Feminist Horror in “You’re Next”

You're NextFebruary is Women in Horror month, so it was a good thing I decided to watch You’re Next by director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett. What starts out as yet another home invasion/slasher movie effortlessly switches directions, taking the Final Girl trope to a badass extreme. Part John Carpenter, part Wes Craven, part R-rated Home Alone, You’re Next is a pleasant surprise and a hell of a good time.

The movie begins with a family reunion* meant to celebrate the parents’ 35th wedding anniversary. All three sons and one daughter, as well as their significant others, arrive at a secluded mansion in the forest. Petty bickering ensues. Just as these opening scenes begin to drag, several men in animal masks show up to terrorize the family, their dinner now interrupted by chaos and silly amounts of screaming.

There is one character, however, on which we begin focusing more and more: Erin, the Australian girlfriend of one of the brothers. She is the only one who reacts to the situation with some kind of sense, rather than senseless wailing. While the others freak out, she starts locking down the house, gathering weapons from the kitchen drawers, and setting up traps.

As it turns out, Erin was raised on a survivalist compound. Now, what should be a simple, good old-fashioned family slaughter turns into a nightmare… for the killers. That’s right. Guess what, killers? YOU’RE NEXT!

you're next sharnie

I knew this was a winner when I started shouting at the killers, “Watch out! She’s gonna fuck you up!”

Sharni Vinson, who plays Erin, has some truly gruesome and fantastic scenes during which she unleashes her fighting and survival skills on the assailants. One cool, well-shot scene involves using a flashing camera in the dark. Another involves a blender.

While strong female characters can be found in horror movies, most often the Final Girl survives simply by virtue of being the female lead. Slasher movies subsist on the viewer’s titillation in watching this female suffer, survive mostly through luck rather than her own merits, and slash knives impotently through the air while blubbering uncontrollably into the attacker’s face. Erin delivers something fresh here: a Final Girl who doesn’t run around like a headless chicken but instead takes matters into her own hands and acts like a hero. She’s a little like Dana from The Cabin in the Woods blended with the badassery of the cave divers from The Descent.

More often, male leads are the heroes, while female leads in horror films are portrayed as the victims. This creates a serious power inequality, which is reinforced again and again in popular films. Erin may be physically injured and traumatized throughout the course of You’re Next, but it is clear that she is hero rather than victim, and she alone earns her survival.

While following in the horror tropes that it seeks simultaneously to satirize, You’re Next ends up being both unflinchingly brutal and darkly funny. I found myself thrilled watching this reversal of power dynamics and gender roles, and I’d love to see what the guys behind You’re Next come up with next.

*Caveat: before the family reunion gets going, the very first scene of the movie is a sex scene. Why? After seeing the movie, I assume it’s tongue-in-cheek. Don’t worry, though. It only lasts about 3 unsatisfying seconds.
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3 thoughts on “Feminist Horror in “You’re Next”

  1. Just watched this, and loved it, but I had some reservations. And I’m curious, did you notice the parallel between slut-shaming and the reactions of Felix and girlfriend to Erin’s first kill? It was very “Oh. Ew. Didn’t know you were that kind of girl.” And the end! First of all, convo between her and boyfriend. “If you’d remained untouched, I would have proposed.” And her getting shot…she can’t get away unscathed. Maybe I’m reading too shallowly, and this was all meant to be satirical, but I think these things would have been more obvious if it was meant that way. Also, murder of home wrecker college girl in the first scene–following the same old “sluts die first” trope. Anyway, noticed you wrote this over a year ago, but just so you know, you’re on the first page when you google “you’re next feminism” so, yay!

    • Wow, didn’t realize this post was so easily searchable! Those are some interesting points you brought up. I haven’t seen this movie since I posted this (though it’s on Netflix now, woohoo!), so I think I would need to re-watch it to be able to make any more comments. I would hope that the things you noticed were put in there for satirical purposes because if not… yuck.

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