“You’re Next” is a film that for some reason has been sitting on the shelf since it’s debut at The Toronto International Film Festival back in 2011. Don’t let that fool you though, “You’re Next” may be a little rough around the edges, but it’s a good time at the theater, especially if you’re into gratuitous violence blended with dark humor. The story is as simple as they come: a large and somewhat dysfunctional family reunites for the weekend to celebrate the parents’ anniversary. Before we even get to know everyone, someone from outside the house starts killing the family members off one-by-one. From there it becomes a long night of survival against the masked invaders. A lot of people are calling this an intense horror film, but I see it more as thriller in the vein of “Straw Dogs” from Sam Peckinpah mixed with Korean revenge films such as “Old Boy” and “I Saw the Devil” alongside a large helping of early John Carpenter.
While the story has some serious issues — such as a complete lack of character development — it works nonetheless. A film of this ilk comes with its own set conditions, of which the audience is aware, and director Adam Wingard uses this to his advantage. Instead of spending time developing characters we know will not survive the night, he gets right into the action within the first 10 minutes and doesn’t let go until the last frame. On top of that, Wingard starts to play around with the genre’s conventions subtly winking at the audience. It’s this self-awareness combined with a tinge of dark humor that separates “You’re Next” from the mean-spirited and brutal films that have dominated the genre over the past few years.
It’s rather hard to judge the acting when most of the film has the characters targeted by a lethal crossbow or another lethal weapon. Sharni Vinson is the standout; she does a great job exhibiting the terror of the night’s events while also functioning as a conduit for the audience to cheer and root for throughout the film. Rating: 19 / 25
“You’re Next” is a low-budget film that seemingly wears its pedigree as badge of honor, but that’s not to say it’s poorly shot. In fact, for a good part of the film the visuals are pretty good, employing a nice use of depth of field, some good tracking shots and a washed-out color palette that helps with the film’s overall tone and mood. Issues arise when Wingard tries to show the brutal nature of the attacks by jerking the camera all over the place, which sometimes makes it hard to get a sense of the on-screen action. I still don’t understand why so many directors decide to shoot in this manner. Filmmakers like Steven Spielberg use it effectively because they understand that you still need to keep a sense of geography for the audience to understand, whereas this felt like someone was randomly shaking the camera to create a desired effect without any thought process to how the audience would perceive it. It’s easy to see that Wingard put a lot of thought into playing with the genre’s conventions, but sadly he lost some of that, ahem, focus when it came to the camera work. Rating: 17 / 25
I mentioned how the film reminded me of the early work of John Carpenter; the music is a prime example. Wingard enlisted three different composers and each of them brought an electronic sound that is effective in both building the suspense as well as creating the film’s overall tone. Apart from one specific cue, the score doesn’t really function in the traditional manner integrating themes and motifs; it’s more about a sound design that builds upon the sense of doom that the characters are feeling. As a stand-alone listen, it’s not the most enjoyable soundtrack of the year, but when mixed into the context of the visuals it’s an extremely effective score. Another nod must be given to Wingard for using the 70’s song “Looking for the Magic” from the Dwight Twilley Band. It adds a chilling element to the film that would be sorely missing without it.
The sound itself is just as good as the score; Wingard plays with the audio and mix to give the film that overall sense of doom. For the first act of the film he transitions from scene-to-scene by having the soundtrack build-up and then abruptly cut-off. Other times, he uses elements such as the clicking of a camera to help build the suspense. Honestly, film students should watch this just to see how sound is much more than what you hear in a film. Rating: 23 / 25
“You’re Next” really caught me off guard. I had been hearing good things about since it first screened in Toronto, so my expectations were high. At first, I enjoyed the overall tone of the film, but I was fighting many of the films shortcomings such as minimal character development, simplistic story and brutal violence. Once I was able to let go and just let the film play out for what it is, I really began to enjoy it. It’s a dark and violent tale that many might find questionable, but if you can get into its dark sense of humor and self-reflection of the genre, there is a lot to like in the film. “You’re Next” is far from being one of the true greats of the genre, but it is a fun and sometimes-scary ride that’s worth taking. Rating: 21 / 25
OVERALL RATING: 80 / 100