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Expectations in a horror film can often be guided by the opening sequence. This introductory scene sets the stage for the amount of violence and gore, general space/time/setting of a film. I guess one could say that – especially for a horror film – first impressions count.

After reading about You’re Next (Directed by Adam Wingard, 2011) and anticipating it heatedly, this viewer was dismayed at the opening scenes. Sure, it boasts a beautiful girl wearing nothing but an unbuttoned dress shirt and a decent song to slaughter to. But the cutaway editing as the killing blow is dealt crushed my expectations. As a fan of horror, I don’t always want the details to be left to the imagination. Slashers should have plenty of splatter. But as the plot barreled forward, I felt a sick smile play across my lips. Because once the family has been assembled at the gorgeous, secluded manor; once the tension has been wound as tight as piano wire; and once a family feud has been cut short by the sickening thud of a crossbow bolt crashing through the unsuspecting forehead of a party guest, You’re Next takes off like a fox fleeing a hound – and it doesn’t let up until the credits roll.

While all the actors give adequate performances, Sharni Vinson (as Erin) absolutely steals the show. Although no stroke of genius, the screenplay allows for a quick logical explanation for Erin’s Australian-flavored bad-assery. Her acting chops aren’t exemplified through dialogue – in fact she doesn’t have much to say, aside from the bark of commands. But for a woman of her stature, Sharni convincingly wields a meat tenderizer, bashing skulls to a pulp.

I once heard someone say that there’s no room to reinvent the wheel in horror anymore. I can’t say that You’re Next is the second coming for the home invasion gore-fest genre. But I’ll be damned if it isn’t an excellent addition. Boasting a score that’s catchy, melancholy, hypnotizing and driving, the film still finds a way to leave room for short breaths of silent recovery from a confined blitzkrieg of action and murder.

At this point, sharp minds that have not seen You’re Next will need to note that spoilers are ahead. There is a common theme permeating the suspension of disbelief and propelling this grizzly animal story to its climax: money is thicker than blood. A discerning viewer will always be searching for the motivation of a killer, a reason in the madness. One of the most striking aspects of the masked murderers are the animal facades they use to hide their identities. Though no more than Halloween masks accompanied by black-on-black military dress, the fact that this traumatizing tale takes place in a secluded forest location and is perpetrated by animal killers suggests a subtext. Whether it was meant to be read into or not is a matter of conjecture. But I get the feeling that the symbolism is at at least more than passing. It’s interesting to think that the emotions foreign to animals that man is capable of – greed, hatred, betrayal – can motivate the most beastly of acts in mankind imaginable. And once provoked and backed into a corner, Sharni lashes out right back, drawing on a well of survivalist militant training from her upbringing in the Australian outback.

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Each member of the family reacts to impending doom in their own way. Sharni is of course a survivor. Crispien, the middle brother and Sharni’s boyfriend (AJ Bowen) attempts to rise to heroism, mostly prompted as an attempt to match Sharni’s fervor. Aubrey, the matriarch of the family (Barbara Crampton) is thrown to immediate depression and Paul (Rob Moran), the patriarch, is numb. Aimee (Amy Seimetz), the sister is screaming her dismay at the fact that “we’re all going to die!” while Felix (Nicholas Tucci) hardly seems to react and is in utter disbelief at the carnage surrounding him. In the end, it doesn’t matter how they react. If you don’t fight back, you can’t hope to survive.

This film is fun because it doesn’t try too hard. It’s not high brow. It rests on a simple concept done well with a focus placed on quality over quantity (of killing blows). There are a finite number of victims to dispense with, so each one has to count.

The running gag was implied by the trailer to have been the words You’re Next scrawled in blood on a wall. Before viewing the movie, I imagined a group of people staring at the ominous text, exchanging confused and nervous glances as the camera slowly zoomed in, crushing the tension between the lens and the horror on an actors face. I imagined a single survivor, stalking in the shadows trying to find an exit and coming upon a loved one, bloodied and dying with the terrifying words etched behind them as a masked man slid into view with a knife. I imagined that these words would become a theme in the film, alluding to a master plan created by some mad genius, pointing to people and playing with death like tipping over dominoes in a discernible order.

But that’s not what happened. After only two instances of the titular torment, the writing on the wall is abandoned. Once Sharni pulls out her meat tenderizer, our big bad (bad) guys seem to forget that they were so bad in the first place. -Spoiler- A masked man gets the back of his skull bashed in and the wild gang of animals lose their militaristic professionalism and devolve into the beasts they brandish over their faces. This shift brings about two new aspects to the film, a good and a not as good. First, it humanizes that masked murderers, which is a character trait not often seen in this genre and adds another element to the dramatic arc. However, by the same token, it dissolves the element that made You’re Next a horror film in the first place. The masked murderers are just people. They aren’t omnipotent killing machines anymore and suddenly, I’m watching a thriller/revenge story. Granted, it’s a revenge story that pits both sides against each other effectively. But that’s not necessarily the movie that I expected to see.

When it comes down to the last scene, wether you see the twists coming or not, whether you think the performances are excellent or lackluster, what I can say is that You’re Next is a hell of a ride. I found it to be a non-stop shock and an excellent vessel to show Sharni Vinson to the world.

Details

You’re Next
Directed by: Adam Winged
Written by: Simon Barrett

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