You’re Next (2011), dir. Adamn Wingard, starring Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn, A.J. Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Barbara Crampton, and Rob Moran
I’m not a big horror movie fan. I often feel frustrated watching these movies where people do very stupid or irrational things when faced with the supernatural or a rampaging lunatic. How many times have you or anyone you know screamed at the screen because someone is about to go down a dark hallway with no flashlight? I also get upset watching people trip on a rock or themselves (and I definitely trip on myself so…) but instead of getting up and running, they stop, turn and face the monster and just scream. Admittedly, most horror and slasher movies are meant to be stupid-fun, where the joy is found in watching people get killed in creative ways. The peak of these creative deaths of course is the Final Destination series, which I found so terribly enjoyable: terrible because I absolutely loved watching those awful one-dimensional girls in Final Destination 3 burn alive in tanning booths, or that beefed up jerk getting smashed lifting weights, or the douchey guy slipping on his noodle and getting smashed by a ladder, and I don’t know if I like what that says about me or any audience who enjoy these. Of course, these movies thrive on these contradictions–they’re self-aware enough to know their appeal and that people enjoy watching the ludicrous situations they portray that happen maybe 0.009% of the time in the real world. So watching these movies always made me queasy. Thankfully, most of them are derivative enough that they evaporate a day or two from my memory after watching them.
When I first saw You’re Next on Netflix after randomly landing on it during one weekend in college, I had no expectations beyond its predictability. People will be killed off one at a time, and our heroes will maybe all die too. I was geared up for a sugar high, crashing immediately after. To my immense surprise, the movie threw us a major curveball. The movie starts off with out typical setup: a group of relatives gather together in a vacation house, including Erin (Sharni Vinson) who is dating Crispian, a member of this very wealthy family. Suddenly, the family is attacked by crossbow bolts, instantly killing one member and injuring the other. A garrote wire takes the life of another sibling and the whole family is thrown into chaos. One by one, the wealthy family’s members start getting killed by unknown assailants who are donning animal masks and equipped with analog weapons like crossbows and axes (It’s more fun to watch people run around with these kind of weapons than guns!). Up until Erin’s boyfriend leaves the house to look for help, the movie followed the distinctly familiar pattern of slasher movies like Final Destination. Ergo we watch as our little mice get killed one by one by our cat. It’s fun and the production values of the movie made for a solid filmgoing experience (thoughtfully cool cinematography and modern twisty music!), but I was mentally preparing to write the whole movie off.
But then we see something unfamiliar happen: one of the mice fights back. When one of the killers try to attack Erin from a window, she fights back and stabs him. While he’s in dispose at the shocking turn of events, Erin races for the drawer to get a weapon, only to have her assailant escape. That was an incredible adrenaline rush and an early sign in the movie of things to come. In retrospect, Erin seemed collected for someone who just watched people get killed earlier. She thinks on her feet (that excellent idea of using chairs to block the arrows), keen on sticking together (she was adamant about everyone staying in rather than leaving), and calm under pressure–all traits that make for a great “Final Girl.” From then on, she starts taking action to combat the other killers, setting up booby traps on all entry ways and finding all weapons that the remaining family members can use. Armed with weapons and her smarts, she is set up to defend the house from the invaders. We see this in action when one of the assailants enter the house and go for Erin. In a spectacular show of intelligence, Erin kicks him in the balls (why do people not do that enough in movies?), and while momentarily off guard, attacks him with a meat pulverizer, bashing his head until he’s dead. This moment was incredible–it’s always a fun surprise to see your heroine pull off a victory in the middle of the movie.
Just as we’ve established that the movie’s Final Girl is going to be formidable, we realize another twist when it’s revealed that two of the family members actually hired the murderers to obtain the inheritance from the wealthy parents. Suddenly, the movie presents its big metaphor about greed and inter-generational wealth. The barbaric way that the movie depicts the death of these wealthy characters, killed by their own family members can be treated like an extended metaphor about the cannibalistic nature of wealth–rich people destroy each other for money, willing to compromise their morals, and their families for their own safety. Not only that, hiring military combat veterans as assassins to do the dirty work may hint at a broader discussion about how wealthy people in America use wars, represented by veterans, in their bid to get rich. Suddenly, watching Erin destroy each of these people in a bid for survival echoes poor people’s attempts at surviving without getting trampled under wealthy people’s bid for more money. Erin’s survivalist background makes even more sense as part of the metaphor-she grew up living with nothing, learning to be prepared for the worst scenario, relying on their self-sufficiency. The same can be said about people who were not born into wealth, they have to survive on their own grit and hard-work. These are pretty big ideas in a movie that seemed like it was designed to be superficial and frivolous. Which makes me more in love with the movie.
Erin pulls off the unthinkable and actually manages to survive and defeat her assailants. In scene after scene, Winegard expertly captures this girl’s brilliance but also her descent into survival-fueled madness. Those close-ups of Erin get increasingly more adrenaline-filled, her resolve palpable and unshakable. I love that the script doesn’t make any of her tasks easy nor does it condescend to her. Erin isn’t 100% invulnerable to terror, as demonstrated by her screaming when the ax hits the door she’s hiding behind. But the point of this movie is that Erin keeps moving on. She gets injured several times, but always gets up and ready to fight with whatever makeshift weapon she has on hand. She’s not afraid to get hurt or fight back. You’re Next is proof that slasher movies need not be dumb or predictable to be enjoyable. It is also proof that a kick-ass heroin is more fun and memorable than a bunch of lousy characters surviving by sheer luck.