“You’re Next” (2013)

by A.J. Hakari

"You're Next" poster

Satirical horror cinema has come a long way since the Scream days. Wes Craven’s 1996 smash was a revelation and is still fun to watch, but its subtlety has aged about as well as the landline. Seeing it explicitly declare its observations (“Hey, this is just like a horror movie, huh?!”) induces more cringes year after year, with the successive contenders that it inspired blurring genre lines to a much smoother effect. It’s in these ranks that Adam Wingard’s You’re Next aspires to be counted, committing much time to looking, feeling, and sounding like something with the horror fan’s heart in mind. But when it comes to its commentary, the best the film can muster are a few formulaic deviations so mild, it might’ve been better served simply giving into the conventions with which it half-heartedly plays around.

The most dysfunctional clan Wes Anderson never wrote about is gathering for their parents’ anniversary at a secluded country manor. Meek college prof Crispian (AJ Bowen) is looked upon as the family disappointment, although with gorgeous Aussie student Erin (Sharni Vinson) on his arm, he can’t complain too much. But the festivities and ensuing shouting matches have barely begun before the house comes under attack by evil forces lurking in the nearby woods. Armed with blades and crossbows, a gang of killers clad in animal masks lay siege to the mansion, picking off one bickering relative after the other. But the one thing they didn’t count on is Erin, whose background has left her with a set of skills just right for fighting back against her attackers and finding out why they chose this joint in the first place.

You’re Next has been affixed with the “mumblegore” label, in reference to the blasé sense of humor embedded within the movie’s blood spurts and musical stings. It’s an approach I’m not altogether against, a logical direction for horror comedies to take after beginning with Lou Costello bumbling in fear of the Frankenstein monster. Wingard and writer Simon Barrett don’t call attention to their good-natured jesting, which is defined by scenes in which the obligatory masked baddies are shocked to find Erin summarily handing their asses to them. I’m glad You’re Next didn’t feel compelled to make a big deal about it turning the slasher grind on its ear, but its execution is so hands-off and indifferent at times, it’s hard to tell not only what’s being parodied but if there’s any passion behind it at all. As far as I can tell, the “joke” is that Erin is the only sound mind in a house full of nimrods blundering into early graves, although these characters are presented with such apathy, there’s no vicarious satisfaction gleaned from seeing them given a comeuppance for their stupidity (the same goes for the villains).

You get the impression that You’re Next is having fun with both the killers and the victims, but with ultimately little disdain or concern drummed up for either party, it’s difficult to care about what befalls anyone. The film’s humor is of the deadpan sort, though unfocused to the point that I simply couldn’t tell what was supposed to be so damned amusing. The comedy consists of dialogue written with an intentional awkwardness that backfires and only leaves you wondering what everyone’s deal is, as well as more overt moments like two brothers continuing to argue even when one has an arrow sticking out of his back. Nothing elicits more than a smirk, and after a while, you start wondering if it’s because the movie’s too good at resembling a real deal slasher instead of a pseudo-serious spoof. Multiple shots are pulled off to ominous perfection, the practical gore effects are sparse yet pretty effective, and Vinson turns in a truly tough-as-nails performance as a heroine who’s not to be trifled with from the get-go. If it weren’t for the sloppily-integrated gags, I might have had a blast instead of wondering if the script had gone off its meds.

Since premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2011, You’re Next has racked up a thriving fanbase, although the degree to which some folks adore it perplexes me to no end. The film’s good nature and lack of cynicism are obvious, but it’s not as infectiously enjoyable as other low-budget genre contemporaries, too undecided on its endgame for us to enjoy anything it attempts to accomplish. You’re Next already has me feeling like a cranky old codger who just didn’t get it, and as its popularity will most probably gain traction in the years to come, I don’t anticipate my position budging that much.