For generations, final girls have been a cornerstone of the horror genre, but in 2011, You’re Next rewrote the rules and challenged everything a final girl could be.
Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, two of the most interesting up-and-comers in the horror genre made their presence known with 2011’s You’re Next, which was an unflinching take on both slasher and home invasion movies. Wingard has since been attached to such projects as The Guest, Blair Witch (2016), and Netflix’s movie version of Death Note. Barrett is a frequent collaborator with Wingard, but has also lent his talents to the V/H/S franchise. The duo’s intensity of focus on characters and plot driven stories were also a welcome take to horror, which occasionally tends to lean more heavily on gore and kills than well-rounded characters who the audience actually cares about.
Because Wingard and Barrett put so much emphasis on characterization, no death is purely hollow in You’re Next, whether it’s a celebrated death or mourned one. However, their creation of Erin (Sharni Vinson) raised the bar for any final girls who follow in her footsteps.
Typically, final girl tropes involve the sole survivor being virginal, innocent, occasionally spurned by a romantic partner or bolstered by one such male until he reaches his inevitable demise and she must fight alone. This has been subverted somewhat in movies like Scream, where Sidney Prescott is every bit the capable heroine throughout the franchise, but she started from similar roots. In Scream, Sidney’s own boyfriend, Billy (Skeet Ulrich) and their friend Stu (Matthew Lillard) were responsible for the deaths of their friends and Sidney’s torment. Modern horror films like Black Christmas have tried to subvert the tropes as well in an overtly feminist take where multiple women team up together to take their power back from a male adversary. However, You’re Next takes what is effective and beloved about a horror film’s final girl and adds more than just grit, determination, and capability: Wingard and Barrett arm their heroine with genuine survival skills.
A family reunion goes quickly sour when masked hunters, all of whom have adopted animal masks, invade Erin’s boyfriend’s familial home and start picking them off one by one. Instead of needing a moment to process or reverting to fear, Erin immediately springs into action, taking point to triage and tend to the wounded and directs the family members who survive the initial attack with the hunters’ ranged weapons into action on how to hide, secure themselves and their surroundings, and, most importantly, how to fight back. Eventually, Erin reveals that she grew up on a survivalist compound, which explains her knowledge of combat tactics, security, and her ability to set traps that are much more lethal, elevated versions of Kevin’s from Home Alone to take out their would-be assailants.
Where most final girls seem to spring into action solely to defend themselves or their friends, Erin showcases little concern about murdering the hunters without a second thought. She is remarkably cool under pressure, and doesn’t rely on any of the tropes regarding a final girl finding her strength at the last moment, because Erin already has strength to spare. The hunters don’t stand a chance, which is another major revamp because usually those involved are easily dispatched by capable killers, occasionally with a supernatural edge. Erin from You’re Next took being cool under pressure, completely comfortable with herself, and some hardcore survivalist skills, then weaponized them to pave the way for more self-sufficient final girls, like the Strode family in 2018’s Halloween remake. Because of Wingard and Barrett, new heroines in horror are inspired and the archaic final girl tropes can be put to rest.
Next: Black Christmas 2019 Ending & Real Killers Explained