When I sit down and envision a movie, not what’s on the marquee, but what I want to see, at its core, every time, is You’re Next. This is a principle made celluloid, to be applied to other things. In a perfect world, it is. Every movie has a character like this. Every movie with a laser gun, and a space battle, and a robot menace — and no bikini slave girls ever.
I’ve talked about You’re Next before, and so I’ll reproduce that here — you won’t get the dorky excitement I’m sure is evident in my voice, so just imagine it. If you don’t, then you can’t read this (spoiler alert):
You’re Next is directed by Adam Wingard and written by Simon Barrett. It’s a home invasion story that takes a few key turns and ends up transcending the genre, whatever that means. What it means for You’re Next is that it offers one central feature that’s too potent to forget.
There’s a gradual sense of discovery the viewer undergoes while watching, because the movie starts out in a seemingly traditional way, a couple of kills in the beginning and a family arriving at an isolated mansion. And indeed these two pieces do come together, but after the initial attack, things just become plainly unpredictable as say people are unmasked. We find out that the invaders are actually people, more like ruthless thugs than sociopathic serial killers, the brothers we thought we understood are actually hiding this great darkness, and of course, Erin is a total badass.
I think what’s so impressive and perhaps even inspirational to optimism about Wingard and Barrett is that their strong female character here comes from a completely genuine place and without any “feminist agenda.” In the writer and director commentary, they say that Erin, the main character played by Sharni Vinson, is not someone who acts tough, she’s someone who is tough, and actually part of her character is that she’s kind of embarrassed how tough she is, she makes a point to hide it from her boyfriend. And ultimately it’s just very I guess utopian, like they made this movie in a world of their own, free of the context of the reality of gender inequality. And that’s nice because that shouldn’t be the only reason why we have female badasses. Sometimes we should have them because they’re fucking cool, and also because they’re not as mythological as their absence in pop culture might belie. Much as I love Snake Plissken, I end up liking Eden Sinclair even more. And I’m just gonna leave that reference as is, assuming everyone got it because they should.
Basically they just wanted a badass, and the reason she’s female is almost arbitrary — it does in a way stem from a frustration with horror movie tradition, not American historical tradition necessarily. But Erin in the movie, they describe her on the writer/director commentary, is this person who’s anti-Final Girl. They cite Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween as somebody who is quintessential Final Girl but she succeeds only because of dumb luck, and she’s actually kinda incompetent. And elsewhere you see these girls who are no different than the other shrill teenage victims, just that maybe they’re virgins or are shy. I guess there can be some overlap there. Erin on the other hand asserts her badassness almost immediately.
And she really is the beating heart of this movie. While she ends up in a much different place from where she began, she actually undergoes very little in the ways of character development, but she’s just an amazing character to watch. And one of those things I value in these kinds of characters is that they utilize both their brain and brawn, something I mentioned with the Major, who thinks about how she’s gonna kick ass, and then does it. Erin eventually rigs traps, one of which has unintended consequence, and the way the movie is made we really get a sense of her thought process in a very visual way, and yet we’re pleasantly surprised by what happens because she’s thinking on a different level than us.
And so you have these two pieces, this First Girl shall we say, and the revisionist element, where we have these two amazingly film literate guys taking horror back in an age where the same old shit gets circulated because this genre is so trend-heavy, and one of the trends is just one-upping Scream, even in good movies like Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett just wanted to create a fun movie, and it works so well that the potential criticism that you can only have a kickass girl in one of these non-serious horror movies seems mostly irrelevant.
This movie made a lot of money for its budget, but it didn’t necessarily have the cultural penetration on the same level as say The Cabin in the Woods, which would be more of a game-changer. Horror movies from here must then feature cool chicks on their own volition, and a way to do that perhaps is have personnel coming to horror from elsewhere. You’re Next was the combination of horror, specifically home invasion, and this independent scene known as mumblecore, which was this mini-movement started in the early 2000s out of function, basically a bunch of actors who weren’t getting work began to cast themselves in their own movies. One example is Lena Dunham’s debut Tiny Furniture, and Linklater’s Before Sunset, which is weird because that’s the second of three movies.
Anyway these are mostly romantic comedies, and because of the whole actor/director thing, they were characterized by naturalistic dialogue and performances. You’ll notice in the dinner scene and elsewhere in You’re Next that people are talking over each other and there’s a lot of ands and ums. It’s uncommon in film because it’s not something you would write in a screenplay, and because it’s a nightmare for sound editing, the talking over people aspect. So what they’ll do I guess is have some actors in some takes not speaking, just pretending to talk. Which sounds like a headache.
But this and other circles are where Wingard and Barrett are coming from, not only horror movies. They cite John Woo and Home Alone as influences, alongside Alien and The Strangers. Horror always seemed like a community, both with the people who make the movies, and those who watch them. Even with this movie, the cast is filled out with a lot of directors — Joe Swanberg, Ti West, and the guy at the beginning, Larry Fessenden. And they specifically reached out to Barbara Crampton because of her roles in the classic Stuart Gordon movies Re-Animator and From Beyond. So culture and community, these things go hand in hand.
The only negative thing I can dredge up to say about You’re Next is a critical exclusion of the film’s very title…
So in the end, Crispin is trying to phone Felix, who’s just been blended, and of course, Erin picks up, and Crispin’s like revealing his plan, that indeed he was behind the plot as well as Felix and Zee. So, covered in blood, Erin stays on the line as Crispin’s like hey what’s going on, and I expected her the whole time to say, “YOU’RE NEXT.”