You're Next (2011)

Review first appeared in Sight & Sound, September 2013

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Synopsis: A student and her older professor are murdered in their woodland love-nest by strangers who leave the message “You’re next” written in blood.

Entering their retirement mansion next door, Paul and Avery Davison hear footsteps upstairs, but are distracted by the staggered arrival of their four adult children (Crispian, Drake, Felix, Aimee) and their respective partners (Erin, Kelly, Zee, Tariq) for a rare family get-together. During dinner, arrows fired from outside kill Tariq and injure Drake. As she sprints out the front door to get help, Aimee’s throat is cut on a wire trap. The traumatised Aubrey is hacked to death in her upstairs bedroom by a hidden killer who uses her blood for the graffito “You’re next”. Fleeing next door, Kelly is killed there by another masked figure. Crispian goes out for help, while Erin batters a masked intruder to death. After Paul is murdered upstairs, it emerges that Felix (with Zee) has hired three killers to expedite access to his inheritance. Reluctantly, Felix himself stabs Drake. Erin finds Paul’s body and, realising what is happening, outwits and kills the other two mercenaries, and then dispatches Felix and Zee in a vicious kitchen fight. When Crispian returns, inadvertently revealing that he is in on Felix’s plot, Erin kills him too. A policeman arrives and is about to arrest the blood-soaked Erin when he accidentally walks into an axe trap that she had set earlier.

Review: “It should be interesting,” says Crispian Davison (A.J. Bowen) to his younger girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson) about the first gathering in years of the entire Davison clan. “You’ll see.”

Sure enough, tensions abound as underachieving academic Crispian and the other three adult Davison siblings – nettlesome Drake (Joe Swanberg), ‘princess’ Aimee (Amy Seimetz) and black sheep Felix (Nicholas Tucci) – converge with their respective partners for the 35th wedding anniversary of their recently retired father Paul (Rob Moran) and ailing mother Aubrey (Barbara Crampton) in an old woodland mansion which, like the family that it now accommodates, lets its cracks show. So the stage seems set for a finely observed social comedy of dysfunctional manners – except that a rather different genre has been suggested by the prologue in which the senior Davisons’ new neighbours were slaughtered post-coitally by intruders who daubed “You’re next” on the walls with the couple’s blood.

Soon family and friends find themselves at odds not just with each other, but with three masked assailants who are, for reasons as yet unknown, intent on murdering them with crossbow, machete and axe – although no-one reckons on the fact that Erin, a stranger in this all-American family, was raised in a “survivalist compound”, and is not going merely to watch quietly from the sidelines. Amidst all the domestic squabbling and bloody butchery, comedy and horror will come crashing together, even if the underlying theme remains the same, as director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett set about cruelly dissecting the generational decline of the haute bourgeoisie. Even the title You’re Next, which at first sounds so blandly generic, turns out to allude obliquely to the issues of succession and inheritance that haunt the Davison’s dwindling dynasty and motor the film’s home invasion/slasher plot.

With its feckless post-teen characters and its cast of mumblecore luminaries and FantasticFest folk, You’re Next aligns itself with the indie horror movement-of-the-moment known loosely as ‘mumblegore’ – think the Duplass brothers’ Baghead (2008), Wingard’s own A Horrible Way to Die (2010), Joe Swanberg’s Silver Bullets (2011), Katie Aselton’s Black Rock (2012) and the films of Ti West (who cameos here as Aimee’s documentary-directing boyfriend Tariq). Yet while Wingard’s latest has the broadest mainstream appeal of all these titles, its focus on class is unusual in contemporary American genre cinema. For here there is a dynamic contrast not only between self-reliant, affluent parents and their work-shy, parasitic children, but also between Paul who has made his fortune marketing at the top end of the military-industrial complex, and the three mercenary grunts from its bottom. Meanwhile Australian outsider Erin has been working her own way through college as resourcefully as she will slice through aggressors.

So even if You’re Next combines the eerie home invasions of The Strangers (2008) with the destructive family dysfunction, animal masks, axes through doors and even musical cues from The Shining (1980), it offers its own hilarious, high-body-count take on the uneasy downward flow of American capital. You’ll see.

Anton Bitel