You're Next was a film created by Adam Wingard and written by Simon Barret that first premiered in 2011 at the Toronto International Film Festival. After it's initial showing, the film had trouble finding distribution, various studios passing the buck and giving up rights, which delayed the films release by two full years. In 2013, Lionsgate picked it up, then proceeded to avoid releasing it after a poor test screening. Finally, they released the film in August of 2013 to a very successful box office, given it only had a $1 million budget. Hmm. A film festival horror movie that lingered in release hell for years before being distributed by Lionsgate, a bastion of horror movie quality if I ever heard of one.
Don't see how watching this could possibly be a bad idea.
Our film opens with a remarkably mismatched couple having loud, obnoxious sex in their room in a forested abode. Let's see; opening minutes of a slasher film, an activity between two people already in progress with little information, annoyed by their sex grunts enough to be unsympathetic and a secluded house in what I'm guessing in somewhere in New England?
It doesn't take a genius to tell you that these two are chowder.
Sure enough, one of them heads out to crank up the tuneskies, and his ladyfriend disappears with her open shirt to parts unknown, clearly watched from afar by some buzzing presence.
That might just be the soundtrack, but it's so audible and jarring, it might as well be a character in the movie on it's own right.The man wanders around in a towel and sees a hastily scrawled message on the outside window, which is backwards from his perspective. This guy spends so long trying to decode it, he almost completely misses his girlfriend's bloody corpse lying on the ground just past the backwards text. Then he's grabbed by a man in a fox mask and swiftly macheted.
We cut (hah) to the next afternoon, as a couple drives through same woods towards a sizable mansion. These two are Crispin, an english professor at a local college, and his girlfriend Erin. They are headed up to Crispin's parents for their 35th anniversary and on the way, they trade backstory info such as his father's recent retirement, his sizable severance package from a defence company and that one neighbour that lives nearby who recently left his wife for a college student. Gosh, I hope they're okay.
We zoom ahead to the house and the parents in question. It seems to have been a while since they were in the old place and the mother starts to clean up the house. She gets uneasy when she hears something shifting upstairs and asks her husband to investigate. Dad creeps around upstairs and holy hell, this music. Look, I appreciate an impressive, thematic soundtrack as much as the next guy and I love some solid synth work, but this is really over the top. Even when Dad is casually walking through the house and checking on that mysterious sound he heard, the soundtrack is trying to convince me that this is all TERRIFYING. It is so powerful and in your face about the tone it is trying to convey that it overpowers the visuals of the film at certain points, which do not entirely sync up. Another big issue is that the score of this film does not quite fit the rest of it. Beating, 80's style synth music can be very impressive when used effectively, but it is such a distinct genre in itself that the music has to match the tone and visuals. This movie is trying to get away with what Drive and Stranger Things did so well with their similar scores. Drive's visuals match up with what is seen on screen, specifically the neon ultracolours and beating pace of the film itself. Stranger Things on the other hand is steeped in the 80's up to it's eyeballs, from tone, to visuals, to cinematography. You're Next is trying to pay tribute to the slasher films of that decade via narrative, but it is visually closer to modern horror, with a tinge of gothic. As such, a more orchestral score would fit this movie better.
For the record, I know nothing about music. This is just my opinion.
Crispin pops up and gives his dad the ol' sneak and grab you might remember from every horror movie ever. He got to the house along with Erin and...shimmied up the drainpipe in order to surprise his dad, I suppose. They share a laugh and head downstairs, not witnessing a nearby closet sloooowly creak open. This moment might have been understated and creepy, if not for the aforementioned blaring music to accompany it.
That evening, The Mother is fixing things up in preparation for the arrival of the rest of her kids while Erin and Crispin mumble at each other upstairs about family and parenting. Mother is fidgeting about the place downstairs, clearly not noticing the very clear Halloween allusion going on just outside her window as a masked figure observes her from afar, his white animal mask reflecting against the glass. I have to say, this scene is quite well shot. It makes the action of turning on a light into a small and enjoyable jump scare.
The siblings start to trickle in with the arrival of Drake and his girlfriend Kelsey, and all he has to do is open his mouth and start ragging on Crispin for me to quickly develop a dislike for this self-absorbed ass. We're getting into the “awkward family reunion” phase of the film where a dickish gradient of family members pop up and introduce themselves before getting fed into the meat grinder. The whitest New England family of all continues to arrive and converse inside while Crispin talk to his father and faces the most terrifying thing this movie has presented us with thus far: Parental guilt!
While Drake attempts to feel up his girlfriend, the last two couples arrive. The lone sister Aimee and her artsy boyfriend Tyrique show up alongside Felix, the young burn-out and his Opinionated Alt Chick, Zii.
If she tries to talk any of the other girls into a threesome, I'm leaving.
Actually, I probably won't.
The dinner party kicks off and almost immediately, things melt down into passive-aggressive insults, aggressive-aggressive confrontation and more than one non-family member burying their face in their hands. Tyrique is an underground filmmaker, it turns out Erin used to be one of Crispin's TA and Drake continues to keep his head firmly lodged up his own ass as he is almost single handedly responsible for the erupting strife at the dinner table. I start to glaze over and check the clock as Tyrique gets up from the table and walks over to the window, inspecting something outside. He barely gets halfway through a muttered “What the hell is that?” Before receiving a crossbow bolt in his forehead.
Let's get this party started.
The family dives for cover as two more bolts shatter the windows, one imbedding itself in Drake's shoulder as he shoves his mother out of the way. Crispin tries to call the police but can't get a signal, which Felix deduces is most likely the work of a cheap phone jammer. Amazingly, Drake actually takes time away from having a crossbow bolt embedded in his lung to call out his brother on knowing something so sketchy. Trapped in the dining room, Erin gets the bright idea to use chairs as shields as they make a run for the main hall.
Now having taken cover in the main hall with an unknown number of assailants outside, Drake pops into his Vicodin stash that someone like him would obviously have, and the group weighs their options while still managing to pettily argue with each other. Okay, I'm starting to like this bickering now. It's actually used for humourous effect as opposed to manufacturing dramatic tension and helps keep the tone firmly rooted in Black Comedy alongside Horror. Aimee says that she is the fastest now that Drake is out of commission and they formulate a plan to have her sprint straight through the front door and far enough out of range to call the police. It's a decent enough plan, but it turns out that in addition to having crossbows, these guys have some sort of future sight. It is the only explanation I have for the taught piano wire mounted across the front door's threshold that would only be effective if someone were to run full tilt directly into it, and mounted at a height that would strike most people on chest but is just the right level to slash Aimee's throat. Which is exactly what happens.
hat an amazing series of coincidences necessary to provide such a creative kill. The family tries to save Aimee, but there's not much to be done and she bleeds out in seconds. The hysterical mother retreats upstairs, seemingly the only one who is really choked up about the situation while the rest of the family tries to mentally regroup. Again, Erin provides the voice of reason, reminding people to stay low and avoid windows. I'm starting to like this girl.
Mom lies down in her bed, clearly emotionally destroyed by witnessing the horrible death of her daughter. But she doesn't have to worry about in for very long as that sneaky Mr. Fox creeps out from underneath her bed with his machete at the ready.
Erin heads to the kitchen to gear up, grabbing a knife and putting pots of boiling water on the stove. She's pretty damn cavalier around such large windows for someone who knows that there is a man with a crossbow out there, but as it turns out, that isn't what she has to worry about. A man in a Kitty mask punches through one of the windows to grab her.
She then proceeds to stab him in the arm so hard the blade sinks into the windowsill, pinning him in place. It's only when she searches for another knife to finish her assault that he manages to escape.
Did I mention that Erin is Australian?
Kelsey heads up stairs to check on Mom, discovering what is left of her with a machete lodged in her face and the movie's title hastily scrawled on the wall. Damn, that's one hell of a cold open.
The father is naturally horrified and the kids try to take him back downstairs. Okay, I know that this isn't the best time, but you know that there is a murderer loose in the house, and there is a perfectly serviceable machete RIGHT THERE. For a movie with characters that have so far displayed a high level of intelligence in this situation, it's odd that nobody nutted up and tried to King Arthur that viable weapon out of Mom' skull.
Also, did one of these killers bring a paintbrush or something? Is that blood or did they bring red paint? Why would you go to such lengths to paint your scary message right next to the much more vocal image of a mutilated victim? I think that Mr. Fox took way too much time on that, considering that a lone Kelsey finds him hiding under the bed, which is enough to scare her downstairs and out the front door. Drake tries to pursue and yanks out the bolt in his shoulder, immediately fainting.
Kelsey sprints into the woods, finding the neighbours house to be full of some very unhelpful corpses. A man in a Lamb mask shows up in another reflection shot which these people are really milking, and takes out Kelsey with a punch and proceeds to practice his golf swing with a fire axe as the club and her head as the ball. He takes a moment to sit down, leaving the axe lodged in the body's head. Guys, it you just keep leaving your weapons jammed inside of your victims, eventually you're gonna run out of weapons.
Back at the mansion, Crispin still thinks that the “Run for safety” plan is still the best one, cutting the piano wire and promising Erin that everything is going to be okay. He flees into the night.
Bye Crispin, can't wait for you to show up in act three in an unexpected manner, as either a corpse to trip over or one of the murderers!
The dwindling gang hides Drake behind a curtain and Erin runs to grab more kitchen utensils as weapons. Bet you're starting to miss that machete now, especially when Kitty bursts through the window with Kelsey's body and winds up to take down Erin. Erin is having none of it, taking advantage of his wide stance to throw a kick at his groin. She then proceeds to take him out at the knee with a meat tenderizer, get to her feet and unhesitatingly BASH his skull to pieces. Oh hell yeah, it's gonna be THAT kind of movie.
This woman is amazing. I will be very upset when she dies.
At this point, I am wondering why these killers haven't cut the power to the place, just as they proceed to do so. Felix, like an idiot, suggests that they split up and check on their father while Erin heads downstairs on her own to flip the breakers. Even more amazingly, Erin agrees. Meanwhile, Dad has found out that the man who killed his wife is potentially still in the house and goes a snooping, finding a small nest in an unused closet, complete with sleeping bag and pee bottle. He confronts Felix and Zii, having realized that they have been under observation for days and that this is no random killing spree. The words have barely left his throat before it is opened up by Mr. Fox and his reclaimed machete. As Dad bleeds out, Felix watches him die...and Mr. Fox awkwardly sidles into frame.
Whelp, turns out Felix and Zii are in on this. I'm guessing that this is an inheritance thing. He chews out Mr. Fox for killing his father right in front of him while an unaware Erin manages to restore power. Also, I'm noticing again that she avoided picking up that hefty looking fire axe in favour of hanging on to her meat tenderizer. Why would you leave it there? And don't tell me that she's too weak to use something like that. This woman turned a man's head into a nacho platter with a cooking implement. While she's downstairs, Lamb sneaks in and finds Kitty's body, clearly choked up about his death. He hears Erin and attempts to kill her with that oh-so pesky axe until Drake gets back on his feet long enough for Erin to stab a distracted Lamb with a screwdriver. He flees and the group re congregates.
Drake, whom I now care about purely through process of elimination heads downstairs with Felix while Zii helps Erin with putting nails through boards as another layer of defense. Erin explains that she's such a bad ass because she was raised on a survivalist compound by her father, whom I will only accept was Burt Gummer from Tremors, while Zii shoots her murderous looks and contemplates beaning her to death with a 2x4 every time she turns around. Now that she has elaborated on her back story, I start to feel as though there is a ticking clock over this woman's head.
Down in the basement, Felix grows impatient enough to stab Drake to death, who is so loaded up with painkillers that it amusingly takes almost half a workroom's worth of tools lodged in his rib cage before he drops, all while his brother whines about how hard this is for him.
Erin heads upstairs to check on Dad, finding his corpse and Mr. Fox waiting for her. She bails straight out of the second floor window in a move that may not have been her best and limps off into the night, a shard of glass stuck in her thigh. As she hides among the trees, she spots a bloody screwdriver and quickly deduces that Lamb is nearby, ducking past him and running back inside. At least lock the door behind you! She hides in the same alcove they stuck Drake in as Lamb comes in through the window, landing right on the nail boards that she set up. Nice. It is notable in this movie and especially the following scene where they argue with Felix (Within range of an eavesdropping Erin) that the killers are very human. They are in this purely for the money and are all ex-soldiers. They bleed and yell in pain as much as the protagonists do, and Lamb is furious about the death of Kitty, who was his brother. If you tickle them, do they not laugh?
Felix decides that their job is almost done and turns off the cell phone jammer that he himself mentioned earlier. This allows a text that Erin sent to 911 to actually go through and her phone buzzes, alerting everyone to her position. Erin swiftly pulls the glass shard out of her leg, which I sincerely doubt you should do and tags Mr. Fox in the neck (With her bare hands, not the large shard of glass that I can add to the list of carelessly discarded weapons). She limbs outside, then doubles back into the house as the quartet of murderers all try to track her down. Lamb heads back towards the house and almost immediately receives another kitchen knife through the eye socket because seriously, those masks very clearly offer TERRIBLE visibility. Erin FINALLY grabs his fire axe and things look like they're gearing up for the climax.
Erin then decides that instead of using the axe as a weapon, she'll keep up with this Home Alone shtick and rig up a complex looking pendulum-trap designed to deliver the gift of axe face first to whomever opens the door. This fails to pan out within seconds, as Mr. Fox just comes back in through the same window that he's been using this whole time and chases Erin into the basement. She grabs a hunk of firewood and starts shattering lights, luring Mr. Fox into the darkness with a digital camera set on auto flash. This trained soldier decides to walk directly towards this obvious diversion and Erin manages to get the drop on him, knocking Fox down and caving in his head with her firewood.
She heads back upstairs, still adamant about not picking up that damn machete, and manages to disarm a crossbow-wielding Zii. They fight in the kitchen until Felix barges in and enters the messy melee. The two on one fight is very chaotic and fun, taking a turn for the ridiculous when Erin manages to come out on top, stabbing both of them through the top of the head. Zii gets a knife in her skull and Felix gets the bottom of a blender jammed into his head, which Erin then proceeds to turn on.
Erin takes a load off after all that, yanking out the knife that Zii buried in her shoulder when she gets a call on Felix's phone. It's Crispin. He wants to know if everyone is dead yet.
The mastermind of the whole operation strolls back inside, again through the window, and finds no one alive but a very bloody and VERY pissed off Erin giving him a death glare and probably already mentally sizing up his coffin. Crispin actually attempts to mansplain his way out of trouble, elaborating that yes, he and his brother Felix hired a trio of mercenaries to kill his entire family and their friends in order to collect on their fathers inheritance, but ERIN was never in any danger! Honest! She was just supposed to be a passive witness that could confirm their story. He just didn't know about that whole “Raised by Austrailian Doomsday Preppers” thing. He tries to bribe her with the payout coming their way, mentioning that ever present beast known as student loans. Erin stays quiet during all of this, but it's clear that she's just waiting for him to get into stabbing distance.
And a-stabbing she will go, quickly driving her little knife into a sufficient number of vital areas, until a gunshot to the shoulder takes her off of her feet.
Ohhh, BOOOOO! Seems as though the cops have finally arrived and completely misread the situation, Night of the Living Dead style. The lone officer wiener calls for back up and a paramedic before heading inside, and that fire axe finally pays off while a wounded Erin tries to warn him. One splatter of blood later, the credits start to roll.
Eh, no loss there. And Erin'll be fine. Ambulance is on it's way and it won't be hard to convince the cops that those two less-than-provoked killings weren't the work of one of the murderers.
I ended up really enjoying this movie. It has a deliberately slow start which switches gears seemingly halfway through the first act into the bloody fun that the rest of the movie excels at. In many ways, this film is a spiritual successor to Scream. Scream was made for people who grew up on old school slasher movies, while You're Next was made for people who grew up on Scream. It displays a remarkable understanding of horror movie tropes and how to cleverly defy them while still maintaining a tense , scary “Who's next?” atmosphere. Sure there are a few remarkable coincidences , such as that thing with the piano wire and the fact that the killers didn't booby trap any other exits, but more often the complaints you would have as an audience member are a completely different set of complaints than you would have from your average slasher films. Erin has become one of my absolute favourite horror movie protagonists, and deserves a spot right alongside Ashley J. Williams. It's not perfect, but I can highly recommend You're Next to anyone who wants a thinking man's slasher film.