Editor’s note: All throughout October, the vibes get spookier and the nights get longer. It’s the perfect time of year to watch horror movies, whether you’re a year-round horror fan or you just like to watch horror flicks to get into the Halloween spirit. This year at Horror Obsessive, for our 31 Horror Classics Revisited series, we’re giving you one recommendation for a classic horror film each day throughout the month of October. What do you think–is this film a horror classic? What other horror films do you consider to be classics, and what films do you make sure you watch each October? Let us know in the comments below!
When I was in film school, at a regular college pursuing a degree in film and not some cool film-based school, I stumbled across a type of film that really helped form my views toward film. It was a style that I became extremely obsessed with and wanted to emulate more than anything. One thing you are taught in film school is that film is, at its core, a visual medium. While the dialogue is important, it needs to be used purposefully. While I can understand that idea, when you’re an 18-year-old in film school and trying to be edgy you may tend to watch a LOT of Tarantino films. Hearing what I “should” be doing when writing a script and watching Tarantino successfully veer off that path of instruction being shoved down my throat was very conflicting.
Around 2013 I stumbled across mumblecore films. For those unaware mumblecore usually gets referred to as a subgenre of independent film, but I think that description is antiquated. In the mid to late aughts and the early ’10s, indie film was really hitting its stride and becoming more and more accepted as a legitimate form of art. Yes, I know I brought up Tarantino whose first film was as indie as it could get, and went on to wide acclaim. But around this point in time, I distinctly remember the term “indie film” being used somewhat derogatorily. In a film club in college, I remember a student asking the professor what genre the movie of the week was, and her response was, “it’s an indie film.” Mumblecore being decried as a subgenre of the independent film just sits weird with me, I think we could describe it better as a subcategory of film. Saying something is a mumblecore film (or mumblecore, which we will get into momentarily) is a greater descriptor of the general vibe of a film, rather than calling it an indie film. Now, thankfully, indie film is a thriving and happening community and is generally accepted with much more credence than it once was.
Mumblecore’s style includes a heavy focus on real dialogue, not overwritten writer’s room dialogue (not that there are any issues with writer’s rooms), with a heavy focal point on relationships with younger people being both inter and intrapersonal. Occasionally you will have improv thrown into the scripts. Mumblegore, on the other hand, is that, plus horror. Mumblegore is home to many filmmakers and wonderful films like Ti West with The Roost, The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers, The Sacrament, and V/H/S, the Adam Wingard directed Simon Barret written A Horrible Way to Die, You’re Next, and The Guest, and even gets a delightful drive-by from Mark Duplass and Patrick Brice with Creep, and Creep 2. Trust me when I say this is just scratching the surface of mumblegore films. Without mumblegore the world would probably be deprived of some of the genre’s biggest names.
I stumbled upon the idea of mumblegore with Jeremy Saulneir’s Blue Ruin at some point in 2014, which kicked off hours of personal research and even more hours of film viewing. My research brought me to a film that really stuck out to me; a film that a lot of people around me actually knew about. You’re Next. While I had not heard of it up to that point, many film friends of mine, even ones who aren’t necessarily genre fans, were familiar with the film. At the very least they were familiar with the simplistically creepy masks of the home invaders. Needless to say, I eagerly refreshed my Amazon account waiting for the film to arrive at my doorstep. Once You’re Next arrived I immediately threw it on and loved it. Not only was it refreshing, kind of funny, and brutal as hell, it was legitimately a good film. More often than not slasher films tend to forgo an interesting story for brutal kills and some T&A. You’re Next was smart, it subverted tropes, and has one of my top 10 kills in a slasher.
You’re Next is a home invasion/slasher film about a family who goes to their vacation home set in a semi-wooded mid-west location. Parents Paul (Rob Moran) and Aubrey Davison (Barbara Crampton) are celebrating their anniversary, with the entire family, and their respective partners. Along for the ride is their professor son Crispian (AJ Bowen) and his college student girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson), good son Drake (Joe Swanberg) and his wife Kelly (Sarah Myers/Margaret Laney), daughter Aimee (Amy Seimetz) and her filmmaker boyfriend Tariq (Ti West), and finally the youngest child Felix (Nicholas Tucci) and his girlfriend Zee (Wendy Glenn).
We get a lot from a little through the first half hour, with it being made very clear that there are relationship struggles within the family. Crispian and Drake hate each other, Drake constantly pokes at Crispian’s weight, and constantly questions his life choices. Crispian isn’t the only one on the receiving end of mommy and daddy’s boy Drake’s wrath when Drake prods Tariq about being a filmmaker and saying that he likes commercials better. It’s clear the respective partners feel very uncomfortable with the constant bickering, but there’s really nothing they can do. Before anyone can even try to cool things down at the dinner table an arrow flies through the window, sticking Tariq square in the forehead. Thus, the whole bloody affair begins.
It should be noted Tariq’s death isn’t the first kill we see. The cold open follows Erik Harson (Larry Fessenden) and his significantly younger conquest Talia (Kate Lyn Sheil). After some love making Talia and Erik quickly get offed. Initially, I missed the line where Crispian talks about why they were killed, but soon after watching it again I picked it up. I guess now is a good time to talk about the reasons behind the murders. Crispian, Felix, and Zee are the masterminds behind this whole massacre. They want their hands on their parents’ fortune, but they know if they get caught or if it looks fishy there could be a good chance they don’t receive the money at all. They have Erik and Talia killed to help sell the story of three masked men rampaging through these houses killing as many people as they can, for whatever reason. As someone who watches a bit too much true crime stuff, I actually think it is a pretty solid setup; though the amount of DNA the killers leave behind is quite unprofessional if I do say so.
Once the rampaging begins we are privy to quite a few brutal and excellent-looking deaths. Tariq’s arrow to the head looks solid, Aimee takes a garotte wire to the neck, which I think is shot perfectly, and Drake gets his just desserts with multiple stabs, but I need to talk about my favorite kill: Felix. Once Erin figures out Felix and Zee are behind this, before she knows Crispian is involved, she vows to take them down one by one. After a well-shot kitchen fight between Zee, Felix, and Erin, Erin smashes a glass blender, shoves the metal blades into Felix’s skull, and TURNS THAT SH*T ON. To my knowledge, I have never seen that done before, and I don’t think we’ll ever see something as good as that again. Erin’s fight or flight responses kicked in almost from the get-go, and it’s impressive to see all the ways she goes about defending herself-. Another runner-up for badass Erin moment is when she sets up a board of nails next to the window but has a hidden board closer to the window that the killers can’t see. OOH. I love it.
One of my favorite aspects of this film is the screenplay. In the writer/director commentary Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett talk about the importance of naturalistic dialogue in mumblecore/gore films. They talk about how there have to be a lot of buts, umms, and ands. I think the screenplay does an excellent job of toeing the line between creating natural dialogue, while also giving us unique characterizations of each person through their specific vernacular and mannerisms. What also adds to the naturalistic feeling, and goes really well with the screenplay, is the handheld camera. It seems like there are very few locked-down shots, and to me, that adds that level of anxiety.
While the dialogue has a loose feel to it, it also feels like a really tight script that knows what it wants to be. The twist at the end was kind of predictable, though it doesn’t feel faked or forced. Simon Barrett has a really great writing style, personally, I don’t think he has ever written a bad script. A change I am glad he made, though, was for the cold open. Originally it was Erik and his dog, where he would find his dog’s head decapitated, but I think the direction he took it in the final product was much better. Oh, and there’s a fun piece of Simon Barrett’s cinematic universe going on here. When Crispian and Erin are in the car driving to the house, we find out Crispian’s father was a defense contractor for a company called KPG. This is the same company from V/H/S/2 “Phase 1 Clinical Trial” that puts the camera eye in Adam Wingard and is also the company from The Guest that is on the hunt for Dan Stevens. I think there may have to be an article down the line going through all of Barrett’s films to try and piece together the background of this mystery company.
The final point I want to make is regarding something I learned in the commentary. Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett talk about how Larry Fessenden’s Habit is an inspiration for them. Habit was a vampire film that kicked off Fessenden’s career, and while it is a vampire film he found a way to make it refreshing and interesting. I think in a way Wingard and Barrett did something similar with You’re Next. Slashers and home invasion films are done to death, it’s how you handle the subject matter that will set you apart from the plethora of others. The filmmakers did an excellent job at making a different kind of film, they traded in easy jump scares and lack of characterization for a deep family study that turns survival of the fittest.
You’re Next is one of my favorite slasher films. It has style and substance. It’s not just about the kills, though the kills are spectacular, it’s about the family. I wish more slasher/home invasion films would take a page out of their book and focus more on the script and relationships between the characters rather than just filling time until the next kill. You’re Next lands roughly in the middle of Wingard and Barrett’s oeuvre, now I don’t want to say this is their best film, but I think this will be a hard one for them to top.