You’re Next is a strong entry in the home-invasion horror subgenre. It’s often funny, exciting and harrowing, and has some better-than-average character work supporting its familiar premise (masked thugs terrorize a well-to-do family in a remote mansion). It’s highly entertaining. So, why did I walk away disappointed?
This is the question I asked myself after the film’s first SXSW screening. You’re Next made its debut at TIFF in 2011, and has since been placed on lock by the studio that bought it (Lionsgate), holding it for that perfect release window (it opens wide in August 2013). The praise from that first screening was loud and proud, and was reinforced by its second (and until now, final) screening at Fantastic Fest that same year. People seemed to universally love this film.
The Alamo Drafthouse painted one of its masked killers on the side of the building as a permanent fixture until the building’s renovation earlier this year. One of my friends got a You’re Next tattoo. People who have seen the film have been beating the stump for Lionsgate to release this sooner rather than later, and the release date has danced around like a tease for those who haven’t seen it. Several people told me it was their favorite film of 2011.
Can a film be oversold? Can an overwhelming amount of positive buzz set anticipation levels to a goal that’s too high to be reached? Overselling isn’t quantifiable, but it can happen. We’ve all been in a position where a friend has told us that we’d love something, only to find that we didn’t, and we’ve been the friend hoping to get someone else excited by what we love, only to see them say that thing is “just OK.” Is it the fault of the product, the fault of the enthused, or a little bit of both?
You’re Next doesn’t seem to have any ambition beyond being an enjoyable riff on the home-invasion trends in horror from a few years ago. The film delivers on its goals and does so with skill. I can’t fault the product for being oversold, because I don’t have any strong criticism of the product. I could shrug You’re Next off with “it wasn’t all that,” but what does that even mean when the film accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do? Was I expecting something more mind-blowing? Perhaps, but, again, this isn’t the fault of the actual film.
Do I blame those who praised it? How can I, when I’m praising it too? No one told me it would change my life - they just told me it was really good, and it is. Sure, there were a lot of people who loved it, but I’m not wholly cynical enough to buy into the idea of critical “groupthink” and I understand the importance during a festival of letting people know what indie movies are a cut above. You’re Next is a cut above, and deserved good word of mouth.
I guess the blame lies on me for expecting some dizzying new horror classic, rather than what I was given. It’s as if someone said “this is one of the best hamburgers I’ve ever had!” and I thought to myself, well, then, it must actually be a steak. It’s just wrong for me to jump to that conclusion. As viewers, we can desire a certain experience from hearing the opinions of others, but when the actual film doesn’t bear out in the way that we expect it to connect with us, it becomes too easy for us to dismiss it as the fault of the film or the fault of the opinion, when neither one is the culprit. We’re the ones that let our imaginations go with what we anticipated this unseen thing to deliver. We’ve got no one to blame but ourselves when we’re let down by something that’s actually really good. It doesn’t change the reality of the feeling of disappointment, but, for the film’s sake, it’s always important to have some perspective too.