Bill: Adam Wingard, Ti West, and Eli Roth are just a few of the names that are often lumped together and pointed to as the new wave of horror directors on review sites, and quite often in tones that infer they’re more savior than simple auteur. And to be honest, I somewhat agree with those who say such things. This fresh crop of directors have helped to usher in a new era in horror films. An era in which formulaic studio endeavors are losing box office receipts to smaller films with much better writing. A trend I hope continues to grow.
If I had to choose one of them as the standout for me, it would probably be Wingard. He doesn’t create anything revolutionary or genre defining, but he does create interesting characters which he then puts into situations that benefit from the amount of thought that goes into them. You’re Next is a perfect example of that skill. It’s not particularly original, nor is it particularly inventive with its mayhem (although there is a fantastic blender death). It is full of sly humor and populated with characters we don’t eventually come to view as just nameless victims.
After the Jump: piano wire: the chainsaw of the 21st Century
Bill: The home invasion film has been a staple of action and horror for decades. Straw Dogs pulled it off effectively back in the early 70’s, When a Stranger Calls moved it squarely into the realm of horror about 10 years later, and Home Alone changed it into a family comedy a little less than 10 years after that. You’re Next borrows a bit from each of those, as well as a few others, during its 95 minute runtime, yet manages to do it in such a way as to make it seem fresh again.
Chris: Fresh indeed. I think I’d mention a movie like Cabin in the Woods as well when talking about You’re Next. Both movies take done-to-death horror film premises and stand them on their ears. What I loved was that this movie subverted our expectations in ways that are far more subtle and feel more organic to the plot we think we’re going to get here. It’s more an evolutionary set of genre twists. Cabin tells us in the first five minutes that we’re going to be played with. You’re Next is much less obvious than that, and while both approaches end up ultimately effective, Wingard’s choices here give us a non-traditional horror movie that has many more traditional scares on offer.
Bill: I honestly can’t say that I’ve ever come across a movie that makes growing up in a survivalist group this attractive. I would make the move to Wyoming if that meant acquiring this much self defense training and trap setting know how. All I ever learned in school was basic math and reading skills, when it’s safe to walk near the tether ball pole (short answer: never), and the art of wedgie removal. Our heroine Erin (Sharni Vinson) explains late in the film that she spent her formative years in a survivalist camp in the Outback. It’s where she learned how to create deadly weapons out of pencil shavings and three day old pudding, for crying out loud. So when we get a group of animal mask wearing psychos picking off a family while she’s visiting with her boyfriend…well, let’s just say it doesn’t go as planned.
Chris: Sharni Vinson is so good as Erin. Despite some of the the crazy stuff that Wingard asks us to take on faith about survivalist training, not for one second did I ever think that Erin wasn’t up to the task of defending that house. Even in the car and arriving at the house–before I knew anything about what Erin was like as a character–she exudes confidence and a sort of centered self-assuredness that made it so easy for me to buy into her knowing to use expensive dining room chairs as a shield.
Bill: As I sort of mentioned earlier, there’s really nothing groundbreaking in this film. It’s just a very well crafted home invasion film. I think its real strength comes from the humor and character interaction though. There’s a dry, deadpan sense of comedy that runs throughout the film. The cast does a remarkable job of selling it, too. There’s one scene in particular that sums up the organic nature of the humor in this film. Drake, one of the brothers in the family, has been shot in the back with a crossbow. At one point, he chases his hysterical and fleeing wife out into the night and passes under a piano wire that was set up as a trap earlier by the villains. Having seen his younger sister practically decapitated by the wire, he ducks under it while pursuing his wife. Unfortunately, he forgets that he has a freaking crossbow bolt sticking out of his back…and it catches on the wire, causing him to pass out from the pain. The audience winces at this scene because it’s an all too human moment, but then they laugh at it for the same reason.
Chris: I may disagree with you a bit here. While there’s no single element of this that’s particularly new, I thought the movie as a whole ends up as a pretty singular thing. I think it’s a bunch of little things that Wingard weaves in here, and they all add up to a sum that’s even greater than some terrific parts. As you mentioned in the intro, we get to know these characters. They’re interesting and we feel for the ones we like who get killed and cheer when those we don’t like get what’s coming to them. They’re three dimensional; Drake is an obnoxious jerk…but look at him in the basement scene, injured though he is. He feels the responsibility for protecting his kid brothers, who just hours earlier he was unmercifully harassing. When we see not just one, but two major betrayals, they’re moments that bring out emotions we don’t usually get to feel in movies of this ilk, and not just because those betrayals involve interesting plot twists.
I also think that it’s rare to get acting this good in a home invasion film. This is a movie you’ll want to see twice, and the second viewing might be even more rewarding. Watch the looks exchanged by Crispian and Felix as things start to happen. AJ Bowen especially is magnificent. Even before I knew the twist, I sensed something was “off” about Crispian, like he was hiding something. Bowen’s face is a terrific acting tool, and he and Wingard put it to good use. Your second time watching this is also great for noticing details and breadcrumbs left by Wingard and writer Simon Barrett. Check out the crossbow guy targeting folks from just outside. Why is he not just letting fly? On my second time through, I knew why: selective targeting. Notice how eagerly Felix suggests that someone make a run for it, and how readily he approves of Amy being that someone. To me, that’s also subtly groundbreaking. Both Wingard and Barrett seem to know we’re going to watch this a second time, and they reward us with mostly airtight plotting and development and characterizations that become more meaningful when you know the plot twists that are coming.
Bill: I’ve decided that a Wingard hallmark is something I like to call “the afterglow shot”. It’s usually an extended shot that happens after a subject has committed a heinous act. A perfect example can be seen during Kelly’s murder. She gets the axe through the head, then her killer sits down to admire his handiwork on a sofa with two other previous victims. The way he frames that particular shot makes it resemble a family portrait. I love little touches like that.
Chris: Absolutely! I love those scenes, and he does it here time and again. They’re almost like some full-page tableau from a multi-panel comic book story. Just wonderfully composed and staged, and he gives us those money shots like the one you mention or Erin having a sitdown with Felix and Zee. I also love how Wingard uses his music motif here. I’ll confess here outright: I could recite chapters and verses about the importance of the Dwight Twilley Band to modern rock and soul music, so imagine my jaw-dropping delight at hearing “Looking for the Magic” featured so prominently in this film. It’s a song that feels like this wonderful, upbeat, bouncy bit of ersatz glam rock on first listen, but as it plays again and again (especially in the scene with Kelly) you notice Twilley’s hiccuping, echoing vocal and how it kind of sounds weirdly dark. I love the way it starts to feel like like a harbinger for death and mayhem. Wingard also uses a quick cut to a title card and the song at the end of the movie as well. It reminded me of the way John Landis cut to the happy and upbeat version of “Blue Moon” at the end of American Werewolf in London. It puts a capper on things that gives us a parting feeling of laughter and humor, as if we’ve just been told a really good campfire story that the teller doesn’t necessarily want us taking too seriously.
Bill: Worth noting is how close knit this group of horror filmmakers seems to be. Ti West (director of the previously reviewed The House of the Devil) shows up in this film as the boyfriend of the younger sister. Simon Barrett, another member of the group and the writer behind You’re Next, plays one of the masked killers. More than a few of the actors and actresses in the film have worked with West, Barrett or Wingard on other projects. That level of familiarity adds a layer of sincerity to the performances that really stands out. It’s like a twisted Mercury Theatre.
(You’re Next is available to stream instantly for Netflix and Amazon Prime subscribers. It can also be purchased for download via the usual VOD outlets. Support Qt3 and buy it from the Amazon link on this page!)