Sharni Vinson wields an axe in a scene from 'You're Next.'
You’re Next offers the perfect set-up for a home invasion film: a family’s weekend reunion at a secluded estate with murderous masked intruders.
The slasher film checklist includes such familiar elements as isolation, dark woods, anonymous killers, and plenty of potential victims.
From such genre conventions, You’re Next writer-director Adam Wingard offers at least one significant twist to the story: one of the intended victims happens to have extensive knowledge and experience in staying alive, and proves to be more than a match for the assailants. And that’s the fun and novelty of the movie: watching how these creeps not only get theirs, but in the satisfying manner in which they do.
Nails. Knives. Meat hammer. And just wait for the blender.
Directed by Adam Wingard.
Written by Simon Barrett.
A Lionsgate release, playing at Cinemark Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, Levis Commons, and Woodland Mall Cinema.
Rated R for strong bloody violence, language, and some sexuality/nudity.
Running time: 95 minutes.
Critic’s Rating ★★★½
Cast: Sharni Vinson, Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen, Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn
★★★★★ Outstanding; ★★★★ Very Good;
★★★ Good; ★★ Fair; ★ Poor
Before things turn bloody, the horror film plays up the comical family dysfunction, particularly between oldest brother Drake (Joe Swanberg), middle brother Crispian (AJ Bowen), and youngest brother Felix (Nicholas Tucci). The brothers and their sister, along with significant others, have gathered for their parents’ 35th wedding anniversary.
But Wingard doesn’t want us too attached to these future victims. Their awkward hello hugs quickly devolve into barbed insults, and by dinner the sibling tension has grown so annoying and uncomfortable that when the first crossbow arrows strikes an unfortunate guest, his death comes as audience relief. The family fight has now become survivor flight.
Taking charge is Crispian's Australian girlfriend, Erin (Sharni Vinson), who shows an uncanny knack for anticipating the intruders' next move. As the body count rises, so too does her Rambo-esque ability at dishing out the pain.
Given what is clearly a limited production budget, Wingard doesn't spare the blood and gore. There are gruesome closeups of gaping neck wounds and anguished victims removing sharp objects lodged deep into their bodies. You're Next is not for the squeamish. Nor is it for those who prefer movies with minimal scares. The horror film is a strong cocktail of the requisite tension-fueled scenes and jolts of fright when a killer — each sporting a creepy light-colored animal mask that becomes increasingly splattered with blood as the film progresses — bursts into frame. There's also a few nods to the genre's past, including John Carpenter's synth-driven score to Halloween.
Emboldened by a fresh perspective on the slasher film, Wingard drops a few surprises into the story and lightens the tone with surprisingly effective gallows humor: an arrow embedded in Drake's back brings some unexpected and clever gags, and a soon-to-be-dearly-departed's run for safety and obvious doom is presented in uncomfortable, gruesome, and perversely funny slow motion.
The mostly unknown actors convincingly play it straight. Swanberg gets the most laughs, and Vinson the most cheers as she metes out vigilante justice.
There is no message to any of this, either.
Think too much about it and you'll find problems: How does a smashed lamp explode when the house is temporarily without power? And the killers' pattern of scrawling "You're Next" in a victim's blood as a warning to others serves no purpose other than to provide the film its title.
Still, in a genre not known for its intelligence, these are minor irks — especially in a slasher film smart enough not to become victim to the tropes of horror, but to have a victim dish it out instead.
Contact Kirk Baird at email@example.com or 419-724-6734.