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You’re Next

August 23, 2013
You're Next

At first I wasn’t going to bother writing up a review for You’re Next. After seeing it garnering some praise I think I have to explain just what I see going so wrong with this movie. The short answer: there’s no damn story here.

After an initial double-murder as a sort of gory amuse-bouche, we see a family — the Davisons — gather around their remote, isolated mansion. In addition to the parents (Rob Moran and scream queen Barbara Crampton), we’ve got their four children — three sons and a daughter — and their significant others all gathered around the table.

But we’ve barely heard all of their names when the bloodbath starts. As the preppy favorite son (Joe Swanberg) starts the same petty bullying of his brother the perpetual grad student (AJ Bowen) the daughter’s boyfriend (Ti West) — the only remotely non-white character we ever see — notices something outside. Getting up to look, he’s promptly shot through the head with a crossbow bolt. That’ll teach her to date the wrong kind of guy, I guess.

Out in the woods, there are three paramilitary attackers with archaic weapons — bows, knives, machetes — and wearing animal masks. Who they are and why they’re slaughtering the family we do eventually learn, but it’s tacked on almost as an afterthought. There are a handful of conjectures hinted at in what passes for a script — Paul made his fortune in defense contracting; could that have something to do with it? — but there’s no real effort to make us guess. It’s a game of survival, pure and simple.

The one catch is that the grad student’s girlfriend, Erin (Sharni Vinson) turns out to be better at this game than we might expect, and certainly better than the guys in the masks expected. What ensues has been praised as “a fun, gory Home Alone,” and I suppose there’s something to that.

The problem, though, is that Home Alone spent a significant amount of its running time setting up for the invasion. We have to learn who Kevin McCallister is and care about him before the Wet Bandits really try to break in. You’re Next spends none of this time, and so I don’t really care who the Davisons are, or who’s outside, or why any of them are being killed.

It’s not even the gore or the violence that’s the problem. Take, for example, Straw Dogs, either Sam Peckinpah’s original or Rod Lurie’s recent remake. Again, we spend half the film learning who David and Amy Sumner are before Charlie Venner and his crew come bursting in, and by that point we also know and care both why Venner wants in and what’s at stake for Sumner in keeping him out. The violence has a point and a purpose beyond simple gory titillation.

You’re Next is titillating, though; I have to give it that. The audience I saw it with was engaged, laughing and cheering riotously and infectiously throughout. It’s clear right from the start that this is a ridiculous romp with no real tension or atmosphere, so you can just relax and revel in the carnage if that’s all you care about.

There was one part that I thought particularly well-done: Swanberg’s performance as a preppy bully was perfect. I hated this guy from the get-go, and was one of the most enthusiastic applauders when he finally got what was coming to him. But when the only character you get me to care about is one I want to die even sooner, you haven’t really done your job as a storyteller.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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