BY FRANK TAMBERINO
You’re Next gets it right.
The quality of horror films has devolved over the years. The genre has, for the most part, sacrificed art for blockbuster success. This unfortunate decline has been encouraged by an audience that has come to invite cheap jump-out scares and C-grade actors. One of the most tragic transformations in the genre is that the actual horror has become the focal point. In works of true mastery, this is never the case. In The Shining, for example, the source of fear is the Overlook’s inexplicable ability to possess. It does this not by transforming Jack Torrance into a mindless zombie or otherworldly demon, but instead by reaching into his pre-existing subconscious and using his relationship with his family to seduce him. In this sense, the fear is conditional. It depends entirely on the film’s ability to sell Jack’s troubled relationship with his wife and son. That’s what gives the film the subtle, creeping quality that makes it such a masterpiece. The audience is so distracted by the label of horror that it doesn’t notice what is moving underneath.
You’re Next was originally an independent horror film by director Adam Wingard until it was acquired by Lionsgate and given a wide release a few weeks ago. It is a film that accomplishes what The Shining did thirty years ago (to a lesser extent, of course) in the sense that the horror is founded on an organic force outside of any attempt to shock or scare. In fact, the film is much more of a family drama than a horror film.
It begins with four adult siblings traveling to their parents’ house with their respective spouses for the parents’ anniversary. From the beginning, Wingard focuses on the dynamics of the family. Instead of asking “When’s something going to jump out?” the audience instead finds itself asking questions about the personal struggles and connections within the group. The relationships aren’t there to be “human” or even “relatable.” They’re serious components of the plot and give the film its identity.
As the evening progresses, the gathering is eventually disrupted by a home invasion. Several masked strangers begin picking off the family with crossbows, axes, and razor wire. The film is gory, but it avoids another classic pitfall in that it is creatively gory. It is clear that Wingard made an effort to avoid the predictable. It is also clear that he not only inhabited the minds of the helpless family members, but also stepped into the perspective of the intruders. This empathy assisted interplay between both parties and engaged the audience’s interest in the strategy of a home intrusion.
Ultimately, the shining star of You’re Next was Sharni Vinson, the Australian actress who portrayed Erin, the girlfriend of one of the sons. Erin emerges as the heroine of the film. This in itself is nothing nuanced, as modern horror films have adored the role of the feminine for years now, playing both with helplessness and empowerment. However, many “last-standing” actresses in horror films these days are cringe-worthy. Their failure lies in their activation of fear and not survival instinct. This only perpetuates stereotypical images of the feminine as being uncontrolled in a time of panic or danger. Sharni Vinson demolishes this exhausted stereotype with her brilliantly convincing portrayal of a woman with the ability to remain calm in a time of abject peril and do what is necessary to endure. The faceoff that ensues between the intruders and Erin is, in my view, nothing less than legendary.
Because You’re Next relied on the relationships between characters as opposed to the phenomenon of horror, its plot wove a beautiful conclusion the likes of which I would not dare spoil. For what it accomplishes, You’re Next is a cinematic savior of a genre for which artistic guidance is desperately needed. Although I wouldn’t put it up right next to The Shining, it might have earned a spot a shelf or two down.
Frank Tamberino ’16 ([email protected]) thinks this whole problem would be solved if every director would cast Scatman Crothers in every role ever.