Director: Adam Wingard
Cast: Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn, AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, Barbara Crampton
Running time: 94 minutes
A large, slightly disconnected family, while at an awkward reunion in a house in the middle of the woods, is brutally attacked by a group of masked men and individually picked off. What the attackers didn’t count on, however, was the survival skills of the beautiful, seemingly innocent Erin (Vinson).
My approach to You’re Next was a strange one. Having seen and been thoroughly unimpressed by the trailer shortly before release, I was soon herded in the opposite direction and filled with anticipation once the reviews began pouring in. Quotes like “unique”, “darkly comic” and “stylish and entertaining” were being thrown around like a frisbees, and it currently sits at a healthy 74% on Rotten Tomatoes. So I was really in two minds about before going in. From a personal point of view I didn’t expect much, but from a critical point of view I was ready to see something quite special. Something special never came.
Let’s start with the good things – or rather, the less bad things. The idea is fairly unique. Perhaps not the premise (we’ve seen the cabin – or in this case, house – in the woods horror movie a bunch of times) but the utilization of that premise is a rather refreshing take on the genre. Instead of a group of rowdy, sex-obsessed teens partying in the woods (there is still a bit of unnecessary nudity, mind you), we focus on a large family, detached from each other through time spent apart and old arguments, with each of the siblings introducing their respective partners to the family for the first time to create some fabulously awkward moments. I really liked the idea of that as the template for a slasher movie because we haven’t really seen it before. We know how the teens react to it, but how would a disparate family react to what’s happening?
If only the script was good enough to tell us. Yes it has the ideas, but it sure doesn’t have the skill or panache to pull them off. So much of the dialogue is woeful, and the acting even worse. It does get better as the film wears on, but the during the opening half hour or so it’s next to laughable. Take the mother (Crampton – who looks exactly like an older Alison Brie) hearing a noise upstairs and instantly going into erratic crying mode and being herded from the house. You really have to see the scene to understand the criticism, but it just lacks so much conviction. I really don’t know if it’s the acting or the script or an amalgamation of both, but it was truly awful.
And there are so, so many stupid characters decisions. Now look, I’ve watched my share of slasher movies over the years and I know as well as anyone that the main characters generally lack basic common sense, but deary me, it just gets ridiculous in You’re Next. “Oh look, I’ve just killed a guy with a meat tenderizer, but instead of taking his axe I’ll just stick with this tiny little thing and get everyone to find a different weapon.” “Oh look, I’ve just escaped the house full of bad guys and I’m now running into the woods. Better stop and take out my torch. I’ll wave it around a little, too, just in case they don’t see me the first time.” You get the idea.
You can see the film, at least some of the time, is trying to be self-aware and genre-literate, in the way that Scream was. It’s trying to make light of itself while still providing the proper frights and sense of dread, but the problem is that instead of coming off as darkly comic in the way that it so wants to, it comes off as misplaced humour in a below average and extremely straight-played slasher flick. Once you wade your way through the bucket-loads of blood and countless number of gruesome deaths, you’ll find yourself at the final scene where someone tries to make light of the whole situation with a joke. It’s a scene that sort of epitomizes the tone of the whole movie, in that it’s trying to parody itself but it really just comes off as gratuitous and misjudged. If done in the right way with the right respect this kind of flippancy can work – sometimes brilliantly (again, see Scream) – but in You’re Next few things are done in the right way.
The overriding problem, really, is that it’s a film lacking in confidence. Sure on the surface it looks all gleaming and knowing and self-referential, but underneath it really creaks and wobbles. The director doesn’t know how he wants to handle the action sequences so he just clouds them in infamous shaky cam (it is literally horrible), and he seems so afraid that the scares aren’t going to work that he SCREAMS them at us rather than letting them play out on their own. I did jump a few times – you might do as well – but it will be because of a sound effect shouting at you, not because of what’s happening in the drama. It’s not scary, it’s not creepy, it’s not fun.
Compared to just a month ago when we were being terrified by the The Conjuring, You’re Next is a huge disappointment. In a year lacking in entries to the genre we expect and demand so much more than this. A couple of decent jumps and a cool soundtrack aren’t enough to quench the parched mouths of the horror masses. Please do better.