unambitious primer we cut to their neighbours, the Davison family, reuniting at a lavish country estate to celebrate the parents’ anniversary. In increments the grown-up children (an apt description) arrive with their significant others and sit down to dinner. All the while a creak here or a shadow there suggests that whatever happened down the street is coming their way.
As is often the case they’re a largely unsympathetic bunch, an unappealing mixture of rich, arrogant and stupid. Our sympathies and focus drifts to round-faced son Crispian (horror mainstay AJ Bowen) and his girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson), who are at least self-aware enough to stock up on booze, knowingly treating the reunion as an endurance test. Up until dinner is served, the audience might feel the same way. This is the usual box-ticking build-up to the misery to come, right?
Not quite. When those animal masked bad guys crash the party and all hell breaks loose, Wingard’s movie kicks into another gear altogether. The opening attack is loud, visceral and punchy. Peripheral and seemingly central characters start dropping like flies. Where often this sort of thing gets suspended in a dreamy aura of implied shock and detachment, Wingard goes for the gullet. Couples howl and scream for their murdered or mortally wounded partners, whilst the soundtrack groans with discordant menace. Wingard’s camera detaches from its unimposing, standard wide shots and gets in people’s faces, pushing us into their grief and terror.
From here the movie finds itself. Set to an electronic score which sounds as though John Carpenter’s been saving it for a rainy day, You’re Next moves into a sort of Scooby Doo survivalist mode, as an unlikely but welcome hero comes to the fore. Erin has a trick or two of her own it turns out, and the others would do well to listen to what she has to say. As the movie warps further into a curious mix of Home Alone and Straw Dogs, the remaining Davisons are forced to think on their feet (or their knees) to avoid window-breaking projectiles or lethal booby traps.
Vinson is superb here. For once a sensible, capable and at times downright-Machiavellian heroine, Erin anchors the movie as events escalate and a variety of ugly deaths are presented. You’ll cheer for her. It’s a gift of a role, and one which will open up doors for Vinson as a future scream-queen if it’s a direction she chooses to take.
And speaking of ugly deaths, You’re Next is fond of the red stuff, and this quickly becomes a mini-bloodbath. Eschewing guns, Wingard’s assailants carry crossbows and machetes, making the violence feel more brutal, more physical. Later on meanwhile, as things are brought to a satisfyingly manic crescendo, cause-of-death becomes more and more kooky, until kitchen appliances are being misused to horrifically comic effect.
For some this will prove an uneasy mix. You’re Next can be championed for including many serious things often forgotten (realistic grief responses, wounds that actually hamper characters severely and aren’t shrugged off) but butts them up against some frequently daft reveals (an exposition scene near the very end feels positively surreal). It’s all presented as a knowing wink to genre fans, and as such horror aficionados (“look, there’s Ti West!”) are probably going to enjoy this one a bit more than casual cinema goers.
But at the end of the day, You’re Next is pretty much a blast, offering the kind of fun that the genre rarely affords as long as you’ve got the stomach for it. This is not an attempt to pry open the toolbox ala The Cabin In The Woods or Scream, and expecting something in that vein may leave some disappointed, but it does give the toolbox a loving shake. It mixes it up and presents us with something that is often as serious as it is silly, defying the audience to figure out how best to approach it.
Approach it as a fun night out at the movies if you’re a horror skeptic. If you’re a fan place it on your must-see list. The home invasion movie has life in it yet, or maybe its just the breath of foul air brought by Barrett and Wingard. As far as they’re concerned, I look forward to what’s next.