Simplicity has always been the best friend of the slasher movie. Nine times out of ten the best slasher movies aren’t convoluted or complex. Most times they’re just simple premises with simple motivations but a lot of subtext added throughout the narrative. “Halloween,” “Scream,” “Friday the 13th,” all benefited from being fairly simplicity and so does “You’re Next.” Adam Wingard’s horror thriller came like a wrecking ball back in 2011, sideswiping me and just blowing me out of my seat. Although now he’s headed for the bigger blockbusters, Wingard’s horror outings tend to channel John Carpenter with how they mesh sub-genres.
“You’re Next” is an excellent mix of survival horror, a slasher, home invasion horror, and is also a story about a deeply dysfunctional family. At the end of the day, Wingard’s film is about as simple as a ham sandwich, but it’s also about class structure and how the main cannon fodder for the film is the wealthy, affluent Davison family. The masked hunters (very reminiscent of 1985’s “Fortress”) hiding outside their home prepared to slaughter them are, we find out throughout the narrative, lower class individuals in desperate need of money. The affluent Davisons are ironically saved and ultimately defeated by a lower class young woman named Erin. With Erin we don’t know a whole lot about her.
From the outset, we know she’s a college student in crushing student debt, and as the horror unfolds she reveals that she grew up in a compound most of her life with her father. These skills of self defense and survival that she grew up around and had embedded in to her DNA come to great advantage for her and the Davison with whom she’s trying to protect. Although she’s petite and pretty soft spoken, once activated, she’s just a force of nature that manages to go toe to toe with three large men with their own hunting skills. The big twist for “You’re Next” of course is that Erin is caught in the middle of a massive scheme.
The entire home invasion/attack is all the orchestrated plot of sons Felix, Crispin, and Felix’s girlfriend Zee, the former of whom (A.J. Bowen and the late Nicholas Tucci) have gone in to immense debt. The debt has driven them to build a very complex home invasion attack wherein the deaths of their parents (the great Barbara Crampton, and Rob Moran) will allow them to collect their inheritance. The stakes become wildly different once Erin comes to the horrendous realization, as she’s forced to not only battle the masked maniacs (Played competently by filmmakers Ti West, Simon Barrett and Lane Hughes, respectively) but the conniving Davisons who have taken every opportunity to kill her since.
Erin is the big wrench in their plans, and she proves she’s as ruthless as any one of them right through to the very end. Sharni Varnson is fantastic in the role as Erin. She’s impressive in a character that’s humble, heroic, and always thinking on her feet. She manages to concoct some ingenious traps that help her evade imminent death time and time again, and it speaks a lot toward Wingard’s talents as he turns the film’s setting: a mansion in to an elaborate set piece. The whole movie is based on being as stripped down and basic as possible, confined to one setting with a limited range of characters, and it works big time.
Even the constant repetitive looping of “Looking for the Magic” from the Dwight Tilley Band adds a shocking, absolutely effective amount of eeriness to the proceedings. “You’re Next” is easily on my top ten slasher films of all time list. It’s just a pure masterpiece, and master class in taking limited resources and deriving so much horror and tension from them. Having seen it almost a hundred times now, I doubt I’ll ever tire of boasting about it.