You’re Next (Lionsgate, R)

Youre-Next 75You’re Next is one of the best films of the year.

Youre-Next 500

I first heard about Adam Wingard’s You’re Next when it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival back in 2011. There it received an extremely positive reaction, and was almost immediately bought by Lionsgate. I assumed that this meant it would be getting released soon after, but I was wrong. For reasons I don’t quite understand, Lionsgate didn’t seem to know what to do with it. Even now, I think the ad campaign is a bit misleading. The trailer doesn’t really show anything that feels particularly fresh or different from other horror movies. Based on the marketing and how extremely high my expectations were after two years of eager anticipation, it seemed like there was no way You’re Next could possibly live up.

It did. In fact, it actually surpassed my expectations. From early reviews and the marketing, I only knew the basic setup. A family reunion goes wrong when masked antagonists infiltrate their home and start attacking them. It’s a premise we’ve seen hundreds of times before. What makes the movie stand out is literally everything else.

Horror movies don’t tend to spend too much time on creating interesting characters, especially when it’s a larger cast like in this film. But the family in You’re Next is very well defined. None of the children really look alike, but the way they interact feels incredibly true to life. Credit goes to writer Simon Barrett, whose script is surprisingly smart and makes even the weaker actors in the cast feel like real people. One of the older brothers comes off as a real prick in the beginning of the film but ends up being very sympathetic. That kind of real characterization goes against the typical horror archetypes and makes the film as a whole feel very different.

I could go on and on about each of the characters and how each of them have their own memorable quirks, but there is really one star of You’re Next, and that’s Sharni Vinson, who plays Erin. Erin is the girlfriend of one of the brothers, meeting his family for the first time. She’s smart, charming, funny, and when the shit hits the fan, she’s the one who keeps her head on straight. I don’t want to get too specific, but she completely takes over the movie. In a lot of slasher movies, the heroes are so bland and dull that the audience ends up rooting for the killer, because at least they’re interesting. Here, we have a strong protagonist who the audience can completely get behind and cheer for. I try to avoid making huge, hyperbolic statements right after seeing a new film, but I think that unless you count Ellen Ripley from the Alien franchise, Erin might be the greatest “last girl” to ever appear in a horror movie.

By focusing on the victims, I’m not saying that the killers aren’t interesting. They are; I can’t really get into the most impressive aspect of their story, so I’ll focus purely on the surface. The animal masks they wear are already iconic. There’s not much more to it than that they look really, really cool. Other than that, you’ll just have to trust me.

I think part of what confused Lionsgate about this film is that Lionsgate has a tendency to put out incredibly dark movies. They are responsible for the Saw franchise, which takes itself awfully seriously. But You’re Next is a fun horror movie. It’s a lot funnier than I expected, and the humor is character based. The violence is brutal and played straight, but it never feels gratuitous or cruel. These filmmakers like their characters, and so do we. Rather than enjoying seeing terrible things happen to them, the joy of this movie is seeing them fight to survive. It’s directed with style and skill by Adam Wingard. He knows how to play his audience without relying on cheap tricks. You’re Next is one of the best films of the year, and one of the best horror movies I’ve seen in the last few years. I absolutely loved it. | Sean Lass

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