(This could have been a Now Screaming piece since this excellent film is currently available to us by the mercy of the Netflix Gods who so cruelly giveth and taketh away, but Bossman Ben and I thought it important to elevate the discussion around this film.)
Here's the thing though, Internets, I know you hate spoilers like you love Jenna Marbles, but if we are going to have an earnest evaluation of something's literary or historical merit, we are going to have to put our big kid slacks on and talk candidly about it. Also, while the Great Old Ones of streaming haven't yet yanked this from your queue, you should just watch it already. It's really freaking good.
Ben's spoiler free review says as much.
Once you're ready to join out spoiler-filled discussion, click the jump to read more!
I'm usually not the sort of snob that suggests that pieces of media can only be reviewed by those overly familiar in the genre. Cream generally rises to the top. A good fantasy book can be recognized by even the most jaded realists, a great video game can be lauded by even the most pretentious literary scholars, etc. That said, if you want a good laugh some night, crack a few beers and watch review after review of mainstream movie critics trying to make sense of You're Next.
They just don't get it.
I hate saying that. It seems intellectually lazy and elitist, however true it might be. The surprising thing I discovered about the film when I took this booze-filled, YouTube journey is just how many of the "critiques" dissipated on a second viewing.
1.) The acting is bad. Okay, I thought this on pass one myself. Some of the things the characters say and the way they say them are just odd. It often feels forced and unnatural.
But when I re-watched the movie and had the entire context, it all made sense. Whether hiding nefarious motivations (in the case of Crispian and Felix), being a legitimate tool that happens to be high (Drake), or WASP parents who excel in the art of being forced and unnatural in everyday life, the "bad acting" all has context.
On repeated viewings, the dining scene just before the killing starts becomes increasingly palatable. Initially, Crispian calling his brother out on on his under breath "unprofessional" comment seems like it's something less plausible that the director and writer elevated for laughs, but when aware of the full context, we see a brother finally standing up for himself because he has nothing to lose.
Comeuppance is waiting just outside the window.
2.) The baddies are weak/generic/lame. So, the animal mask thing has been done to death? I heard this argument presented several times during my vice-enhanced review binge, but, once again, a second pass on the film reveals that as intent rather than mistake.
There's a lot left up to the interpretation of the viewer, but I personally think Crispian to be the flawed "mastermind" behind this plan. Look at the scene prior to his exiting the majority of the film. He and Felix have a double-meaning conversation. Felix questions him leaving, but they continue the guise of not knowing what's going on. If Felix were in control, he'd find a way to say, "No, stay the hell put." to Crispian. Instead, he submits to the man with the plan.
If we accept this presence, we are left to wonder what sort of homicidal maniacs Crispian could hire to get the job done. At best I'm guessing he knew only one of them. A janitor or maintenance worker at his university maybe? This sort of thinking reveals them to be the sort of grounded villains you'd get in a Jack Ketchum novel, not the true killing machines from 80's slasher flicks.
And what would such a crew do to hide their identity and be scary? Probably copy what they'd seen in games like Hotline Miami or in professional wrestling. As derivative as it may be, it still works. A silent killer in a lamb mask is still a freaky image, even if you are used to seeing it on Monday Night Raw.
If our post-Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Aurora world tells us anything, it's that any idiot with weaponry can do serious damage by just being willing to cross that line. In fact, they are more likely to be slightly inept than the brilliant tacticians or supernaturally enhanced villains we've been offered in the past.
This explains the revelation of Erin being the true killing machine, and why she's able to make such quick work of them. They have no real training or tactics. They are just monstrous humans set loose with toys.
3.) This is just more violence-glorifying Slasher trash. This was, by far, the biggest disconnect from mainstream critics. They often brought up Cabin in the Woods as a good example of subverting the genre, while claiming that You're Next does nothing to advance or evolve a type a film that is, in their eyes, just violence porn. Many suggest that this film came highly recommended, but they couldn't understand why.
Granted, I'm the sort of warped soul that finds a guy being killed by a blender hilariously awesome and that sort of spectacle in itself isn't for everyone. However, this isn't just another excuse to watch a plethora of creative killing. You're Next is important. It's the sort of thing that represents the best our genre can offer.
First, in a generation in which media is disposable due to the high availability of on demand content (there's always something else to watch on Netflix, something you should be watching on HBO GO to stay culturally relevant or to not get spoiled, etc.), You're Next holds up and demands being re-watched.
If it arrived 20 years ago, it'd be the sort of thing you'd buy and watch over and over again. You and your friends would know all the best lines: "I don't think that's a fair criticism." "Fuck me next to your dead mom then." We'd all have that Dwight Tilley Band album on cassette/CD/whatever. It'd be the sort of movie that became part of our identity and culture as horror fans.
But in 2014, this almost perfectly sculpted film gets watched once, either dismissed or lauded, then forgotten. If you only watched it once, I highly recommend giving it another chance while it's on Netflix, then after a day or two, watch it again. We don't really consume media this way anymore, but the muscle memory is still there. Try it experimentally and see how it goes.
Second, horror films have always been oddly step-in-step with some (obviously not all) feminist ideals. When the Bechdel test was first proposed, for example, Alien was humorously offered as one of the only films that passes it. Further, it has traditionally been one of the only Hollywood vehicles for female actresses to have a prominent role and do something other than dote on a male.
Not all films in the genre can hang their hat positively in these regards, but You're Next performs greatly. Erin legitimately kicks ass and is a totally believable female "Rambo". Zee's effed up character is one of my favorites in the film and is far more threatening than any of the male villains. Aimee is a spoiled brat but at least made a concerted attempt to thwart the villain's plan.
Only Blake's wife comes off as poorly characterized arm-candy. She honestly has nothing to do in this movie other than die, call another girl a bitch, and refuse to give her husband sex spurring his Vicodin abuse.
Third, unlike Cabin in The Woods which subverts the genre by supernaturally coloring in its flaws, You're Next evolves the genre by elevating the storytelling (as stated, it holds up remarkably well to multiple viewings) while using the old-school practical effects that originally made these movies great.
I plan this to be one of those films I start popping in every October without fail and feel it has earned its right to be that part of anyone's film library. Strongly disagree, Internets? Feel free to throw that in the comment section. I'll be off trying to score a Lamb mask for handing out candy this Halloween.