The first time I saw You're Next, I called it my favorite Home Alone sequel. It was a joke, of course, but not as much of a joke as it sounds. The more I think about Adam Wingard's gnarly, lightning-fast home invasion thriller, the more I think that part of the reason I love it so much is the way it follows a similar structure to the family-friendly home invasion comedies of my youth. When you boil it down to what's left at the end, both films are about a person who is facing unexpected and seemingly impossible danger and turns out to be more resourceful than either the other characters or the audience expected.
The comparison then goes further, because I'd argue that the director also understands how inherently wild the movie's central premise is, and he leans into it, infusing the back half of the film with a sense of bloody fun that other home invasion thrillers might have left by the wayside in favor of something a little more bleak or conceptually challenging. This is a film that wants to play in the brutal little microverse it creates over the course of a lean 94 minutes, and because it's a horror film that doesn't shy away from its share of gore, that usually takes the form of creative ways to inflict pain.
You're Next is set up, before its two major twists land with the audience, like a classic home invasion thriller (Or, if you're a Home Alone fan, like a classic early '90s holiday comedy) with an easy to follow setup. Masked killers take out the only neighbors in earshot, then settle in as members of the Davison family arrive at their massive and secluded country home for a weekend of celebration. The family gathers for dinner, and the killers begin their attack, shooting one attendee with a crossbow and stringing up a length of garrote across the front door so anyone who tries to run will be clotheslined (this comes up quickly and brutally). They also activate a cell phone jammer so no one can call for help.
What the killers don't count on is Erin (Sharni Vinson), the girlfriend of one of the Davison brothers, who just happened to grow up in a survivalist commune. She knows how to fight back, and because this is the middle of nowhere and there are few traditional weapons in sight, fighting back takes the form of improvised weaponry. So, once the situation is clear, Erin grabs everything from chef's knives to screwdrivers and constructs traps — some as simple as a board with nails sticking through it, others as complex as a swinging axe triggered by the front door — all in her effort to survive the night alive.
A premise like this means that so many of the scares and moments of brutality are all in the execution, because a movie about one woman who walked around trying to hit everyone with the same meat tenderizer over and over just wouldn't play quite as well. A sense of situational awareness is key, and Wingard and writer Simon Barrett begin playing with that almost immediately, when Erin walks out of the kitchen holding knives and a big meat tenderizer for everyone to share. Just moments later, she uses the latter weapon to bash in the head of one of the attackers, because it happened to be what she could get to fast enough, and a knife would be less interesting.
This sense of situational awareness keeps building, creating a house full of Chekhov's guns, and with them the sense that the audience will see just about every element of the scenery come into play eventually. The nail traps Erin insists on building matter not just in a moment of pain, but in an intense argument among the killers that plays out minutes later. The water boiling on the stove does not stay boiling, but is used near the end of the film when the mastermind of the attack, Felix (Nicholas Tucci) has it thrown at him and yells "It's not even hot" before he slips on it at a crucial moment. There's a sense that everything can and will be used at some point, and yet there's so much to play with that we often can't see what will happen until it does.
All of this, the carefully organized chaos and the lightning-fast pacing and the sense that any background object could become a weapon at any moment, brings us to the blender.
Wingard dials up the unpredictable tension of the film by setting its final major fight -- in which Erin faces both Felix and his girlfriend Zee (Wendy Glenn) — in a kitchen, so just about anything could be used to kill any of the characters at some point. Felix stabs Erin in the shoulder with a small knife while Erin tries to strangle Zee, and as pain lights her up, Erin grabs a blender — which has been in shot after shot just sitting on the counter since the opening minutes of the film — and smashes it into Felix's face. Another movie would stop there, but not this one. In this one Erin plunges the smashed blender carafe down onto the top of Felix's head, so that the blade has also pierced his skull. Then, she plugs it in.
As far as gore effects go, the kill is not particularly gruesome. What makes it work as one of those moments that has people in the audience laughing hysterically because they don't know what else to do is the sound the blender makes as it turns Felix's brains into a grey smoothie. On top of that, there's an added sense of both dark comedy — because You're Next is, among other things, a very funny movie — and true, unhinged savagery in the move. Erin probably incapacitated Felix just by stabbing him through the brain with the blender blades, but then she went the next step and got electricity involved. It's a jaw-dropping, squirm-inducing, yell at the screen, throw-popcorn-in-the-air moment that comes near the end of a film already brimming with clever, unexpected kills.
And then, after all that, the film still has the balls to drop that final axe swing on you in the very last shot. It's a movie that never lets up, and that sense of relentless brutality stays with you in rewatch after rewatch. No matter how many times you've seen it though, there's a good chance that whenever you think of You're Next, your mind still goes back to that blender. You won't see that in Godzilla vs. Kong.