Posted on August 23, 2016

Short Cut: You’re Next (2011)

Dawn Keetley

Director Adam Wingard’s most high-profile project to date, Blair Witch, the sequel to Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s 1999 The Blair Witch Project, is due to arrive in theaters on September 16—and so I wanted to take a closer look at Wingard’s earlier films. He is, I think, a director to watch, and horror fans aren’t the only ones who should be watching.

My post today is on You’re Next, released in August 2011. It is a wonderful foray into the home invasion film, with a little slasher plus Home Alone thrown into the mix. Everything works in this film—the direction, the cinematography, the screenplay by Simon Barrett, the pacing, the acting (especially Sharni Vinson, who is brilliant as the surprising Erin).

What’s great about You’re Next, in fact, is that it is consistently surprising. I’m not going to give it away entirely but I do want to make the point that the invaders are not who and what you might think they are. You’re Next offers us what seem like conventional bad guys, clearly demarcated by the masks they wear. The preview plays up the film’s structuring dichotomy between the perfect family within the luxurious home and the masked marauders prowling outside, attacking from beyond the mansion’s sheltering walls. Here’s the preview if you haven’t seen it:

The film itself, though, goes on to suggest that some masks are more obvious than others, and perhaps the masks that the most dangerous people wear are not as evident, not as recognizable, as a plastic goat or sheep mask.

In You’re Next, masks hover, reflected on windows, disembodied and detached from their owners in the darkness, visually hinting at the separability of the masks from the invaders who wear them. This technique—visually detaching mask from owner—suggests that those masks may (also) belong to less obvious others. But who? And why?

2. mask hovering

The two frames above, the mask reflected on the window and the mask looming through another window, show not only the uncannily detached nature of the masks (hinting that the evil is not where you think it is in this film), but they also importantly feature windows, which are perpetually present in You’re Next. In two shots, at least, masks are reflected on windows and thus superimposed near characters who are victims, seemingly innocent. But not only does the film fundamentally question the binary between (evil) killer and (innocent) victim but also the clear divide between inside and outside. Reflections on a window, after all, offer the illusion that what is outside is actually inside.

3. reflection, neighbor

Indeed, You’re Next consistently disturbs the boundary between outside and inside. Are the killers “outside” or “inside” the house, outside or inside the “perfect family”? We see the mask, again, again almost disembodied, crash through windows more than once, suggesting that any clear line between outside and inside, killer and victim, is about to be profoundly shattered.

4. mask through window

In You’re Next, then, Adam Wingard uses the camera brilliantly to get across the point that we can’t be sure who are the invaders and who are the victims in this film—who wears the mask and who is what they seem, who is really a part of the “perfect family” and who’s trying to destroy it. These themes seem like they may be emerging as preoccupations of Wingard, as they are all interwoven through what would be his next feature film, a film even better than You’re Next. Wingard’s The Guest from 2014, also written by Simon Barrett, will be the subject of my next post.

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