You’re Next wisely sidesteps becoming an exercise in postmodern irony, where the filmmakers’ winking attitude ultimately dulls the horror elements, as if focusing more energy on the self-reflexive qualities of the script means it’ll be fine that the shocks are uninspired, lazily sketched formalities. This notion arguably reached its nadir with the conclusion of The Cabin in the Woods, which implied that the horror genre literally survives on cliché. While director Adam Wingard may sometimes allow You’re Next to veer into cartoonish violence, particularly in the film’s latter third, the horror for the most part is played straight.
Wingard casts mumblecore maestro Joe Swanberg and a handful of other indie actors and directors as a family terrorized by a trio of killers at their sprawling estate, though this premise is used as a means to lampoon the popular DIY film movement the cast is known for. You’re Next’s insistence on unrelenting, irony-free terror is rendered all the more shocking coming after the droll, improvised looseness of its characters’ banter in the film’s opening moments, which is never predicated on jokes, instead drawing humor from the observational approach to their conflicting personalities—a relaxed style indicative of mumblecore filmmaking. With the arrival of the invaders, the film creates a disarming mixture of horror and naturalistic comedy, where each sometimes overtakes the other. The acerbic, oftentimes amusing, comments tossed around freely between the family is usually punctuated with a gory or demoralizing rebuttal, while the film also slyly toys with character; neither the animal masks of the killers nor the first impressions of some of the family members accurately reveal their true selves.
If the frenetic camerawork’s unnecessary jerks and twitches sometimes dilute the elegance of the film’s subtext, Wingard balances his technical faults with a political angle that places the context into a new perspective. The attack on the affluent family is imbued with a 99%-against-the-1% bent, or Occupy Wall Street taken to grisly allegoric places. You’re Next gently works this into its milieu without explicitly addressing it: Everyone in the family, save for the wealthy, relaxed, stress-free parents, seem to be financially unstable, as befitting the pitfalls of their unconventional yet low-paying dream jobs. This reality the children most likely hadn’t envisioned is perhaps just one factor that prompts the aggressive insults lobbed toward one another.
You’re Next’s politics make for odd bedfellows with its indie-film satire. As Wingard was financed by and had his film released through a major distributor, You’re Next could also be seen as a battle between independent and studio filmmaking, with Wingard’s mumblecore past wrestling with a desire to think on a broader scale that greater investments could allow. This is nowhere more explicit than in seeing one of mumblecore’s major figures repeatedly being stabbed and told to “just die already” by his attacker. As long as consumer cameras are readily available and directors have a penchant for uncomfortable realism, then mumblecore will endure; but, as Wingard (along with Andrew Bujalski and Swanberg) seems to suggest, maybe it’s best to start over and try something different.
The startlingly clear and bright transfer keeps the lighting at a fine balance with the persistent nighttime setting, maintaining a nice contrast of inky blacks and sharp whites. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio surround track is almost disappointing, as the dialogue is graded much too low in and uneven with the effects and music. As the first third of the film is essentially an exercise in mumblecore aesthetics, the actors’ vocal inflections and eccentricities are barely audible, with the problem becoming more noticeable once the loud and overall well-done effects soundscapes begins. Scenes do sometimes achieve a fair amount of balance later on, but the mix remains generally inconsistent throughout.
Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett appear on the set’s two audio commentaries (Sharni Vinson and Barbara Crampton join them on one), and each covers many different aspects of the film’s production history. The commentary with solely Wingard and Barrett is the more focused of the two, with the filmmakers detailing their personal creative processes and ruminating on the mumblecore movement in general. The tone becomes more playful and buoyant when Vinson and Crampton join them, and though the four frequently become distracted (at one point two conversations at once briefly break out between them), the information steers more toward working from the actor’s point of view. A 10-minute featurette contains nothing new that the commentaries already covered, except for amusing behind-the-scenes footage, and a trailer is also included.
This Blu-ray disc’s disappointing sound mix is still not enough to detract from You’re Next’s gleeful mumblecore-assaulting pleasures.