Of all the holidays celebrated worldwide, no single day is loved by the Substream staff more than Halloween. With October’s arrival, the time has finally come to begin rolling out a slew of special features we have prepared in celebration of our favorite day.
31 Days Of Halloween is a recurring column that will run throughout the month of October. The goal of this series is to supply every Substream reader with a daily horror (or Halloween-themed) movie recommendation that is guaranteed to amplify your All Hallows’ Eve festivities. We’ll be watching every film the day it’s featured, and we hope you will follow along at home. Reader, beware, you’re in for a… spooky good time!
[Warning: Contains spoilers and graphic content!]
Day 5: You’re Next (2011)
The home invasion sub-genre of horror is the type of horror that gets to me the most. While I’m fairly confident that a Xenomorph or Freddy Krueger aren’t about to snatch me (knock on wood; can’t be too careful), someone breaking into a house is a very real thing. People do that. That freaks me out. Now, I’m not saying that home invasion movies are super realistic. They, like horror and movies in general, rely on well-worn tropes and conventions in order to craft their magic. Which is why I love You’re Next so much. This is a home invasion movie that knows it’s a home invasion movie. It subverts many of the expectations the viewer has of this particular genre, while also being very, very good at them. This is a movie that will make you scream, but it’s giving you a knowing wink the whole time.
The setup is standard: Parents invite all of their children plus significant others to a secluded summer mansion in the woods for their wedding anniversary. The neighbors are already dead, though the family doesn’t know that yet. Cut to night: Three men in super-creepy animal masks show up wielding crossbows and other sharp objects. Mayhem ensues. From there, we get a lot of divergence from the norm.
For one, this movie is funny. It’s some seriously dark humor—being a horror movie and all—but it’s pretty present throughout. I’m an only child, and I still found it hilarious that eldest son Drake still has time to yell at his brothers while a crossbow bolt is lodged in his back. A lot of the humor comes from subversions of what you expect. Every character’s reaction to our heroine Erin (played to perfection by Sharni Vinson) being a ruthless survival expert is gold, as are some of the rude awakenings of everyday life. Late in the movie, Erin fends off an attacker by throwing what you expect to be a pot of scalding hot soup at him—except dinner was hours ago, so of course the soup has cooled off. It’s so unexpected that it’s funny, and becomes even more so when it still works, as the assailant slips and falls.
The bad guys are also not what you would expect from the genre. In most home invasion films, the evil-doers are like an unstoppable force for most of the movie. You’re reasonably sure the hero will prevail, but throughout the majority of the film the invaders are totally in control. Here… not so much. They have the makings of your classic home invaders; it’s mentioned they have military training, and those masks are seriously unsettling. However, they’re not that good at their jobs, as far as movie villains go. They fail to check blind spots, they fall into trap after trap planted by Erin, and after the initial chaos calms down, they’re not that good at killing anyone, either. It’s a refreshing take in a genre that has a sordid history with women that final girl Erin is about 1,000 times more capable than anyone else in the movie.
And the animal mask dudes aren’t even the masterminds! No, that would be brothers Felix and Crispian, a couple of entitled, spoiled white dudes. They want their parents’ inheritance, so of course they hire killers to take out their whole family. Crispian can’t even be bothered to be there when it all goes down. Felix complains that it’s really hard on him while he’s stabbing his brother Drake to death with screwdrivers. If that’s not an apt analogy for the danger and negativity of toxic privilege, I don’t know what is.
All this being said, You’re Next is still a fantastic surface-level home invasion movie. Adam Wingard is one of the best modern horror directors, and his work shows here, along with the smart writing of frequent collaborator Simon Barrett. The panic as the killers start their attack is intense and gut-wrenching, and there’s some beautiful cinematography. The tracking shots on the crossbow in the first scene are great, as is the use of slow motion, especially during the buildup to daughter Aimee getting garroted while trying to make a run for it. And that scene in the basement with the camera flash? It’s truly masterful. There’s enough gore to satisfy the more bloodthirsty viewer, and some of the kills will definitely make you cringe. I know that I can never look at a blender the same way again.
You’re Next is great on every level. It’s got all the thrills and blood you need if you just want to sit down and watch a horror film, while also having a rich subtext of examining the tropes of home invasion movies for those who want to dig deeper. However you choose to watch it, lock your doors and draw your curtains before you do. You never know who’s waiting outside.