As far as horror films go, Adam Wingard’s You’re Next is mild. It is by no means Saw or Nightmare on Elm Street. But it is still a horror film, though it beats to its own drum. Wingard’s approach is strike and go. He does not linger on the blood or violence. There is more to this story than that.
In You’re Next, a wealthy couple invite their grown children and their partners to their isolated estate. As the family gathers, it is a very typical dysfunctional family dinner. Old rivalries that have resided in deep resentment surface. During a heated argument at the dinner table, one boyfriend notices something outside. He stands up to look out the window. He is the first of this family to fall fate to the animal masked men outside the home. Ironically, the boyfriend is a documentary filmmaker who is portrayed by horror film maker Ti West.
The message “You’re Next” is scrawled around the house. So, we the humble horror film viewer, know that there is more to come. The film, however, has a few plot turns that are unexpected. Mainly the character of Erin, the girlfriend of one of the sons. Sharni Vinson is by the far the best part of this film. As Erin she is a strong, independent, leader and survivor. When all the mess hits the fan, she goes into survival mode. She does what she learned to do growing up in Australia. It is natural for her, unlike her boyfriend who runs off. This sets Erin apart from this family that she marry into.
Erin is the only one who does not give up. She is only one who does what she must to survive. She will not allow this darkness, this violence, this injustice, to win. And it’s not easy. She sets up traps and arms herself with an axe. The true difficult moment comes when she figures out who is behind all of this violence.
At the heart of this film (do horror films have hearts?) is family. The problem that the film presents for us is that the darkness, the violence, the injustice that we experience can be at the hands of our family. It quickly becomes clear that the family reunion has been hijacked to ensure that one son gets an inheritance much sooner than planned.
It is hard to believe that family would do this to family. Paul Tillich taught that the thing we care about the most – the thing that motivates us to do the things that we do – becomes our ultimate concern. And that ultimate concern becomes our religion.
And, let’s face it, people do crazy things for their religion. Even kill?