Sunday, February 2, 2014

Women in Horror: You're Next

Erin is invited to a family reunion and wedding anniversary celebration at her boyfriend Crispian's parents' remote vacation house. All of Crispian's siblings will be there with their significant others and she'll be meeting his parents for the first time. Everything seems to be going relatively well besides some typical awkward bickering between brothers until they are savagely attacked by masked assailants. The family doesn't know what to do and acts typically panicked and irrational, so Erin unexpectedly takes the lead in showing them how to defend the house and themselves. How will Erin measure up to three armed men?

I didn't have high expectations for You're Next because it looked too much like The Strangers and every other home invasion film ever, but I was pleasantly surprised. This clever movie takes those tired tropes and subverts expectation to have surprising twists, a fun plot, and fleshed out, nuanced characters. Let's start with the male characters. Brothers Crispian and Felix are the ones who hired to killers to get the inheritance from their parents. They hate the violence and view the murders as an ordeal to be endured despite having orchestrated the entire thing themselves. The killers aren't relentless killing machines. Quite the opposite. They are three friends who have good tactics and were obviously trained in combat, but they make mistakes and miscalculations. When one of them dies, the others are outraged and allow that emotion to get in the way of the task at hand. Too many films portray these types of characters as indestructible and emotionless Micheal Myerses when they are simply people.

Now for the female characters. Erin is the final girl, but she doesn't run around doing stupid things as is typical. She defends herself well, helps the family fortify the house, and isn't afraid to go for the kill in order to survive. Being raised as a survivalist in Australia has its benefits. Zee is Felix's girlfriend who appears aloof and bored with the anniversary party, clearly only there for her boyfriend. After the big reveal, she shows her true colors and her excitement at killing her boyfriend's family. She is there for her own reasons and ceases to try to comfort Felix. Her suggestion to have sex next to Felix's dead mother is flatly rejected, but, coupled with her general attitude, acts to subvert expectations about female behavior, which is usually disgusted and scared by violence and disinterest in sex. Felix's mother Aubrey is more of a stereotypical woman who runs around panicked and does stupid things as a result. However, she sensed something was wrong right when they arrived. Everyone dismissed her as a hysterical woman freaking out for no reason despite the fact that the front door was unlocked and strange sounds were heard in the house. If they had listened to her, a lot more people would be alive. Then when her daughter dies, she takes the time to break down emotionally and mourn her. Too many people in horror films watch loved ones die in front of them and simply go on without a second thought when Aubrey's reaction would be more realistic.

In the final scene of the film, Crispian tells Erin that the plan was to kill his family, but leave her as an unbiased witness to guarantee that he and Felix would get the insurance money. He then tells her if she reacted as a woman should, the plan would have been successful. His own concept of women is quite narrow and doesn't take into account the variety of women that exist like Zee and Erin. He not only blames her for the failure of his plan, but basically says she doesn't act like a woman. Crispian reveals himself to be a despicable human being willing to murder his family for money and a misogynist who can't fathom that women exist outside his narrow view of what is feminine.

You're Next is a fun film that takes a cliche story line that we've seen a thousand times and makes it interesting by subverting those expectation and giving us more realistic characters. It also doesn't take itself completely seriously and has some genuine moments of humor. My favorite death scene was comically over the top and involved a blender. The acting is spot on all around, especially by Sharni Vinson as Erin. You're Next is easily the best horror film of 2013, so watch it if you haven't yet.

My rating: 10/10 fishmuffins

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