Before Adam Wingard went on to direct divisive takes on Blair Witch and Death Note, he was busy carving his own niche in horror cinema. His segments in the first two V/H/S movies are highlights, and the giddy chaos of Dan Stevens in The Guest has become a cult favorite at this point. But for me, his best work is still found in 2013’s You’re Next.
Wingard’s take on the home invasion movie serves up an interesting twist that would show up in plenty of similar movies later. It’s not exactly uncommon to see the subversion of traditional horror setups, but few films take such cathartic glee in it as You’re Next. The film did well enough at TIFF Midnight Madness in 2011 to get picked up by Lionsgate, but it wouldn’t see a wider release for nearly two years.
The story goes like this. The Davison family is a fractured one, and in hopes of gluing those cracks together again, parents Aubrey and Paul Davison (Barbara Crampton and Rob Moran) invite the family over to celebrate their wedding anniversary at their lavish weekend estate. Before anyone can get settled in, a mysterious group wearing animal masks invades the estate and puts terror into the torn relationships of the Davison’s.
Only, there’s one among the Davison party that holds a secret. They’re a much bigger threat to the would-be invaders than they could ever have dreamed of. The tables are turned in brutal fashion, with the end credits serving as a stark reminder of how much blood was shed in the preceding 90 minutes.
Interior Space Invaders
You’re Next found itself included in the mumblecore offshoot known as mumblegore, where a horror movie has a focus on dialogue, low-budget aesthetics, and interpersonal relationships as the structure for terror. The earliest example of this was the Duplass brothers’ Baghead, which starred future Lady Bird and Barbie director Greta Gerwig. This puts it in the same company as Wingard’s previous film A Horrible Way to Die, Ti West‘s The Innkeepers, and Mark Duplass‘ excellent Creep films. West even features in You’re Next alongside another mumblegore specialist, Joe Swanberg.
This style is a big part of why You’re Next subverted traditional home invasion ideas and made the family tension feed into it. Australian actress Sharni Vinson comes out of nowhere to steal the show and contribute to a growing body count.
Wingard has had mixed results translating his style to bigger projects. Godzilla Vs. Kong couldn’t be any further from the interpersonal drama of You’re Next, and its use in his Blair Witch sequel didn’t entirely work. Death Note was perhaps doomed from the start as one of the first toes dipped in the pool of Netflix’s live-action US adaptations of beloved manga.
Maybe Wingard will return to the kind of film he made with You’re Next and The Guest, but it won’t be until he’s done with his next monster fest in Godzilla Vs. Kong: The New Empire.