A family gathers at a massive, beautiful home around a massive, beautiful table for a celebratory meal. A few hours later, the house is in tatters and the floor is littered with blood and broken kitchen implements.
Is this a movie, or is it just Thanksgiving at your Mom’s house?
Even for those of us who happen to enjoy the time spent with our families and our massive meals, the holiday that falls between Halloween and Christmas has always presented something of a gauntlet. If you find certain loved ones grating, it’s an endurance test of your sanity, but you can also get along with everyone around the table and still feel like you’re in the middle of an obstacle course of food, football, and conversational mine fields that could go south at any moment. There’s something rather daunting about the whole thing, whether you get excited in the lead-up to it or not.
That feeling has, of course, been immortalized in several classic films over the years, from the road trip antics of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles to the extended family dramedy of Home for the Holidays. Sometimes, though, you need something a little more mean-spirited, a little more darkly comic, a little more, dare I say it, brutal to capture the Thanksgiving feeling you’re dealing with on any particular day in the week leading up to the holiday.
For those days, I hereby submit to the horror fans among us: It’s time to make You’re Next into a Thanksgiving viewing tradition.
Though most audiences wouldn’t get to see it until 2013, this year marks a decade since the world premiere of director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett’s black comedy slasher classic, and it feels more and more like the perfect film to throw on in celebration of family get togethers, particularly Thanksgiving. It’s a great fit if you can’t stand your family, sure, but if everyone gets along, there’s an impish element to the movie that makes it feel like an excellent metaphor for the kind of emotional, physical, and psychological gauntlet that executing (pun intended) a family gathering turns out to be.
As the film opens, the Davison family is fractured, all planning to come together again at the family’s country home with its massive banquet table and ornate woodwork. In the lead-up to that reunion, we get the typical family scrapes. Son Crispin (A.J. Bowen) is bringing new girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson) home to meet his relatives, while his brother Felix (Nicholas Tucci) is bringing his own rather adventurous new lover, Zee (Wendy Glenn) to do the same, and their brother Drake (Joe Swanberg) is ready to give them both crap for it. Drake, being the already married big brother, is also fully prepared to give Crispin grief about everything from his weight to Erin’s age to how they met. And of course, as all of this happens, strange sounds through the house have driven matriarch Aubrey (Barbara Crampton) to believe that they’re not alone.
They’re not alone, of course, and the dinner table bickering once everyone has united in the dining room quickly descends into chaos as crossbow bolts fly in through the windows. The rest of the film, even in its quietest moments, is an all-out home invasion thriller assault of tension, shocks, and dark humor, which if you’ve ever had a particularly crowded Thanksgiving dinner, might feel at least a little familiar to you.
That setup alone, the idea of a family dinner under siege, is reason enough to make You’re Next part of your Thanksgiving viewing rotation, but it’s not the whole picture. The film doesn’t stand as a modern horror classic just because of that clever setup, but because everyone involved is delivering on it in such elaborate, often unexpected ways. Wingard’s choreography of the violence is outstanding, from the ways in which he sets up booby traps like an especially vicious Home Alone sequel to the sudden explosions of fury that come once the audience realizes that Erin is actually more than capable of handling herself in a fight. When things really get heated, the people inside the house resort to using things like kitchen knives and screwdrivers as weapons, which is both relatable to anyone who’s ever had a turkey carving accident and a clever metaphorical breakdown of the film’s constructed world. The Davisons, you see, were only playing at a happy reunion, and now they’re using the very tools of that reunion against their attacks, and eventually against each other.
It’s that fact, the breakdown of the motivations behind each member of the family’s arrival, that makes You’re Next work extremely well beyond the physical brutality of many of its key moments, and makes it especially suited to a Thanksgiving watch. Barrett’s script, and the conviction with which his cast inhabits it, is full of verbal barbs as well as physical ones, lines of disgust, of resentment, of outright comic injury the characters throw at each other even when they should be worried about other things. At one point, as the family debates whether or not someone should go for help, Davison daughter Aimee (Amy Seimetz) breaks down in tears not just because she’s surrounded by murderers, but because she believes her father doesn’t want her running outside because he doesn’t believe in her enough. In another key moment, Zee and Felix argue because he doesn’t want to have sex in a room that has a corpse on the bed, which apparently means he never wants to do anything interesting with her. Then there’s the moment when daughter-in-law Kelly (Sarah Myers) simply runs shrieking from the house because she can’t take it anymore, and everyone’s left to just figure things out without her.
Make no mistake, You’re Next is brutal, brutal movie, but what makes it a constantly rewatchable piece of home invasion horror fun is the sense that this could be your family, no matter how close-knit or happy you actually are. All it takes is one little element of chaos to disrupt absolutely everything, and suddenly everyone is turning on each other, there are knives strewn across the kitchen floor, people using blenders as weapons, and a guy in a lamb mask is trying to hit you with an axe. It speaks to that simmering sense of tension that so many families are familiar with, even when things are going well, and like all good horror, it creates a kind of fictional pressure release valve in your head if you ever get too overwhelmed by the eternal Thanksgiving gauntlet.
So this year, when it gets dark and everyone else goes to bed, cut a slice of pumpkin pie, make a turkey sandwich, and watch You’re Next. Happy Thanksgiving.
Matthew Jackson is a pop culture writer and nerd-for-hire whose work has appeared at Syfy Wire, Mental Floss, Looper, Playboy, and Uproxx, among others. He lives in Austin, Texas, and he’s always counting the days until Christmas. Find him on Twitter: @awalrusdarkly.
Where to stream You’re Next