Other films by Masato Harada: Pop Skull, A Horrible Way to Die
Director: Adam Wingard
Stars: Sharni Vinson, AJ Bowen, Barbara Crampton, Amy Seimetz, Wendy Glenn, Ti West
Genre: Horror, Black Comedy
I went into You're Next fully hoping to like it. It's gotten nothing but praise since it first screened at a festival in 2011, and the trailers seemed interesting enough. It's been said to play with genre conventions and is funny, scary, and unique. Unfortunately, I didn't find those things to be exactly true.
Three brothers and their girlfriends/wives along with their sister and her boyfriend go to visit their parents in their vacation home for a family reunion. However, during the family dinner, much to their surprise, they are attacked by mysterious crossbow-wielding men in masks, who leave them trapped in their own home and seem intent on picking them off one by one.
I've always believed that while a film that avoids convention is almost always a good thing, a film that uses such conventions to its advantage and shows them to the viewer in a new way takes a very special talent. To my dismay, I didn't quite find that in You're Next. It doesn't play with tropes, it's just filled with them. From the "final girl" trope to the predictable twists.
The first half of the film has a fair amount of enjoyable suspense and mystery. You're constantly wondering why these people are being attacked and who it is that's attacking them. Are these masked men really even men? The answers to these questions are hardly satisfactory. In the second half, the unknown and mysterious protagonists become familiar and understandable. Their motives are made clear and thus the mystery and much of the suspense is lost; we see their weakness and thus much of the terror is lost. After the first twist the film goes from being suspenseful and scary to merely thrilling and gruesome. The first half builds up their power and ability, whereas the second half shows their vulnerability and stupidity.
I understand that a mystery can't necessarily stay mysterious forever. I understand that motives will eventually be made known. I understand that suspense must be building up to something else. But the mystery reveals itself to be predictable, the motives to be idiotic, and the suspense to be building towards little more than straight up gory violence. The film worked much better in the first half with suspense and mystery, but it seemed to not know where to go from there and failed to capitalize on a solid opening.
The film is extremely repetitive because of this. One of the most repetitive movies I've ever seen. The entire film consists of people trying to kill people inside of a house. It never really becomes anything more than that and it gets pretty old fast. The opening is exciting, as are the first few kills, but after that it's purely cyclical. Kill after kill, escape after escape, trap after trap. This wouldn't be so bad if the kills were unexpected or creative, but they're not (okay, the one kill involving a certain kitchen appliance was sort of cool). The film becomes stale long before its 95 minutes are up.
Unlike many slashers that consist of mostly teenage characters, You're Next has the interesting setup of having the characters be a family. This obviously opens up a fantastic avenue for not only natural feeling character development but for compelling character relationships, drama, and unique humor as well. You're Next does realize this potential to a certain extent, not so much when it comes to character development but certainly when it comes to relationships and humor. It does at times almost feel like a dysfunctional family sitcom placed in the middle of a horror movie. Some of the funniest moments come from Joe Swanberg as Drake and his relationship with his brother Felix.
Though I was still expecting there to be a bit more comedy in here. Obviously the humor that is in here is very dark, but there's really not too much of it. Nothing that funny anyway. Sure, the whole film kind of has a metafiction/self-conscious feel to it, but that doesn't make it inherently funny or clever, especially being that it does little with its meta-ness. It's not very much of a satire or parody, nor is it a reworking or deconstruction of the genre. It's really just a fairly typical slasher / home-invasion thriller with a few mildly enjoyable moments.
For the most part the acting was acceptable, save for a few scenes (notably the horrendously acted first scene with the mother and father). Sharni Vinson as Erin the Super Australian (in fact, I think Super Australian would have been a more suiting title for the film. Probably would have sold more tickets, too. What kind of name is You're Next anyway?) does a good job kicking a lot of ass (because, of course, she conventionally was raised in a survivalist camp) and playing a fairly likable and empowered character (scream queen she is not). You never really get to know or care for the characters that much. For the most part the characters are performed as dully as they are written. Which is a disappointment being that the family aspect had potential. Oh yeah, and Ti West is in here for a few minutes. And scream queen Barbara Crampton as well.
My favorite part of the entire film is probably the soundtrack. The whole film was definitely going for an 80s slasher vibe and it's most evident in the repetitious synth score that dominates the latter half of the film. Along with the great electronic music there's the also repetitious use of Dwight Twilley's "Looking for the Magic," which is used to great effect. The end credits song was also a joy.
I don't regret the time and money I spent on You're Next, I enjoyed myself while watching it, but it certainly didn't impress me and due to the rave reviews it was a bit of a let down. As a fan of the horror genre I didn't find it to be anything but typical.