You’re Next is a straight-up shot of blood and guts with no chaser.
It’s no wonder Adam Wingard’s indie horror flick You’re Next is so damn good—with fellow indie powerhouse filmmakers like Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, and Ti West walking around the blood-splattered set, Wingard was in good company. But take no credit away; he demonstrates he’s got a long and successful directorial career ahead of him. The film—which you can drop in the home invasion column of the horror genre—is 100% organic, pulpy, fresh-squeezed terror in a bottle. It’s an overwhelming rush of pure, insanely violent, visceral horror cinema executed with impeccable style. You’re Next is a straight-up shot of blood and guts with no chaser.
The setup is pretty straightforward—the Davison family gathers for a reunion at their gigantic forested mansion estate. It’s a comfortable cage for the unwitting prey. The knit-sweater-wearing, millionaire patriarch, Paul (Rob Moran), and his jumpy, medicated wife Aubrey (Barbara Crampton) are joined by their four adult children—Crispian (AJ Bowen), a college professor, Drake (Swanberg), an instigative bonehead, Aimee (Seimetz), a dumb, walking squeak toy, and Felix, an immature brat.
Each whiny, spoiled-rotten sibling has brought along a significant other, and at dinner, meathead Drake prods Paul about how “unprofessional” it is to be dating his former student, Erin (Sharni Vinson, who just sits and listens uncomfortably.) The argument heats up and Aimee’s boyfriend, Tariq (West) removes himself from the table, walks to a window, and WHAM! Arrow in the face! We have our first kill, just like that, and from there Wingard keeps his foot heavy on the gas pedal.
You’re Next embraces and celebrates the quick, nasty kill. The deaths are to-the-point, brutal and streamlined—no convoluted Rube Goldberg machine kills here, people. Wingard sticks to good ol’ machetes, knives, and other sharp objects being shoved into skulls. The film’s pace is unrelenting, maintaining a high level of urgency throughout. Wingard gives you no time to breathe, which makes the experience purely sensory and reactionary. There’s really nothing special or inventive about the plot’s many twists and turns, but the film’s breakneck speed makes you far less prepared for them when they come. It’s like riding a kiddie roller coaster at 200 MPH. In the immortal words of Harvey Keitel’s “The Wolf”, this film is “fast, fast, fast.”
A pleasant surprise is that the characters aren’t just lambs lining up for the slaughter—they’re interesting people and their dialogue is punchy and often hilarious. If you’re an indie film geek, Wingard throws more than a few in-jokes for you to chew on. For instance, at the dinner table before his William Tell demise, West (one of the best horror directors working) shares that he’s an independent filmmaker who screens his movies at “underground” film festivals. Swanberg (god of the mumblecore scene) snidely inquires if the festivals are literally held underground, and sarcastically proposes that TV commercials are a more sophisticated art form. Hell, the simple fact that he’s cast Swanberg as an uncultured dummy and Seimetz (known for arthouse gems like Upstream Color) as a grating airhead is funny in itself.
The killers picking off the Davison clan—a sort of animal-mask-wearing S.W.A.T. team—aren’t the most original scary movie villains you’ll find, but their imposing, violent physicality and Wingard’s excellent camerawork makes them feel formidable and frightening.
What is original, however, is Vinson, whose character unexpectedly disrupts what would otherwise be a fairly one-sided killing spree. You see, she’s just as, if not more, deadly and gifted at killing than the masked murderers. For reasons revealed halfway through the film, she’s well-versed at armed and unarmed combat and has a MacGyver/Kevin McCallister-like encyclopedic knowledge of trap-setting (a nail and a foot come to mind.) What results is an even match-up between trained predators, a thrilling turning of the tables that makes for some epic moments of delightful bad-assery. At my press screening there were multiple rounds of applause for Vinson, and one impassioned audience member even screamed “I love you!” at the screen as she repeatedly walloped of one of the invaders in the head with a meat tenderizer. It’s really, really fun to root for her, and it’s nice to have a horror movie protagonist that outshines the villains for once. She’s one to watch.
The film’s score is key in cultivating the film’s inescapable tension. It’s comprised of ominous electronic drones and synths that contrast nicely with the gritty on-screen action, and the sound design is equally effective. Wingard and DP Andrew Droz Palermo keep things visually interesting throughout. Everything, from the constantly shifting, evocative lighting, to the careful camera placement, to the neat technical tricks (most involving blurry reflections), contribute to creating a deep sense of dread.
What Wingard’s made is a horror movie for horror movie geeks. You’re Next even pays homage (intentionally or not) to classics like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Rear Window (in a sequence that will jolt your senses), and even Home Alone. You’re Next is an absolute beast of a horror picture that’s so fierce, barbaric, and terrifying that the guy sitting next to me in the theater started to convulse from fright and leaped over his chair and bolted out of the theater. Plus, it’s got a brain and a stellar heroine to boot. See it with friends—you’ll gasp, scream, jump, and squirm in unison, the sign of a true horror masterpiece. It’s gonna be hard to top this one.