You’re Next, Review by Jennifer O’Meara, Trinity College, Dublin

[Lionsgate, 2011/ 2013. Director: Adam Wingard. Writer: Simon Barrett. Starring: Sharni Vinson; Nicolas Tucci]

‘If I were asked to name the chief benefit of the house, I should say: the house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace’ (Bachelard 1958).

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What would Gaston Bachelard make of the home invasion movie? As a philosopher of space, and proponent of the house as sanctuary, he would surely be horrified by the flood of such films in recent years. But isn’t that the point of this sub-genre; to take advantage of a primal fear of threat entering the space in which you’re most comfortable and vulnerable. You’re Next (Adam Wingard, 2011) is the latest in a long line of intruder films, from The Last House on the Left (Wes Craven, 1972), to Funny Games (Michael Hanneke 1997; 2008), Panic Room (David Fincher, 2002), and The Strangers (Bryan Bertino, 2008). Horror is the preferred genre of Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard, who have also collaborated as writer and director on A Horrible Way to Die (2010), and the found-footage anthologies, V/H/S (2012) and V/H/S/2 (2013).

Many reviewers drew a comparison between You’re Next and Scream (Wes Craven, 2006), the first ten minutes of which inspired Wingard to make his film (Taylor 2013).

2 - Photo By Lionsgate, Corey Ransberg3 - Scream 4

Scream and its sequels (1997; 2000; 2011) deconstructed audience expectations about how slasher films play out and, as is often the case with postmodern cinema, there is a positive relationship between the viewer’s existing knowledge of the sub-genre and how rewarding they find the film. Since then, audiences have come to expect a certain amount of knowingness from the horror film. You’re Next distinguishes itself, however, by taking advantage of the overlaps between horror and the dysfunctional family comedy. Like Warm Bodies (Jonathan Levine, 2013), a zombie-rom-com released earlier this year, You’re Next is what Geoff King (2002) terms a ‘genre bender’. This allows the film to breathe some life (pun intended) into a familiar staple. In the dysfunctional family comedy people rarely get hurt. In the dysfunctional family dramatic-comedy, words cut like knives. In You’re Next, a dysfunctional family horror-dramedy, words and knives cut like knives. Here we have a family that, even when their lives are under threat, cannot put aside years of petty differences and rivalry. Indeed, once the twists unfold, Blood is Thicker than Water emerges as an alternative title. For the most part, these characters are not designed to be sympathetic: we’re quickly told that the patriarch (Paul Davison), a former defence contractor, earned his fortune from a severance package. A sense of privileged entitlement is also built into the names of his children: Crispian (Joe Swanberg), Drake (Nicholas Tucci), and Felix (AJ Bowen). As Amy Nicholson sums up in her Village Voice review, the film ‘slices up a family of useless 1 percenters’, making its 2011 film festival debut perfectly timed to capture Occupy Wall Street frustration (Nicholson 2013).

Another of You’re Next’s strengths is the way in which it plays with the trope of horror’s ‘Final Girl’, the ubiquitous female character who, gifted with more lives than a cat, survives despite all odds. Carol J. Clover coined the term back in 1993, in Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in Modern Horror Film. Adam Rockoff (2002) has since summed up the character of the Final Girl as ‘defined by her toughness, resourcefulness, determination and perseverance’. The joke in You’re Next is that, while Erin (Sharni Vinson) initially appears to be yet another in a line of preternaturally tough females, she conveniently grew up in a survivalist compound in the Australian outback. This is explained half way through and changes everything; convenient for her, inconvenient for nearly everyone else, particularly her amoral boyfriend, who brought her to the family gathering (turned massacre) to be the sole survivor (but a passive one). With her survival camp background revealed, Erin is given free rein to be as hard as nails (incidentally, one of her weapons of choice). The filmmakers take full advantage of her resourcefulness but, in a moment when she throws a pot of boiled water over an attacker, they also mockingly undermine it; Erin’s would-be victim exclaims that the water has gone cold. In other words, even the professionally-trained Final Girl makes silly mistakes, something that could equally be said for viewers who thought otherwise.

4 - Photo By Lionsgate, Corey Ransberg

A trifecta of tame animal masks (lamb, tiger, fox) provide another play on the well-established genre norms. While the masks of Michael Myers, Leatherface and Hannibal Lecter were an added source of fear, it is now enough just to acknowledge the convention, albeit with ironically innocent disguises. Reviewers who call the film’s use of familiar tropes unoriginal are, therefore, missing the point.

5 - Lionsgate, Corey Ransberg

Dark humour is also derived from the repetition of the 1977 song ‘Lookin for the Magic’ by the Dwight Twilley Band, originally played diegetically in the opening sequence, in which a couple are killed. Right before the girl meets her end we see her put the song on repeat. As the only neighbours of the family under attack, we later understand the motivation for the killing when various members of the family run to the house for safety and, of course, ‘Lookin for the Magic’ continues to play. Unlike for us, the clued in observers, the song provides false hope that there are people in the house (people who are alive) to help them. Instead, there is a killer waiting, with the death cycle looping like the music.

Michel Chion (2009), a prominent film sound theorist, uses the term ‘anempathetic’ to describe music that is ostensibly indifferent ‘to the pathetic or tragic quality of the scene in which it occurs’. He gives the example of a music heard ‘during a scene of murder, rape, [or] torture’ that continues during and afterward ‘as if nothing has happened’. You’re Next takes this to another, darkly humourous level; we keep revisiting the same song, at various points in the film, reminding us that the poor bodies of the first victims are still waiting to be found. The sound design seems inspired by the recurrence of Donovan’s ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’ in Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007). Heard non-diegetically over scenes of murder, the dreamy 1968 song is turned into a dark anthem by connotation. Also, not only are both songs repeated at various moments in their respective films, but the parts played are highly repetitive; the Dwight Twiley song features the band’s characteristic ‘rockabilly “slapback” echo’, while Donovan’s vocals are overlaid to create an echo. Indeed, if the metaphor for You’re Next’s violence is a vicious circle, then it fits well with the broken record metaphor of the song on repeat. Like with the film as a whole, senseless violence is rarely this well thought out or this much fun.

[You’re Next, Hanway Films; Snoot Entertainment, 2011. Director: Adam Wingard. Writer: Simon Barrett. Starring: Sharni Vinson, Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen].

Works Cited

Bachelard, G. (1958). The Poetics of Space.

Chion, M. (2003; 2009). Film, A Sound Art. Trans. Claudia Gorbman. Columbia University Press: 467

Clover, C. J. (1993). Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in Modern Horror Film. Princeton University Press.

King, G. (2002). New Hollywood Cinema: An Introduction. I.B.Tauris: 116-146

Nicholson, A. (2013). ‘You’re Next Is a Horror Movie for Film Students’, Village Voice, August 21. Available at  http://www.villagevoice.com/2013-08-21/film/you-re-next/ [4/10/13]

Rockoff, A. (2002). Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film, 1978-1986. McFarland: 13

Taylor, D. (2013). ‘Interview: ‘You’re Next’ Writer Simon Barrett & Director Adam Wingard On Sequel Ideas, Inspiration & The ‘V/H/S’ Franchise.’Indiewire.com, August 26. Available at: http://blogs.indiewire.com/theplaylist/interview-youre-next-writer-simon-barrett-and-director-adam-wingard-on-the-movies-long-journey-to-theaters-potential-sequels-inspiration-and-the-v-h-s-franchise-20130822 [4/10/13]

ABOUT

Jennifer O’Meara is a PhD Candidate in Film Studies at Trinity College Dublin, where her research focuses on verbal style in art cinema, particularly independent American cinema. Jennifer has contributed chapters to Verse, Voice and Vision: Poetry and the Cinema (ed. Santos, 2013) and The Films of Wes Anderson (ed. Kunze, 2014). Her writing has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Cinema Journal, Literature/Film Quarterly, and Scope.