Forgive me for raining on the parade, but What. The. Fuck.
You’re Next has the surface appeal of a very good horror film, and touches on some ideas that could have made it a great film. It then completely squanders those ideas on a lot of bullshit stunts that seem to have the world convinced of its brilliance. It isn’t. It’s just a textbook example of the tyranny of technique: twisting story and characters into funny animal shapes just for the sake of a quasi-clever gag. It wouldn’t be so infuriating if the film weren’t capable of so much more.
As he did with his contributions to the V/H/S series, director Adam Wingard displays an admirable grasp of the nuts and bolts of filmmaking. He loves the camera and the voyeuristic thrills it entails, and as a purely point-and-click exercise, you won’t find a better horror movie all year. It posits a home invasion scenario, in which a modestly dysfunctional clan gathers in their country house to celebrate their parents’ 35th wedding anniversary. They soon come under siege from a trio of masked intruders wielding crossbows and axes, and devoted to carving them all into strudel for no apparent reason.
The basics all went out of vogue with the torture porn movement, and good riddance. For a time, however, it looked as if You’re Next was going to slyly upend all of that in brilliantly unconventional fashion. For starters, one of the houseguests grew up in a survivalist camp, and knows exactly what to do in this situation. It makes for an interesting wrinkle… or it would if the film could follow through on it. When it does – when one of the formerly invincible invaders shrieks in pain for example – you can see what the director wants to achieve. It’s an amazing experience. Add to that the fact that there’s a deeper mystery in play (this isn’t just a random attack) and You’re Next shows us tantalizing hints of a genre-bending masterpiece.
And that’s part of the problem, for hints do not an actual masterpiece make. With the premise established, Wingard sacrifices everything that makes it interesting for the sake of some cheap scares. Having established his heroine’s bad-ass credentials, he then lets them slip just to let some grisly kill slip by. (“We shouldn’t go outside it’s dangerous.” “But I can get to the car!” “Oh, okay.”) Her key character trait thus becomes a matter of pure convenience, dropped whenever some nifty new visual gag shows up. The person we’re supposed to be rooting for vanishes, replaced by a wooden deus ex machina.
In fact, “wooden” describes most of the performances here, goaded on by a director who doesn’t seem the least bit interested in actual human beings. It wouldn’t matter except that we really need to give a shit about somebody – anybody – onscreen for the suspense to work. We don’t have characters; we have walking fulcrums for slasher gimmicks. And that knocks the film’s other great conceit flat on its ass. The wonderful notions of family recrimination dissolve into a goofy would-be twist that wouldn’t hold water in a 5th grade writing class. The more we learn about the scenario, the less sense it makes: turning the initially marvelous tension into an exercise in cinematic self-indulgence.
The worst part is that those brilliant moments pop up just often enough to remind us of their presence before vanishing beneath the blood-soaked drudgery. It’s a horrendous tease, and it only compounds the film’s otherwise trite and shoddy nature. Wingard has real potential as a filmmaker, but he needs to invest more thought into the script before his technical prowess will amount to anything. Until then, his work feels smug and unfocused, falling prey to the very genre clichés it presumes to upend. That wouldn’t be so irritating if You’re Next weren’t being placed on such a high pedestal. The fall, I suspect, will take too much time to arrive.