October Horrorshow: You’re Next

Right now, here in New York City, the sky is overcast and the air is a crisp 60 degrees (that’s 16 degrees for you Loyal Seven from points far and wide). It’s a typical fall day, and that sucks. On days like this, I worry the sun won’t make another appearance until it’s too cold out for clouds to form. But, I shouldn’t worry, because it’s October, and that means it’s time for the Sixth Annual October Horrorshow here on Missile Test, where I watch and review horror films for an entire month. The good, the bad, the putrid...it doesn’t matter, so long as there’s blood. Today’s film has buckets of the stuff.

For twenty-seven minutes, viewers of director Adam Wingard’s You’re Next are forced to endure the company of a dysfunctional family, culminating in a dinner that’s both passive-aggressive and a bit shouty. Then people start dying and things begin to look up.

You’re Next tells the story of the Davison family, gathered together on a rare occasion at mom and dad’s (Barbara Crampton and Rob Moran) country home. But, outside the house, danger lurks, in the form of a group of murderous men in animal masks. It’s not clear what their motivations are, but their intent is to kill all of the Davisons and their significant others. Crossbows, machetes, piano wire, a splitting maul — the killers employ a wide range of slasher flick classics.

My personal favorite is the splitting maul. Picture a sledgehammer with an axe head swung like a golf club. That particular death occurred at the house next door to the Davison’s. It’s a frequently visited location, and memorable because there’s a stereo in the living room that keeps playing a single song over and over and over again. Before I watched this film, I had never heard Looking for the Magic by the Dwight Twilley band. Now that I have, I’m eagerly looking forward to drinking away the memory.

Potential viewers shouldn’t let a bizarrely annoying song keep them away from this film, however. Wingard’s use of the song, along with the combative dialogue among the family members, is darkly comedic. Considering how relentlessly violent this movie is, a little bit of levity goes a long way. Still, the violence threatens to overwhelm this film, becoming the sole purpose of the film’s existence. This is a problem with modern slasher flicks. Without presenting any clear reasons for all the killing (early on, anyway), You’re Next can be regarded as exploitative schlock if a viewer cannot commit to more than a cursory look. There’s not an ocean’s worth of depth to this one, to be sure, but there was just enough story to keep me waiting for the resolution.

The ensemble cast contains a few faces that fans of recent horror will recognize, particularly Ti West and Joe Swanberg. Their acting skills show that their talents continue to lay on the other side of the camera, and I mention them only because their presence means You’re Next can be added to a growing list of incestuous low-budget horror flicks that have been cropping up the last few years.

The bulk of the heavy lifting in the cast is done by Sharni Vinson. In her short career, she’s become a veteran of some serious shitty cinema, racking up credits in titles such as Bait 3D and Step Up 3D. In You’re Next, she’s the alpha character, the only one of the victims who tries to take control of the situation and fight back against the killers. She’s hero enough to root for.

Adam Wingard crafted a slick horror film with You’re Next. Some of the scenes early on when the family tries to interact are somewhat of a chore to get through, but when the blood starts flowing, the flaws begin to even out, even with the singular violence. You’re Next is a combination of modern cinematic sensibilities and ’70s horror. If that sounds familiar, it’s because films like this have become no longer just homage to horror of the past, but a style in their own right. While Wingard doesn’t have the same cinematic grace as Ti West, he understands that viewers appreciate films with a quicker pace. I couldn’t wait to see how this film ended, which is much better than saying that I couldn’t wait for this film to end.