The home invasion film is a very specific area of the horror genre that seems to come in waves through out film history. I happen to be of the school of thought that whatever the flavor of the month for horror is in any given year(s) is a direct reflection on society’s current fear. Most recently, we’ve been treated to The Purge, Them, Kidnapped, Funny Games, Inside and Silent House just to name a few. My first introduction to the home invasion film was When A Stranger Calls and that movie still chills me to the bone. It took until my twenties to read Truman Capotes’s In Cold Blood and then watch the movie;I was creeped out for weeks. After I watched Them alone, at night, I thought I would never recover and then I went to see The Strangers. By request, I will be talking about the differences between The Strangers and You’re Next. If you have not seen either of these films, I suggest you stop reading now. I will be speaking freely about the plot points in both, therefore, SPOILER ALERT.
The home invasion movie plays on the scary knowledge that the outside world is dangerous, unpredictable and right on the other side of your front door. Of course, a home invasion only occurs in what can best be described as upper middle class to wealthy homes. As the gap between the wealthy and poor grows greater, so does the fear that one class would have the audacity to try to grab a piece of the pie. You’re Next took place in the home of a very wealthy family and the ultimate goal was financial gain. There is something that is much more terrifying than that, though. What if, as in The Strangers, a group of people terrorized you just “because you were home”
Written and directed by Bryan Bertino, The Strangers brings us the story of James and Kristen; a couple staying in an isolated vacation house who are tormented by three masked strangers. In the wee hours of the morning, a girl knocks on their door asking if Tamara is home. Although she is told that she has the wrong house, she returns again and asks the same question. What ensues from here is a terrifying game of cat and mouse. The taunting begins small with taking things from the house, writing “hello” on a window and slowly escalates to full on terror:James and Kristen are relentlessly pursued. As the night wears on, they are worn down by these three intruders. All of their attempts at escape are unsuccessful, they accidentally kill their best friend and , ultimately, succumb to blind panic. Broken down physically, mentally and emotionally, James and Kristen are tied to chairs while these three masked strangers look down upon them. This moment is particularly chilling because it feels as though it lasts forever. It’s only a moment, but we feel the same unending terror that James and Kristen are experiencing. When Kristen asks why they’re doing this, Dollface gives what she, clearly, sees as a perfectly reasonable answer; “because you were home”. The three strangers then remove their masks. As the audience, we never see their faces, but we all know that when the masks come off, your life expectancy has just dropped to mere minutes. It is stomach turning to watch as these three people take turns stabbing James and Kristen. It’s clear that none of them have done this before and this feeling of knife fumbling reality is overwhelmingly terrifying. The three friends leave James and Kristen to die, pile into their truck only to stop when they see two young men on bicycles. When Dollface asks one of the boys for one of their Christian Living pamphlets, the young man asks her if she’s a sinner. She thinks for a moment and says, “sometimes”. While driving out of town one of the girls proclaims to the others that “it will be easier next time”. This final statement perfectly sums up the exact reason The Strangers is so effectively terrifying. These are random people who might show up at your house tonight because….yup, you got it, you’re next.
You’re Next uses the always nerve jangling home invasion narrative but turns it on it’s head a bit. At times serious and gruesome, it’s also humorous and a kick in the pants. If you know anything about me at all, then you know that I have an almost obscene love for this movie. I saw it in the theatre three times, watched it 5 times in a row the day it was available on Amazon streaming and have since watched it numerous times. It never gets old to me; in fact, it gets better the more I watch it. Written by Simon Barrett and directed by Adam Wingard, they have both worked together on multiple projects including A Horrible Way To Die, both V/H/S films, The ABC’s Of Death and Autoerotic. I find this body of work to be strangely uneven; you can always see their fingerprints on what they do, but it’s all so wildly different. I have previously stated that I still want my $9 back from V/H/S and I placed V/H/S 2 and The ABC’s Of Death on my worst of 2013 list. I tell you all of this so you won’t think me a wacked out fangirl because when it comes to A Horrible Way To Die and You’re Next, I cannot shut up about how amazing they are.
You’re Next is the story of what happens when the Davidson family gets together for a wedding anniversary in their ostentatious vacation home. Three masked strangers (sound familiar?) begin an all out assault with crossbows, machetes and axes on the Davidson family. Perhaps I pay too much attention to A.J. Bowen, but the face his character Crispian makes when his girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson) states she is going to the neighbor’s house for milk is suspicious and I immediately began wondering what was really going on at this house. When Crispain’s brother Felix ( Nicholas Tucci) arrives with his girlfriend, he’s even more suspect. The carnage begins and, magically, no one has cell service. Felix declares, “they must be using a jammer, a cell phone blocker; they’re illegal, but you can get them on the internet for, like, thirty bucks” Wow, way to have a lot of weird, pertinent information, Felix. So, while the Fox, The Tiger and The Sheep reek havoc on the Davidson’s, the dysfunctional family dynamic quickly becomes apparent. While yelling at each other over whether Crispain is fat, or if Aimee can run three miles in 23 minutes, or why Felix is a lowlife, Erin is the only one keeping her cool. The moments of family discord are, surely, familiar to all audience members and are a wonderful jolt of dark, subtle humor. In between the family arguments are some legitimately awesome scenes of suspense and gore. The Sheep chasing Kelly to the neighbor’s house, throwing her through the glass coffee table and then using an axe like a golf club to her head is simply chilling and perfect. As the sheep sits down on the couch next to the dead neighbor and admires his work, you’re reminded that, despite the moments of “comedy”, this is a home invasion movie. People with no apparent motive have descended upon this family and they are showing no mercy. Unfortunately, nobody was aware that Erin grew up on a survivalist compound until she was 15. As this fierce, tiny woman takes out all of the perpetrators, including the ones that are members of the family, we realize that this was all just an elaborate plan for two selfish, whiny, little men to get their grubby hands on their inheritance. The charm of You’re Next is the mixture of humor and horror and the introduction of a wonderfully badass heroine. I’ve said it a hundred times before and I’ll say it again: Erin is a female John McClain, all the way down to taking a giant shard of glass out of herself and still kicking everyone’s ass.
It’s the unlikely humor and the idea that one person could survive a home invasion that sets You’re Next apart from The Strangers. Both films are exceptional takes on the genre, but they both have their own way of telling their story. Where The Strangers makes me terrified to go into my backyard at night, You’re Next lets me have the crazy idea that I could, maybe, be as awesome as Erin. So, while both films center on being threatened in your own home, The Strangers is so very unsettling because there is no “why” to the equation,whereas, in You’re Next, the “who” and the “why” are members of the very family being hunted. So, I suppose, the question is which do you find more terrifying? The random violence and blood lust of complete strangers or the very personal threat of people whom you thought you could trust? Which is scarier; someone you know or a random individual who’s only interest is creating fear and satisfying a depraved desire? For me, it’s the former. The world is a terrifying place full of unknown threats. Perhaps I’m mildly insane, but I always wonder which big rig has a girl tied up in the back, which house in my neighborhood has someone caged in the basement or which person at Target is buying supplies to take home to the person he/she plans on torturing. Seriously, just how many bodies are weighted down at the bottom of that small body of water that I run by from time to time? These are the things that scare me. If my brother decides to try to take me out for inheritance money, well, I feel much better equipped to be able to wrap my brain around that situation because I know him and I know how he thinks. It’s the randoms in life that really frighten me. The Strangers is about the random violence that we live with. You’re Next is about the random violence that we break bread with; equal, but different. So, I’m not sure that comparing these two movies is entirely fair because they are two completely different kinds of threats. You’re Next is a flat out suspenseful, good time at the movies. The Strangers is the kind of horror that creeps under your skin and sticks with you.
P.S. In the spirit of the upcoming Academy Awards, I would love to strongly encourage to watch Wait Until Dark. Audrey Hepburn was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress for this film. Alan Arkin is deliciously creepy and I think you just may be surprised how suspenseful this little gem from 1968 really is.