Masked people hack their way through a family staying at an isolated mansion. Don’t commence yawning just yet over the premise of You’re Next. Effective scares and an excellent shift in gear mid-film ensure that it not only hurdles the generic slasher label, it fearlessly does a triple somersault over it.
The siblings of the wealthy Davidson family meet to celebrate the wedding anniversary of their parents. Crispian Davidson (AJ Bowen) brings his girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson) to meet the folks, but the gathering is disrupted by intruders. Director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett do a great job of establishing the mundane nature of the genre early on in the film. After a short prologue featuring the demise of two strangers, it feels like the opening of every horror film with masked killers. Once meeting the main characters and establishing the family dynamic there is more foreboding with a creaky house and strange reflections in the windows. Wingard and Barrett create a false sense of mediocrity before they unleash chaos upon the Davidsons. The group must run the gauntlet of swinging axes, flying arrows and swooping machetes during the home invasion. For a lot of the film Wingard uses the “stalk and kill” formula effectively with plenty of frights which warrant a warning: “audience members with high blood pressure beware”.
There is something hollow about the way Wingard goes about indulging in bloodlust as the body count rises. All the deaths are incredibly violent and convincing. Yes, the film is dealing with psychopathic behaviour and a callous approach is expected, but the underlying themes are fickle. In contrast, Freddy Krueger was always punishing the kids of Elm Street for the sins of their parents and members of the Voorhees family acted like harbingers of death for teenagers as a result of their debaucheries. The Davidsons give off a smug sense of entitlement but they earn empathy despite the film begging you to side with the baddies for the sake of another gory kill.
Luckily, there is a superb shift in the structure of You’re Next that allows for compassion to become a weapon in the form of Erin, who declares war on the gatecrashers. Vinson is incredible as she fights back using various homemade weapons. Wingard taps into Vinson’s primal feminine rage and it’s an unstoppable force. The empowered Vinson obliterates any shards of the slasher genre left remaining in the film as it evolves into a revenge thriller that’s a cross between the original I Spit On Your Grave and Death Wish, complete with an excellent 1980s John Carpenter inspired synth score.
Due to the repetitive nature of the horror/slasher films, it feels like every time a new film is released there is an expectation that it will take the genre to new heights. Mind-blowing twists, excessive gore or loving deconstruction are tools used to reinvigorate tired formulas. Don’t look too hard into You’re Next because you’ll miss the blood soaked circus funhouse going on around you.
Cameron Williams - follow Cam on Twitter here: @popcornjunkies
You're Next is released in Australian cinemas on August 29 2013