Adam Wingard assembles mumblecore luminaries for one last soirée in You’re Next (2011). Though bursting with shocks and gore, this shrewd yet conceptually benign home invasion horror does struggle at times to traverse the derivative nature of the genre and articulate the social commentary it’s admirably attempting to communicate. After a mediocre fumble under the sheets, a young woman goes downstairs to prepare a drink, all the while being watched from the shadows. She puts on a Dwight Twilley album, accidentally setting it onto repeat and unwittingly provides the soundtrack to the evening’s gruesome massacre.
The girl’s body is later discovered by her partner unsympathetically strewn under a blood scrawled message that simply reads: ‘You’re next!’ Fast forward a few hours and we join Erin (Sharni Vinson) and Crispian (A.J. Bowen) as they drive through the murderers’ freshly adopted abattoir on their way to a family reunion. To describe Crispian’s family as dysfunctional would be an understatement, and the majestic middle-class home rapidly erupts into a melting pot of domestic disquiet. The tension reaches its zenith during a family meal, with insecurities and inherent anxieties bubbling to the surface.
However, the mood is hastily dispersed when an arrow perforates the dining room window. This act of aggression instigates a hostile home invasion, with Erin finding herself caught between a feuding family and an unstoppable force of exorbitant evil. Interlacing the killers’ perspective with Erin’s struggle to repel their attack, this self-aware piece of genre filmmaking demonstrates that Wingard is a director who knows how to manipulate the format of conventional horror and utilise its tropes effectively. Lingering shots, an ominous atmosphere and an astute distribution of scares culminate in a sustained level of tension, whilst some shrewd narrative devices help the visceral violence mature to a gloriously gory crescendo.
And yet, such stylistic flourishes can’t mask the film’s feeble calibre of acting and a screenplay in which the laws of practicality are rendered invalid. Horror has always flourished as a form of collective therapy that identifies social ills – be it warfare, economic collapse or the fight for equality. Sadly, You’re Next’s attempts to cover all three via an examination of America’s post 9/11 anxiety, middle-class discourse vis-à-vis the financial crisis and the continued fight for gender parity, all feel exasperatingly underdeveloped. Whilst the family’s fraught relationship is one of the film’s strongest assists, it’s quickly disregarded and the focus turns to Erin – a strong, stoic protagonist raised in preparation for this type of encounter.
Whilst unique in her role as an affable female lead in a genre renowned for its chauvinism, Vinson’s power is only achieved once she abandons her femininity and is vexingly deployed as a narrative twist that ultimately negates the value of this agenda. Wingard’s anarchic slasher’s inexorable bloodletting will no doubt thrill gorehounds due to its inventively choreographed ballet of violence, yet neutrals may struggle with the film’s imitative form. Marking the end of mumblecore as a sustainable model of fashionable cinema, You’re Next confirms the assertion that counter-culture filmmaking will inevitably find itself manipulated by studios into a marketable commodity.
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