Review: You’re Next (2013)

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Director: Adam Wingard
Screenwriter: Simon Barrett
Cast: Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn, A.J. Bowen, Barbara Crampton, Rob Moran, Joe Swanberg & Amy Seimetz
Runtime: 95 min // Certificate: 18

The slow, painful demise of the slasher genre is, at least to me, one of the great cinematic tragedies of our time. Considering how dominant such films were in the eighties, it’s a terrible shame to see them demoted to the type of straight-to-video trash that not even Rob Zombie would try to remake. Yet every now and then a film comes along which promises to breathe new life into the genre. In the eighties it was A Nightmare on Elm Street. In the nineties it was Scream. Two years ago it was The Cabin in the Woods. In between these we had a few minor successes, such as Freddy vs. Jason (which was awful, though it at least attempted to do something new) and The Rise of Leslie Vernon (which was great), yet on the whole the genre has been replaced and subsumed by a hateful, malignant force known as “torture porn”.

You’ll have to forgive me, therefore, when I take such proclamations as “You’re Next is the saviour of the slasher genre” with a huge pinch of salt. Yet, though it is a rather generic affair, You’re Next is a brilliant entry into a genre that has been on life support for well over a decade. You see, progress isn’t always a good thing and Adam Wingard understands this so much that he makes the important but satisfying decision to all but step back in time, to an era when slasher films were simple and stupid, yet were also damn good fun. You’re Next indulges in all of the sensibilities of the late-eighties / nineties slashers with love, respect, gusto and a hilarious dollop of dark humour to top it all off. It looks modern, and it is somewhat let down by its determination to explain the inexplicable, yet at its heart it’s a classic eighties slasher romp.

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You’re Next is like the murderous cousin of August: Osage County. What starts off as a family melodrama, in which disparate elements of a large clan of people come together for a meal and then proceed to slag each other rotten, quickly descends into fatal chaos when one of the group takes an arrow to the face from outside. It soon dawns on the group that their house is under attack from three vicious sons-of-bitches in animal masks. One-by-one the less important characters are mauled and maimed until just a few remain. Following a classic “stalk and stab” pattern, the film moves from one act of senseless violence to the next, with each kill upping the ante and the bloodshed until the survivors are practically drowning in a river of their relatives’ entrails. It’s gruesome, it’s gory and it’s gloriously entertaining.

What You’re Next does so well is it manages to maintain a consistent level of humour and tension throughout its runtime. Clocking in at just over 90 minutes, it is perfectly paced and doesn’t get bogged down in slow contrivances or pointless sex scenes. Once the murders start to happen the bodies rack up pretty quickly, and though the deaths are inventive and gruesome they’re never glorified in the style of Hostel or the later Saw sequels. Continuing the trend of the slasher sequel, in which the deaths had to be more sudden, more grotesque and more shocking, You’re Next saves its surprises, littering them throughout the picture rather than throwing them all at you in one fell swoop. Sure, you can tell who won’t make it past the first act almost immediately but hey, that’s all part of the fun of watching a slasher film. Furthermore, that doesn’t mean the film can’t still throw a few shocks your way now and then, just to spice it up a bit.

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Of course a slasher film is only truly as great as its final girl, so it’s a good job Sharni Vinson is more than a match for Jamie Lee Curtis, Heather Langenkamp or Neve Campbell. She’s resourceful, moral and knows how to react to any given situation. She isn’t afraid to face death in the eye, knee him in the bollocks and then tear his head open with a blender, but she also isn’t the type of person to run upstairs to escape her assailants when the door is wide open. She’s smart, creative and funny, which makes her terribly easy to root for against the onslaught of familial violence that she’s enduring, and she conforms to type in such a manner that it made me almost indescribably happy; it felt like I was watching a classic slasher film all over again, without all the modern day trappings that have left the genre in the dirt.

Let’s not dole out praise where it isn’t due; You’re Next doesn’t mark the next evolution in slasher cinema. Far from it, it is in fact a film firmly rooted in the sensibilities and conventions of the pre-millennium era. Nevertheless, as homages to the past go it is up there with the best of them. It has few pretentions, it doesn’t seek to change the face of the genre and it serves its purpose well. It also achieves what few horror-comedies and even fewer slasher-comedies do; it’s actually funny. There is some wicked dark humour to the proceedings, aided primarily by the family drama at the heart of the set-up, and though it’s never scary, it’s sufficiently gory and amusing to get a pass from me.

Put it like this; I’ll take a generic but enjoyable slasher over a dull Exorcist-wannabe any day of the month. You’re Next might not offer anything new but I’ll be damned if it isn’t the most fun I’ve had with a horror film in a very long time.