You’re Next (2013, Wingard)
You’re Next, the long-awaited slasher-pic by Adam Wingard, operates on a familiar and basic level but manages to get by with the skin of its clever script and the headstrong Aussie bad-assery of its female lead.
Introducing us to an unsympathetic familial lot sets up the bloodshed to come as well as the shrewd switcheroo of victim-trading friends for family. The crucial dinner scene allows for some the funniest bits to come through. Arguably the highlight of the film comes in a little exchange when Drake (played by filmmaker Joe Swanberg in a gem of a turn) antagonistically prods Tariq (a filmmaker played by filmmaker Ti West) about the meaning of underground film festivals only to then suggest that commercials are the highest form of the visual medium. It’s a great bit if you don’t know that the two actors are real-life filmmakers; it’s even funnier if you do.
The scene illustrates the three-pronged tonality of You’re Next. Much of the film is played for laughs by way of black comedy, but Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett lose their way a bit by simultaneously trying to play it straight in certain respects. This is a problem because the film certainly amuses but doesn’t succeed in its attempts at conventional scares. It strains itself trying to blend the two (for other reasons I’ll get to soon) but there’s enough of that third prong, spots of applied banality, to keep the tone afloat even if it threatens to further complicate matters. The very first scene is a standout example of this; a strong sense of mundane dissatisfaction wafts off the two characters. This becomes engaging to watch because of that tone and its lack of context even though we know we are watching a standard kill-scene.
You’re Next doesn’t quite come together the way it should because of the willy-nilly direction and inconsistent acting. There are moments of inspired havoc and verve throughout, but there is a general lack of focus on Wingard’s part; a focus necessary to stick the landing. Part of this has to do with a missed opportunity in establishing the space of the house, a tactic used to great effect by James Wan in The Conjuring. Part of this has to do with failing to consistently establish the space and chaos within even one room and one scene. The fallout of the aforementioned dinner scene has the right manic energy but is unable to spatially harness the scene. The camera exists in heavy hand-held terrain without effectively utilizing it as a stylistic choice and the result is flim-flam camerawork and editing amidst moments of stimulating punch.
The acting becomes a problem most noticeably when two key performers are unable to sell an already preposterous twist. Distracting performances make a script transparent and as a viewer I start to ‘see the pages’ while watching. This is always a bad sign and there were moments throughout when I became aware of said transparency.
Luckily Joe Swanberg and Barbara Crampton (words do not describe how happy I was to see her in this) are MVP runner-ups. But the best thing about You’re Next is Sharni Vinson who walks away with this film as Erin. Her brimming competence and makeshift strategies make this bloody affair a two-way street. Vinson plays a worthy Final Girl, refreshingly written in her self-assuredness. This is a woman who doesn’t just make it by the skin of her teeth, but who slaughters her way through with everything she’s got, which in this case are considerable survival skills and relentless determination.
Despite the issues laden within You’re Next, this is still a consistently fun time. A killer 80’s horror movie synth score kicks in late in the game, a Dwight Twilley Band song is memorably used to nightmarish repeat effect, the streak of dark comedy emerges in some regard more often than not and the script has a much-appreciated self-aware inventiveness.