*. I don’t think anyone involved in this film thought they were doing something radically new. Rather, they were trying, as with any good genre piece, to put a slightly different spin on familiar tropes, playing mainly by the rules but along the way making something, in screenwriter Simon Barrett’s word, a little “weird.”
*. Even weirdness, however, is hard to pull off in the present age. On their commentary track Barrett and director Adam Wingard spend a lot of time discussing this, and the difficultiy of doing a genre piece at a time when genres are so much in flux. I see their point, and sympathize. But to their credit, while I don’t think You’re Next is wholly successful, and mostly feels just awkward, at least it’s not dull.
*. I didn’t go into it with high hopes. Home invasion is probably my least favourite horror sub-genre. Wingard and Barrett would seem to agree, calling such films depressing. How then to make a home invation film that’s less depressing, without going the postmodern, parody route of Haneke’s Funny Games? Funny Games being a movie that I still found more than depressing enough.
*. I’m talking quite a bit about the thinking behind the film because it’s important to judge You’re Next on its own terms, so we should understand what those terms are, as best we can. I might also add here that in the following notes I’ll be giving away the ending, so consider yourself warned.
*. There are two main angles I want to take on the question of what You’re Next is trying to do. The first has to do with its status as comedy. As I understand it, Wingard and Barrett wanted to make it a tonal experiment, starting out as horror but gradually becoming more comic as things went along. I think then it’s proper to consider it a horror-comedy and not just a horror film with some moments of comic relief. However, Barrett also insists that the humour was indirect. He didn’t write any jokes, and thought the humour would arise naturally from the absurdity of the situation.
*. I can’t go along with this, at least entirely. For starters, the set-up is comic right from the start. The plot is so preposterous it’s not even worth getting into. The killers have been paid to do a job, so why don’t they just do it as quickly and simply as possible? Would using guns have been too easy? Why the silly masks and trying to act scary? How could they be so sloppy as to be caught in the house when the parents arrive, leaving all their junk behind? It’s like they think they’re in a horror movie or something.
*. To this we can add characters that behave like caricatures of bickering siblings and grasping heirs, and violent scenes that are, repeatedly, played as gags. The long set-up to the girl being clotheslined by the razor wire. The brother being stabbed repeatedly with screwdrivers. The other brother having a blender shoved into his head. Are these not meant as jokes?
*. A footnote: That use of the blender reminded me of the totally unrealistic way the microwave is employed at the end of the remake of The Last House on the Left. I don’t think it’s wise to use everyday objects this way in movies, as I think most people in the audience will recognize that this isn’t how they work.
*. As an example of how to read the movie, I had thought (as did at least one other reviewer) that the boards with nails in them lying under the window was a reference to Death Wish 3. Instead, it was drawn from Home Alone. That might give you a clearer idea of where You’re Next is coming from.
*. In playing it straight what was really being aimed at was the default setting for a lot of TV and film comedy at this time: putting a bunch of comic types in a weird situation — like, for example, a dysfunctional office setting — and then seeing how they interact with each other and react to what’s going on. The problem here is that the movie feels stranded between not going for laughs and not being serious. So it ends up feeling awkward.
*. The other genre or tonal angle I’d mention, because Wingard and Barrett bring it up, is that of mumblecore. Or, as its horror branch is called, mumblegore.
*. If you haven’t heard of these labels you shouldn’t feel like you’re missing anything. I find them indistinct and unhelpful, especially when it comes to horror films. Wingard and Barrett see some value in them though, and helpfully define mumblecore as describing a realistic style of acting and a naturalistic use of dialogue (hence the mumble part).
*. But does this describe You’re Next? As I’ve said, the premise is ridiculous and the characters, even when improvising, come across as caricatures. I have a hard time seeing anything naturalistic in the presentation at all. The dialogue, in particular, seems highly artificial to me.
*. So I don’t, as I’ve said, find the label helpful. Another movie I’ve made notes on that is often considered to be mumblegore is Adam Green’s Frozen. It also has very bad, unrealistic dialogue, delivered without mumbling or gore. It’s just the usual young people we’ve been seeing in horror movies since the 1970s, speaking in much the same way. Which is also what we have here.
*. I don’t have much else to add. A handheld camera is used a lot, and the violence is edited to a point just above incoherence. Splatter fans may feel cheated but I think it’s done pretty well. Meanwhile, I thought the resourceful last girl (Sharni Vinson) might have been a nod to Don Coscarelli’s segment in the Masters of Horror series, “Incident On and Off a Mountain Road” (2005). Women have been getting tougher in horror movies. Grace in Ready or Not would be a more recent example of the same figure, though you can find early examples of the type in figures like Nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street, booby-trapping her house to kill Freddy.
*. In sum, there seems to have been some confusion as to where they were going with this, which is why I think they spend so much time dwelling on these matters on the commentary. It’s like they’re still trying to figure it out. Apparently even the cast were confused as to what kind of film they were making. I’ll confess to changing my mind about it a couple of times just while I was watching, and perhaps a couple of times since. In the end I’m content to say they ended up with a cute bit of fun. I was disappointed they couldn’t advance the social satire a little more (something Ready or Not also fumbled), since the premise certainly invited it, but all-in-all I can say I certainly enjoyed it a lot more than a contemporary “straight” home invasion flick like The Strangers. At least I didn’t come away from it feeling more depressed.