YOU’RE NEXT TRAILER: Irony, Mystery, Interpellation

Made in 2011 and screened for festival audiences that year, You’re Next, directed by Adam Wingard from a script by Simon Barrett, is that rare, lucky horror film, plucked from obscurity and given a big-budget, full-press campaign by major studio, in this case Lionsgate.

It was the posters I noticed first. Grainy, sepia toned images of an ominous animal headed villain/antagonist with the words “You’re next” in barely legible chicken scratch font” (this is not the official name). I wondered whether that was the copy line or The title? Amidst the visual clutter of Hollywood and the fierce competition among one sheets and movie posters, these stood out for their understated and unpolished creepiness. I was inspired to watch and analyze the trailer.

With Wikipedia noting positive anticipation by fans and early favorable reaction by critics, referring especially to the films “refreshing tone,” (whatever that might be), I watched (and re-watched) the trailer for indications of how this refreshment might manifest. The film, a low budget, modest production, was the kind of project we preferred at the horror film production company I used to do work for: a contained situation requiring modest production expenditures enlivened by a novel generic twist.

In You’re Next (a provocative and engaging title) the plot involves an affluent, apparently happy extended family gathered to celebrate an anniversary at a remote, luxurious manor house, who are stalked and murdered by three animal-mask wearing assailants. According to Wikipedia, at least one member of the household has an unexpected ability to respond in kind to the ferocious violence, which is, presumably, the reason for the attack and the promise that at least one (or some) will survive.

The trailer and its poster benefit significantly from the title, which both interpellates the viewer (the direct address mood of “you”–as in “hey you!” or “you’re next” is invariably heard and understood as “who me?”) into the action and threatens him or her with the presumed fate of the protagonists. The poster copy, “Did you remember to lock the door” turns a mundane precaution into an issue of existential dread. Once again “you” are implicated in the events of the film, your own choices and behavior inviting extinction; your carelessness or forgetfulness operating as an index of vulnerability.

For all the clever, linguistic and visual appeal of the poster, the trailer itself is rather unremarkable, apart from the expenditure incurred for the marquee Lou Reed song, Perfect Day. (Gotta by 6 figures for that cue alone!) At 2:13, the trailer is traditionally structured: At a large, rural tudor mansion, a family arrives for an anniversary celebration. They gather to the lugubrious strains of Perfect Day.
“The perfect weekend
The perfect family
But in one moment
Everything will change,” the copy cards advise as the music fades out.

Inside at the dinner table, all is comfort and cheer and affluence and affection, until, at the peak of the celebratory feast, the assault by animal masked killers armed with bows and arrows and axes and knives begins. Terror ensues as family members lock doors, bar windows and move furniture to prevent entry. Dialogue among the victimized indicates (so far as they are credible and authoritative) that the terror is not random but motivated and organized.

The music cue returns for the final 40 seconds (or so) as the action on screen plays counterpoint to the music and lyrics, with scenes of violence edited to the beat, the cue distorted by a roaring sound effect. “This August…The Animals…Will Hunt…You” explains the copy, as the ballet of killers and killed concludes in a quick-cut montage (frenzy) of horror, before the reveal of the title, a trickle of blood painting the “X” of “Next.” Within the trailer, the words “You’re next” appear in blood on the walls of victim’s rooms, re-iterating the threat of the title and the the plot, and inspiring the dripping “X” in the title graphic.

This trailer, though skillfully and rhythmically edited, is notable not so much for innovation as for irony. The cue, an already ironic rock ballad, is, in this circumstance, taunting and sadistic vis a vis the events depicted. (Is this the refreshing tone, referred to in Wikipedia?) Or is the perfection of the day instead the Point of View of the antagonists, for whom a captive family of victims is ideal?

Masked assailants are, of course, concealed ones, with secret identities that typically find a counterpart in their victims. But why the Lamb, the Tiger and the Fox as the chosen “masks” apart from their fate as targets of human predation and exploitation? This trailer is not a tell-all, in that such expository or explanatory details are omitted. There is very little “why” and rather more “what.” The house, in this trailer, stands in (as it commonly does) for the vulnerabilities of the body, its doors and windows sites of penetration and weakness to be defended or surrendered. Nonetheless, a few scenes of terror take place outside, on the grounds of the property, accent the trailer.

“You’re Next” as a title and a warning, implies a plan and an order, intention not randomness, as the victim’s dialogue confirms. But what that plan might be, or the intentionality of the killers, the trailer does not approach or hint, which is, I think, a mistake given that such a suggestion or indication would highlight the twist, turn or surprise responsible for the attention and praise this film has received.

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movietrailers101 by Fred Greene is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

About Frederick Greene

Entertainment Copywriter & Visiting Assistant Professor, UCLA Dept. of Theater, Film & Television. I teach a graduate seminar in new movie marketing, which focuses on the history, contemporary practice and likely future of a/v advertising for motion picture entertainment.
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