(Yeah, spoilers – you’ve been warned.)
I was surprised when A suggested going to see a horror movie. Usually, she refuses to watch anything that could conceivably be described as “scary,” while I seek out any and everything with a twisted, sinister heart held in the vice grip of some Cthulhu-esque monster. Having grown up terrified of my own shadow, I sometimes find it baffling that I’ve become a horror-addict. If you want to analyze it, I assume that I’m always trying to prove to myself that the monsters aren’t real.
“It’s supposed to be a new take on the Survivor Girl,” A explained. “It’s getting great reviews.”
We went on opening night and there were only a handful of people in the audience. I hadn’t seen the previews or read anything about You’re Next and was going solely on A’s vote of confidence. Within the first ten seconds I knew that everyone in the room was a horror fan because of the laughter and ostentatious, disgusted scoffing.
The film opens with a deeply uncomfortable sex scene followed by a grisly double-homicide as if to remind everyone that, yes, we were watching a horror movie. From there, it follows a formulaic plot of a rich family being hunted and killed by home-invaders for reasons that, if you’re familiar with the genre, are dead obvious from the beginning. I would go into greater detail, but that would require throwing buckets of blood at you because that’s about about all that’s left of the movie.
But I like bad horror movies. In fact, I deeply appreciate and am entertained by them. I prefer psychological over body horror, but I can roll with the occasional foreboding message scrawled across the wall in the victim’s blood if there’s more to it than that. What baffles me is that people seem to think this good horror movie. Reading the reviews, I seriously question whether or not I saw the same movie everyone keeps talking about.
And see that’s the thing – there are merits to You’re Next, but a unique take on the Survivor Girl is not one of them.
Erin, the Survival Girl in question, is unarguably a badass. The final scene between her and Crispian is genuinely funny and I can forgive all the bad acting for that one perfect disbelieving look she gives him as he comments, “But there’s a silver lining to all this,” as she stands there covered in gore from the half-dozen or so people she just dismembered. But, Erin’s resourcefulness is explained away almost immediately when we learn that her parents were obsessed with the societal collapse and subscribed to the John-Conner-prepare-to-take-on-the-robot-apocalypse method of child rearing. In other words, Erin did what any self-respecting commando would do in a situation like You’re Next: mercilessly kill the idiots who thought they could get the best of her.
But there was a moment, before the revelation of her upbringing, that I thought Erin was different. When everyone else is reduced to screaming hysterics, Erin keeps a level head and calmly throws out orders on how to barricade the house and get everyone to safety. That, I thought, was interesting. For once, instead of making herself an easy target, an average young woman in a horror movie is confronted with a crisis and finds it immediately in herself to be a deal with it.
I’ve craved in horror. It’s a depressing genre about atrocious things happening to people and usually, as Stephen King points out in The Danse Macabre, has deeply conservative undertones. The most blatant example would be, “Don’t do something stupid like venture into the dark, spooky forests where there are wolves howling,” (i.e. stay on the straight and narrow) or the more explicitly socially conservative rules laid out first in Scream: don’t have sex, don’t drink, be a good kid and you’ll survive. Horror is usually about punishment or divine retribution, and the scary part is that the reasons are vague but the consequences are painfully real.
In most horror, the protagonists are paralyzed, at least at first, by terror or disbelief. The former appeals to our sense of reason – after all, no one ever believes that they’re in a horror movie at first. The latter plays to that gut feeling, the unconscious, that which we can’t control about ourselves. It makes sense that when faced with horrendous violence most people scream and curl up into a ball, but that gets old fast in movies and literature, and verisimilitude is only entertaining for so long.
It’s Disbelief and Terror that get people killed in Horror. While this is innate to the genre, I find it refreshing when someone does it different, like in Scream. Sydney is an average high schooler who, when confronted by a knife-wielding psychopath, takes him on in a stride. And it’s not just Sydney. Casey and Tatum, the other two female leads, both rise to the occasion. They fight. Neither surrenders or begs, but instead does what she can to survive.
No one knows what he or she would do when thrown into a situation like You’re Next, but that’s sort of the point of the genre: speculation. What happens when worse comes to worst? It’s easy to find examples of failure because it’s predictable and understandable. But it’s far more interesting to see the stories about the people who accept that they’re out of the realm of the Everyday and aren’t afraid to do something about it. That’s when things get interesting. That’s when it’s hard to know what will happen next.
Yeah, horror is a usually a genre about the worst of us, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be optimistic. I’d like to believe that we are all, if not heroes, at least survivors.