There’s an exchange deep into the second act of this home-invasion horror/thriller that encapsulates perfectly the entire You’re Next experience. Our Australian heroine Erin (Sharni Vinson) has finally taken charge and sets about instructing her fellow survivors on what must be done to survive this frightening onslaught. She approaches gothic archetype “Zee” (Wendy Glenn) and carefully explains the technique of hammering a nail through a plank of wood (a complex procedure to be sure). In complete awe, Zee asks where one could have learned such wonderful skills. Casually, Erin reveals her origin growing up on an outback survivalist compound (which every Australian knows are a dime a dozen Down Under).
It’s in moments like these the audience is asked to make the critical choice to take this film seriously or as satire. If it’s the former, the film is a complete write-off; with nothing in the acting, dialogue or overall plot retaining any measure of credibility. More likely it’s contrivances are in jest. But in making You’re Next its own punch-line, the audience isn’t laughing at its influences or conventions of the genre but rather the film itself, effectively neutering it’s worth as a parody.
Feeling somewhat starved for a quality horror film, I was sad to discover the buzz surrounding You’re Next was more to do with indulgent in jokes than quality film-making. A lot about this movie feels amateur and poorly explored, beginning with its title. The words ‘You’re Next’ sprawled in blood, both in the film and in promotions, suggest the victims are part of an ongoing and more ominous horror. Not so. Instead, the motivations of these killers are tied directly (and underwhelmingly) to this event and these people, leaving this whole gimmick (along with the creepy animal masks seen in all the posters) with no standing in the film despite being great marketing fodder.
Perhaps most jarring is the unnatural and lazily written dialogue. Stilted, wooden and almost always expository, this felt like the first draft of a script. It’s not just that writer Simon Barrett ignores the golden ‘show don’t tell’ rule, but what’s being told is so rarely of use. The minutia of every act being explained is indicative of just how little confidence the writer has in his script, often causing the characters to sound insecure in their decisions regardless of whether they are taking charge or hiding under tables.
Though considering the survival instincts displayed here maybe they should be second guessing themselves. Without getting into specifics, there are way too many situations in You’re Next where the character’s means to survival are completely nonsensical. You can see the ideas having merit on paper, but in practice the director comes off as either too lazy to choose the correct set or props that would make sense of their actions, or too lazy to rewrite the scene to give their actions logic. And while we are on the subject of settling for a location, there are some significant inconsistencies with the geography of the house. The staircase in particular ignores the laws of physics, allowing the 1st and 2nd floors to exist in the same space only when convenient to the story.
Underdeveloped scripting and continuity quibbles can be easily be forgiven, it’s the actors that are most abrasive to the viewer. To be fair there’s not much in the script to work with, but that does little to forgive this unbelievable and unlikable cast who are homogenous in their phoned in performances. There’s nobody here to root for, rather the characters serve only as a countdown, bringing you closer to the credits each thankful time someone is killed off. Worst of all is a horribly self-indulgent and out-of-place scene where director Tariq (played by filmmaker Ti West) defends his life choice to make movies against the jock who just doesn’t get his art. The scene continues with them explaining that an underground film festival means it’s intellectual and not actually screened beneath the surface. Defend your career choices in your own time guys.
To the film’s credit there were a few moments in the third act that were fun payoffs, one clever reveal in particular. But even this was fumbled by the unnecessarily drawn out confrontation following it. Now there’s definitely an audience for this film that will no doubt revel in laughing at its shortcomings just as much as they love the cheap scares and uninspired violence. But a less discerning demographic shouldn’t mean this movie gets a free pass on being hollow and unimaginative.
This is easy movie-making made for an audience on auto pilot. You can argue that not every film needs to be a masterpiece, that not every film has to be about the characters and clever writing, and you’d be right. If this is all you want in your cinema experience then more power to you, but you don’t see a food critic give a five-star review to some fast food joint just because the kid on the register admits the food is trash and the patrons don’t care if their fries are cold.