I was a little worried about re-visiting YOU’RE NEXT. I remember seeing the movie in 2013 – after it was finally released to people that don’t attend festivals- and loving it. I haven’t watched the film since then; in part because I had it in my head for a few years that re-watching things was a waste of time, and you should focus mainly on discovering new things. I’ve since changed my mind, and I really don’t have an issue re-watching stuff anymore. A re-watch can be a good thing because it gives you an opportunity to pick up on positive things that you may have missed on an initial viewing, because you were so wrapped up in the events of the film.
A re-watch can also sometimes work against the movie, because it also gives you the opportunity to catch things that don’t hold up as well, and you might find out that the original viewing experience is better in your head. The second time you watch a movie, you know the drill. You know the films rhythm. You notice smaller things a second time around. What if the movie you love is actually terrible, and your entire belief system is shattered? How do you pick up the pieces and move on? How do you look your friends in the eyes after years of raving about how great a movie is, when it turns out, the movie is shitty? How do you recover from that? These are all questions that don’t matter in this instance, because YOU’RE NEXT is still pretty good. So that’s nice.
YOU’RE NEXT begins with an invasion and murder at a cabin in the woods of rural Missouri, the same woods that Erin (Sharni Vinson) and Crispian Davison (A.J. Bowen) are traveling to for a family reunion involving Crispian’s family. The cabin is very nice, and just by looking at it, you can tell this family has money. As the Davison family arrives, we see that it is made up of well-off, white, suburbanites; something that Crispian seems a bit insecure about around his younger girlfriend Erin – a college student raised by a survivalist father in the Australian outback. There’s a culture clash at the core of YOU’RE NEXT, and a lot that clash revolves around how the rest of the world interacts with the Davison clan. They’re the center of the universe of YOU’RE NEXT, but they’re also the center of the universe in their own minds.
As the Davison family settles in at the cabin, we are introduced to the rest of Crispian’s siblings: The smarmy, Drake, and his wife, Kelly, as well as their younger brother and sister, Felix and Aimee, both bringing their respective dates to the party. The Davison family is full of shitty people. I mean, they don’t come across as BAD people when we are introduced to them, but they do come across as self-obsessed and whiny. The family can’t help but bicker and take cheap shots at one another, which boils over at their first family dinner. The Davison clan can’t even get through ten minutes around each other without it breaking down into a near fist fight at the table.
Soon, the bickering around the table stops, as a couple of crossbow bolts fly through the window, killing Aimee’s boyfriend, and wounding Drake. Well, the table bickering almost stops, as there is a very funny moment following the attack, where the family still falls into a silly squabble. Come on. Get it together, guys.
The family is soon surrounded by mask wearing attackers; unable to reach out to the police as the signals of their phones are jammed by the invaders. It’s during this chaos that Kelly tries to escape the cabin, but instead runs neck first into a tight line of piano wire strung up tight outside of the cabin’s door. It’s probably one of the best moments in the film. It’s a moment that’s all-at-once clever, brutal, and a little bit funny. Which is how I would sum up the entirety of YOU’RE NEXT.
I think my favorite thing about YOU’RE NEXT is how little time it wastes getting to the good stuff. The movie features a quick introduction to each of the characters, then BOOM, we’re right into the invasion. A lot of the independent horror thrillers (Mumblecore/Deathwave/Festival Horror. I don’t know. Choose your own label) these days are very slow burn – which I don’t mean as an insult, as I like quite a few of them – but YOU’RE NEXT doesn’t have time for slow burn. The filmmakers, Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, jump right into the home invasion about 15 or 20 minutes into the movie, and never look back. The best part of this approach is in watching all the character traits and motivations revealed as the rest of the plot unfolds. YOU’RE NEXT is a pretty solid representation of how to showcase character through action, and no character in the film is showcased better than Erin.
Sharni Vinson is electric as Erin, and it’s a good thing she is because the success, or failure, of the film hinges on her character, and her performance. YOU’RE NEXT is Erin’s journey. When we are introduced to Erin – much like her boyfriend – seems like someone who is uncomfortable in her own skin. Dating a college professor – one that she used to be a teaching assistant for – Erin spends much of the first act trying to acclimate herself to her surroundings, as well as her boyfriend’s family. The world that the Davison’s belong to isn’t Erin’s world. She doesn’t come from money like Crispian does. Rich people spend their time in a completely different world, and it’s a world that Erin spends much of the film trying to survive on her own.
Following the initial attack, Crispian leaves the cabin to look for help. Shortly after Crispian’s exit, Drake looks Erin in the eyes and tells her not to worry about Crispian because, “He’s a tough guy”, to which Zoe deadpans “No he’s not”. That response by Erin is a really great moment of recognition, truth, and self-reflection from her. It’s a reaction that recognizes what the audience already knows: she’s too good for this guy. That’s the journey of Erin in YOU’RE NEXT. While Erin is a “badass” in the traditional sense – she’s tough, resourceful, smart, and she’s completely calm and in control when the invasion starts – she also has her weaknesses, which are exemplified by Crispian. But it’s those same weaknesses that make Erin a great character.
Cripsian is a shlub, and a coward, and the epitome of a soft kid from the upper class. Conniving, insecure and concerned mainly with material wealth, Crispian’s true motivations are revealed during the film’s third act. Crispian is the villain in more ways than one, and it’s only when Erin is finally able to overcome him, both physically and emotionally, that her journey is complete.
In addition to my own mental health, YOU’RE NEXT is also important to me because it’s a part of the independent horror movement that led me back to the genre in the 2010’s. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I fell out of horror movies completely, but I was a much more casual viewer in the late 2000’s, and it wasn’t until the independent horror boom of the past few years that my love of the genre was re-energized. Movies like YOU’RE NEXT. A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE, THE SIGNAL, VHS, and many more, were exciting and focused on storytelling and character as opposed to the ghost stories, and found-footage movies dominating studio horror at the time.
YOU’RE NEXT is also kind of a darling of that time period; or at least it was supposed to be. Amy Nicholson wrote a great profile in 2015 that focuses on a few of the filmmakers behind what was referred to as the “mumblegore” movement at the time. In the article, Nicholson points out that YOU’RE NEXT is a touchstone for the movement, as the movie blew up on the festival scene, and garnered positive buzz that lead to a seven-million-dollar marketing budget from Lionsgate. Unfortunately, Lionsgate shelved the film for two years and then released it the same weekend as Lee Daniel’s THE BUTLER, which turned out to be a surprise hit.
I think YOU’RE NEXT still works as a touchstone for this period of horror filmmaking. The movie features a lot of the players that were integral to horror filmmaking in the early 10’s. AJ Bowen, Ti West, and Joe Swanberg all have roles in the film, and it was produced by Snoot Entertainment, a studio which would produce movies such as ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE, CHEAP THRILLS, and THE GUEST. Also, the release of YOU’RE NEXT is typical of the release path a lot of “indie” horror films would take around this time, and moving forward. First you make the movie, then you get some positive festival buzz, and then you try to score a distribution deal. Oh, and then you have it released and horror fans call your movie overhyped, which unfortunately may be the most prevalent part of this cycle.
The overhyping aspect is what scared me the most about revisiting YOU’RE NEXT. But, I’m happy to say that YOU’RE NEXT still works for me. The film is a fun movie to re-watch due to its humor and fast pace, but also because of the small moments that lurk beneath the surface that reveal themselves the more you watch it. Re-watching old favorites isn’t so scary after all, I guess.