The world can be a scary place. Sure, that’s a cliched and obvious observation, especially for a horror site, but it still bears repeating every now and then. Every generation redefines what’s scary about their time on this spinning blue ball. What frightened our parents may not do a thing for us, and our kids may think we were cowards. That’s kinda how these things work.
10 years ago, in the throes of yet another economic crisis, Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett helped define millennial fears with You’re Next. Layering the flick with overt and covert references to student debt, generational wealth inequality, a dried-up job market, and the Boomers vs. everyone, Wingard and Barrett crafted a surprisingly topical horror movie. You’re Next is quintessential for 90s kids who witnessed 9/11 and came of age during the Great Recession.
2011 was a weird time. A few years after the economy vomited on itself, an entire generation was shot out of a canon into the real world and told to make something of themselves. Left out of a postscript on those instructions? An anemic job market with emaciated wages and living costs scarier than any ghost, ghoul, goblin, or Michael Myers. Those most affected focused on the institutions that allowed it to happen. Specifically, those that rewarded wealth and let the rich continue to get richer despite…well, despite everything.
The matriarch and patriarch of the Davidson family are pitch-perfect stand-ins for old, well-to-do establishments. Seriously, their “country house” is a historical mansion sitting on acres of land, and their closest neighbor is far enough away where one might not even consider them neighbors. It coincides with the movie’s running theme of financial stability.
The Davidson children constantly talk about money while their parents rarely, if ever, mention it. At least two of them are broke, one is dating a director who hasn’t made anything since 2008, and the other is consumed with a status he seemingly doesn’t have. While mom and dad are fine, the kids are most definitely not all right. The anguish felt by many millennials at the time is palpable in the Davidson brood.
They know the institution isn’t coming to save them, and in fact, it sometimes looks down on them for not doing better. That desperation for stability is the reason heads roll, and arrows fly. It destroys the Davidson clan piece by piece and leaves the house, the symbol of their success, in tatters as an absolute mess.
Even the killers in You’re Next are in the same leaky boat as their victims. Not much is revealed about the murderous trio except for the fact they served in the military. Young veterans didn’t exactly come home to ticker-tape parades and two-car garages. Instead, they got PTSD and the same Hunger Games-like job market we civilians dealt with on the regular. If the country you fought and bled for can’t even take care of you as a thank you, why not murder a wealthy family for what you feel is rightfully yours?
But even on American soil, these Joe Pesci-types (guys willing to do anything for dinero) are still pieces on someone else’s chessboard. As the killers are mowed down one by one, Felix has all the emotion of a boot stepping on an ant. He and his brother saw their dad make millions of dollars from wars as a defense contractor when business was booming. In their eyes, it’s only right they build their fortune the same way. To them, the killers aren’t people. They’re not even “means to an end.” They’re numbers in a ledger. In the end, fewer numbers mean more money for them.
Erin, our hero, is set up to benefit significantly from this pretty well thought out caper. Of course, as Crispin notes, nobody knew Erin was the true wolf in sheep’s clothing. Besides the fact she can kill with a blender, Erin’s story rings true for many 20 somethings at the time. She’s doing her best to get through grad school, working a crappy job, and locked into an eternal battle with Sallie Mae. That last thing is scarier than Jason Voorhees, twice as ugly and even more unrelenting. So yeah, Erin is obviously in a bind.
Understanding the seriousness of that bind is necessary to appreciate her final decision. Crispin offers her a way out, a chance to finish grad school on her terms and wipe away all her debt. Now, of course, she says no because she knows it’s literally blood money and wants nothing from a man who engineered the nightmare she’s barely awake from. I get it.
But how many millennials would jump at that offer if given a chance?
How many of us would do mental gymnastics to convince our conscience it’s all for the greater good? There’s a cliché saying about hindsight, but 10 years later, it’s something I find myself pondering quite a bit. The fact it’s even a question is the scariest thing Adam and Simon did with You’re Next. Would we do what Erin didn’t do for our ultimate survival outside the four massive mansion walls? Or would we make the same choice she did and live with those consequences?
Some of the best horror movies make us question our own morals and motivations. No matter how many generations define fear on their own terms, that one fact is everlasting. And if our generation as a whole ever gets to the point where we can afford kids, one day we can show them You’re Next and talk about the insanity that was 2011.