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I was really, really excited to talk about You’re Next on the podcast for a multitude of reasons: it’s one of my favorite movies (not just horror, but in general), visually it’s remarkable, and there are a few really great cameos throughout. But most importantly, what did it for me was our final girl Erin (played by Sharni Vinson); she’s a force to be reckoned with who will stop at nothing to survive and protect a group of strangers that she barely knows while keeping herself out of the fray. Erin’s survival instinct is off the charts, and when the family in You’re Next is attacked by outsiders dressed all in black, donning animal masks to hide their identity, she kicks it into high gear, telling the family what to do, setting booby traps for the invaders all over the house and doling out basic first aid while trying to comfort the victims of this insane home invasion. We see early on that Erin is an observer; she’s unafraid of challenges and uncomfortable situations. And she does it without machismo- all of her violent reactions are just that- reactions driven by the pure need to survive, not to fall victim to a seemingly unmotivated attack.
The first time I saw this film, I was in college and I remember saying to myself during finals week, “If Erin can fend off military trained assassins, jump out of a second story window and escape from the masked assailants by running through the woods with glass shards in her leg- you can pass your finals.” I’ve used Erin as inspiration for my fitness training, thinking to myself, “You never know when you’ll be in an Erin situation and have to kick some mercenary ass in order to save your own skin.”
Let’s take a second to appreciate her character: she’s a highly educated woman, she’s kind to her boyfriend’s family even when she feels out of place, she knows how to survive sticky situations thanks to her upbringing in a survivalist compound and she doesn’t settle in her relationships- in fact, she kills her boyfriend who is in part responsible for all of her troubles in the first place. (Disclaimer- Good Mourning, Nancy does not endorse the killing of your significant other if they’ve wronged you. We’re not about that life. Just dump ‘em and move on.)
There are a few people I’ve encountered who ask me why I love this film so much, and they treat it like another slasher that’s fun to watch on a first date or a night in with your dog, eating a pint of ice cream. (I totally haven’t done this before, I don’t know what you’re talking about.) It’s so much more than that to me, because Erin is not a waif. She totally blasts through all of the toxic masculinity and misogyny that comes with the saying “fight like a girl” and rips through that veil of final girls throwing a weak punch at the behest of the film’s director and running the opposite direction of her attacker. But, as I mentioned before, she doesn’t do it to feed her ego or the ego of the audience. She’s a dynamic character who doesn’t revel in taking human life, but she knows what’s necessary in order to keep living. That’s what sets this film apart from so many other horror and home invasion films. The killing really isn’t needless or senseless- yes, the film is VERY bloody, but it’s not over saturated. It’s pretty believable for the most part.
Another thing that I really love about You’re Next is that the heroine isn’t over sexualized. There are times of course, when that can really work in films, but I feel as though this film, along with many other modern films helped move women in horror out of that phase. She’s not “conveniently” dressed in a sheer top, her clothing isn’t ripped off by her attackers, the film doesn’t show unnecessary scenes of sexual intimacy between her and Crispian, her boyfriend. Let’s face it, that’s been a trope in horror for a long time and while it’s great that it shows the sexual side of women, it typically ends with them being “punished” for their sexuality.
Another noteworthy mention: This film doesn’t use sexual assault as a weapon or to scare the audience. With home invasion films, I feel as though that’s the “easy” route to take because it’s one of the most frightening and damaging things that can happen to women (or anyone, for that matter). And unfortunately, it’s used by filmmakers to get a reaction out of the audience, as if home invasion won’t scare the daylights out of you as it is. It’s almost as if film writers and directors have limited horror for women or said to themselves “What weakens women the most, degrades them, and truly traumatizes audiences and gets them to react? Oh, yes- sexual assault.” This movie transcends that by elevating it’s villains and the hero to intelligent humans with valid reasoning for the violence. That seems to do the trick when it comes to frightening the audience- anyone can write a film that allows the characters to be mindless destructive machines who rape, torture, and kill their victims. It’s a common plot line in many splatter films- we fear what we don’t understand. But with this, the killers are so determined because they have a purpose, and we’re left on the edge of our seats wondering what exactly that purpose is until it’s revealed that it’s all driven by money- killing this entire family means an inheritance for the remaining survivors and a big fat paycheck for the killers, hired to take out the parents and any siblings who have a cut in the sum of the inheritance.
*Queue huge sigh of relief when it’s discovered that the killers are not sexually motivated.*
But back to our girl Erin- while many final girls might have listened to their boyfriend’s BS story about why he hired-a-team-of-assassins-to-kill-their-parents-for-inheritance money-and-almost-got-you-killed-in-the-process (oops, sorry honey!)-and-please-understand-I-had-a-good-reason-and-oh-we’re-rich-now… Erin doesn’t fall for it. She’s not wooed back into her boyfriends arms because “they have a lot of great memories and she loves him completely and unconditionally”- no, terms and conditions most definitely apply when it comes to Erin. She doesn’t allow herself to weaken because of her love for her boyfriend- in fact, that is completely thrown out the window when she learns what a piece of garbage he is. THAT is the kind of empowerment that I love to see when it comes to females in horror. You don’t have to settle for a garbage boyfriend (again, please see disclaimer above, DON’T KILL YOUR GARBAGE BOYFRIEND) or listen to his whiny stories about why he was motivated to do a trashy (illegal) thing. She realizes that this goes above and beyond what is morally acceptable and isn’t tempted by money, or the easier life that Crispian promises her once the inheritance comes through from his deceased family. She knows that (1) He’s never going to get away with it and (2) she’ll probably be implicated anyway so (3) why not just end this right here, right now? And that’s exactly what she does. Talk about really carpe-ing that diem, am I right? We need more characters in horror like Erin. We need strong females who are willing to stand up to their dumb boyfriends, fight for the lives of others and most importantly- stand up for themselves. You’re Next deserves to be heralded for providing that kind of character while simultaneously scaring the pants off of it’s audience.
So with that being said, I think we’re ready for what’s next when it comes to more badass females in horror.
“Episode 23: You’re Next – Home Alone for Adults” premieres Tuesday, May 8th 2018