I’ve a confession to make: sometimes I can be a bit of a wuss when it comes to horror films. It all stems from a time when I was 12 years old and my cousins decided it would be fun to show me the original “A Nightmare On Elm Street”. I spent that night sleeping at the foot of my parents’ bed and didn’t sleep properly for about two weeks afterwards. It also permanently changed the way I slept, and I now only ever go to sleep on my front: my 12 year old brain reasoning that if I sleep on my front, I couldn’t be pulled through the mattress the same way Johnny Depp’s character was.
I got back into horror movies about four years later when I went to see an all-night movie marathon of “A Nightmare On Elm Street” 1,2,3 and 4 plus “The Evil Dead”. Running from 11:00pm until about 7:00am the next morning, by the time the sun rose I’d thoroughly laid my ‘demons’ to rest but I’ve remained wary of horror movies ever since. I checked out of the genre completely when “Saw” came out and it became dominated by torture porn, witless “Saw” knock offs, remakes and sequels and although I was intrigued by the whole “Paranormal Activity” hype, I didn’t buy into it.
All the above is just a roundabout way of me admitting that the reason I missed seeing “You’re Next” in the cinema is that I saw the trailer and thought the film looked absolutely terrifying. There was no nonsensical framing device like “The Purge”, or any supernatural hocus pocus like “Sinister”, it just looked like a sadistic, violent movie about a home invasion. So I ignored it.
But then I started to hear some pretty good things about it and decided to give it a whirl on DVD. I even manned up and watched it one evening when I was home alone: the kids were asleep upstairs and my wife was out. I am so glad I did: the trailer does this movie a great injustice. While it focusses on the masked invaders and the jump scares, the film itself is much more balanced and well-rounded and gives us something incredibly rare: a well written, capable and smart female lead. Yes, there are scary moments and there is more gore than you can shake a blood-soaked mop at but there’s also a tonne of fun, action and a sense of humour so dark, light cannot escape its surface.
The film opens with a brutal murder which is preceded by one of the victims seeing the words ‘You’re Next’ written in the blood of his partner. Meanwhile, at the next door house, Erin (Sharni Vinson) has accompanied her boyfriend Crispian to his wealthy family’s reunion. Also present are Crispian’s parents, his brother Drake and his wife, his other brother Felix, Felix’s girlfriend Zee and finally their sister Aimee and her boyfriend Tariq. There’s clearly a lot of tension and history with the family but on the first evening of the reunion they all gather together for dinner.
Before they can enjoy their meal, Tariq is shot in the head by a crossbow from outside the house and all hell breaks loose. This a deliciously dark, violent and clever film, effectively a very adult remake of “Home Alone”. If only this had been set at Christmas, it could have been a new festive classic.
Sharni Vinson makes an absolutely superb and credible heroine and can easily stand alongside other genre female greats such as Ellen Ripley, Buffy Summers (the TV version), Sarah Connor, Hermione Grainger, Daenerys Targaryen, Beatrix Kiddo, Charly Baltimore and Rose Nylund. The rest of the cast do what they need to in their roles, which is act as cannon fodder in Erin’s increasingly desperate war of attrition against the invaders. The innocuous masks worn by the intruders, a lamb, a fox and a tiger are chillingly effective and the best subversion of something innocuous since John Carpenter took a William Shatner mask, turned it inside out and painted it white.
Yes, it’s a scary slasher movie, but it’s also a cracking action movie with a sly, pitch-black sense of humour. If you missed it at the cinema (for any reason, not just ‘fraidy-cat reasons like me), do yourself a favour: settle down on the sofa with a bucket of popcorn and give this a whirl. Just, you know, make sure you’ve locked all the doors and windows first.