Horror is such a marginalized genre that since filmmakers have been making horror movies, the experiences they are meant to inspire have had an umbrella effect over everything else in the film – unless one happens to be a connoisseur, the only thing in view is what is terrifying and nothing else. That isn’t to say horror movies need or are supposed to be grandly elaborate narrative endeavors engineered with nuanced plot development and emotional growth, but the goings-on usually leave little room to appreciate a writer and/or director’s intentions – aside from the generalized blatant metaphor of the movie, its hard to distinguish art and innovation when you’re jumping out of your seat or averting your eyes in instinctual fear. But I’ve always found that horror movies, when studied closely, are never just horror movies – it is a genre that other genres naturally gravitate to, like strange attractors, uncomplimentary forces combing to powerful effect. You’re Next, the 2013 mumble-gore film that found mainstream fame, is such a meeting, a low-budget concoction of home-invasion horror, black comedy, and hard-hitting action.
Created by writer and director team (respectively) Simon Garrett and Adam Wingard, You’re Next is the story of the Davidson family and their reunion weekend at their yuppie Missouri vacation mansion. Along with pater and mater Paul and Aubrey are their adult children Drake, Crispian, Felix, and Aimee and their respective significant others Kelly, Erin, Zee, and Tariq. All arrive and prepare for the big family dinner, meanwhile nearby neighbors have been butchered by assailants in animal masks. That night in the middle of a dinner argument (a great metatheatrical moment where characters argue about the meaningfulness/meaninglessness of indie cinema), one of the dinner’s party is murdered by one of the masked assailants. There appears to be no rhyme or reason as to why they are being terrorized, but as each person meets increasingly more spectacular demises Crispian’s girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson) leads the ever-dwindling pack of survivors in brutal defense against the killers.
A lot of what makes this movie to great is its defiance in the face of horror movie conventions – in a broad definition (because I hate spoilers), it replaces orchestrated pointlessness with naturalistic contexts. The characters behave believably, the villains have purpose, and the “final girl” is heroic not because she survives but because of how she survives (she’s got one of the coolest, most unique and improbably probable character back stories I’ve ever come across). The action of You’re Next is horrifically gory, the kind of squeamishness-inspiring brutality that could make anyone overlook the action aspects and how wonderfully intense they are; Wingard and Barrett clearly have a warped sense of humor to pair with their fanboy love of horror. But it does make a great excuse to watch it a second and third time. The humor is sharp, the violence is hard, and the horror is even harder, but the thing I admire most about this movie is that it wasn’t over-thought. So many action and horror movies get bogged down by whoever’s need to explain beyond what is readily needed in the situation – there’s nothing worse than when abundances of information get in the way of forward moving action and horror. In fact, by those rights, You’re Next is a home run for both genres.