By Stephanie Rogers | Women and Hollywood October 23, 2013 at 3:00PM
Crispian : Where's Felix?
Erin : I put a blender on his head and killed him.
is sick, and I mean sick like "disgusting" and sick like "badass" because somewhere in my 34-year-old brain, I'm also 12. (Ed Note: There are some spoilers for You're Next in this review)
I love horror films and, more than anything, I adore the Final Girl in horror films. I want to be the Final Girl, tripping my way through the woods with a shard of glass sticking out of my leg while the audience roots for me to kill the bad guy. The Final Girl, in fact, might be my favorite iteration of the Strong Female Character in that the writers allow her to show weakness--which makes her desperate acts of murder to save herself even more appealing; she gets to be both the freaked out damsel in distress and the hero of the story.
From a feminist perspective, the Final Girl's combination of strength and weakness accompanied by the (often male) audience's ability to identify with her plight, further emphasize her importance. The horror film genre in general affords men an opportunity to identify with a female protagonist, and that rarely occurs in other genres.
In Carol J. Clover's book, Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film , she argues--to quote Wikipedia--"that in these films, the viewer begins sharing the perspective of the killer but experiences a shift in identification to the Final Girl partway through the film." And in You're Next, I couldn't help but smile when Erin bashed in the head of a masked bad guy with a meat tenderizer while the audience cheered. (I smiled because the audience clapped for a female lead, not because I'm a sociopath.)
The film starts off like an average, run-of-the-mill horror film. The first woman character appears during what looks like pretty unfulfilling sex. My first thought? She's about to die. Because women characters in horror films always get the death punishment for having sex--which is, I'll admit, a problematic element of the genre. (A tiny part of me wondered if she might survive given that it wasn't a steamy sex scene as much as a gross dude getting off while she lightweight grimaced.) Alas, she succumbs to the trope; then the words "You're Next" appear in blood on the wall before the shitty bedfellow bites it ... and so begins the latest incarnation of the Home Invasion journey.
It may take place in a mansion, but the kitchen and the basement are where shit gets real. The weapons include kitchen knives, blenders, meat tenderizers, and a slew of screwdrivers, as well as a machete and for some reason a crossbow like it's The Hunger Games. I liked that the terrorized family members needed to defend themselves with household appliances rather than a random gun they'd hidden for a rainy day. (I almost never buy it when victims pull out their stowed away guns, and those films lean a little too close to a dangerous message: Buy a gun to protect your home, America; otherwise you'll die at the hands of lunatics, and it'll be all your fault. The NRA told you so!)
Thank you, You're Next, for avoiding that convention and making me look at blenders and meat tenderizers in entirely new ways.
The film follows a very rich, white, nuclear family whose matriarch (Barbara Crampton) and patriarch (Rob Moran) invite their children and their significant others over for a nice, functional 35th Wedding Anniversary celebration and to see the brand new mansion they purchased. This brand new mansion happens to sit in the middle of nowhere with very limited cell phone service. Oops!
And it also becomes clear almost immediately that the three brothers borderline despise one another, and the lone sister Aimee (Amy Seimetz), a total Daddy's Girl, has been pretty much pampered her whole life. Of course the matriarch, Aubrey, hears a loud noise that shakes the chandelier before the kids arrive, and the husband does that whole, "You're a crazy bitch, but I'll check it out anyway just to humor you" thing that always cracks me up in horror films. The message? Listen to women, dumbasses, because they know what's up.
Aubrey, portrayed as a hysterical mess who can't stop crying, gets a pass from me. I found her response to the creepy loud noises and then the subsequent deaths of her children via crossbow (and a slow-motion sprint that ended with a clotheslining to the jugular) the most normal response of the whole bunch. These take-charge mofos who mindlessly cover their dead family members with a sheet and move on need some serious psychoanalysis.
The father, Paul, the former Man of the House, completely loses his shit at one point, going into a catatonic sob-state that made me chuckle in delight. The witty, suck-up, kind of dick oldest bro Drake (Joe Swanberg) makes incessant condescending comments to the middle brother, Crispian (A.J. Bowen), about his inability to do anything with his life; and Felix (Nicholas Tucci), the youngest, sits back with his girlfriend, rolls his eyes, and observes the dysfunction.
It took me approximately ten minutes into the movie to realize this home invasion violence was all about money. Specifically white people with money. And the punishment of white people with money, a la The Purge . Can I just say kudos to Hollywood for taking a step back from the Mancession narrative for five seconds? Before the audience can identify with these rich white people and feel bad for their plight, we're already laughing at them. They're ridiculous. And the only seemingly respectable person of the lot is a darker-skinned young Australian woman named Erin (Sharni Vinson) who grew up in a Survivalist Camp and has a crapload of student loan debt.
Sorry, murderers. Your crossbows suddenly don't mean shit.
Erin rocks. Erin is possibly my favorite Final Girl ever. That's right; I'm putting her right up there with Ellen Ripley in Alien and Laurie Strode in Halloween. This Final Girl, while more advantaged than her predecessors with her Survivalist Camp superhero skills, also doesn't get boxed into what has become a Final Girl trope: a young virgin, or a woman who's never shown having sex, who's rarely sexualized, who often appears as the "androgynous nerd" stereotype--Jena Malone in The Ruins is a good example of this--and who plays a straight-laced nondrinker or drug user (Erin insists they stop for alcohol). Erin is the new and improved Final Girl 2.0; the home invaders may run around in creepy Fox, Lamb, and Tiger masks, but Erin is the most animalistic of the bunch.
And that brings me to the women in the film.
I didn't like that Felix's girlfriend Zee (Wendy Glenn), the mostly non-speaking goth chick, turned out to be a villain. Why couldn't the sweet, blond sister, Aimee, be a villain? Change it up, Hollywood! But I did like, for what it's worth, that a woman got to be a villain--a somewhat likeable villain in the end--and that the filmmakers gave the audience an opportunity to identify with both a woman protagonist and a woman antagonist ... who, for once, weren't fighting over a dude.
All in all, I very much enjoyed every dude's "um wait what?" reaction to Erin's skills with a meat tenderizer. I liked that many deaths at the hands of Erin took place in a kitchen, a space where women were--and occasionally still are--forced to serve and clean up after men and children. You're Next makes Erin queen of the domestic space but in a way that gives her power over her captors. The entire film could, in fact, be read as a cautionary tale for keeping women locked up in the domestic sphere or otherwise. Erin may not have served them in the conventional sense, but they definitely got served.
You're Next opened in theaters on August 23, 2013 and is tentatively slated for DVD release in November. It will be playing as a special midnight screening with
the filmmakers and cast at Cinefamily in Los Angeles in November.
Stephanie Rogers lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she sometimes watches entire seasons of television in one sitting. You can find her pop culture
commentary online at Bitch Flicks, a feminist media site she co-founded with Amber Leab in 2008.
Republished and edited with permission.