"You're Next" was so widely touted as the next big thing in horror that some pundits even predicted it would be the No. 1 movie at the box office this weekend. Instead, it debuted modestly, all the way down in seventh place, with just an estimated $7.1 million.
What went wrong? Here are some possible answers:
Hype: Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett had made the acclaimed indie horror film "A Horrible Way to Die," and their "You're Next" had been impressing critics for two years on the festival circuit. So despite the movie's lack of star power, it was a known quantity, at least within the industry. For all the movie's advance buzz and positive reviews, it played only so-so with audiences, who gave it only a B- at CinemaScore, indicating weak word-of-mouth. It's pretty rare for a horror movie to do better with critics than audiences, but that's what seems to have happened here.
Competition: "You're Next" had the misfortune of opening the same weekend as "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones." Which isn't a conventional horror film (it's more horror/fantasy/adventure, like "Twilight"), but which appeals to the same young female audience as most horror flicks. Given a choice between a movie with some minor stars, based on a best-selling series of books, and one with a more obscure pedigree, young women went for the former. Besides, "Mortal Instruments" earned a B+ at CinemaScore, so viewers were recommending it more avidly than "You're Next." As a result, "Mortal Instruments" debuted at No. 4 with an estimated $9.3 million.
Timing: The weekend before Labor Day has long been a good one for horror movies, from the "Jeepers Creepers" to "Final Destination" franchises. But this summer, the market may already have been saturated with innovative horror movies, from "The Purge" to "The Conjuring" (which is still doing well, having amassed $131.8 million over the last six weeks). Maybe the right time for an movie like "You're Next" would have been in March or April; it's innovations would have been more apparent if only it had come out sooner.