No sooner are the archetypes in place than the arrows begin to fly. A family of WASPy bourgeois have gathered in their remote country manse to celebrate the 35th wedding anniversary of the pater and mater familias, complete with their four adult children and each of their children's respective significant others. By my count, that makes a potential body count of ten. There's the snooty son and his Aussie g/f (A.J. Bowen and Sharni Vinson from Step Up 3D), there's the quiet dude and his Gothy g/f (Nicholas Tucci and Wendy Glen), there's the d-bag pill-popping son and his put-upon wife (Joe Swanberg and Sarah Myers), and there's the chirpy perfect daughter and Ti West (Amy Seimetz and Ti West). Mom and dad are played by B-movie luminary Barbara Crampton and Farrelly Bros. fave Rob Moran.
Just when you think that the bulk of this film is going to be these shallow rich people sniping at each other over appetizers, crossbow bolts fly through the window, alleviating the tension. The film then transforms into a taut and bloody home invasion flick, wherein scary assassins in animal masks stalk around the house having at the various family members. Then, about halfway through, the film transforms again into a pretty cool and perfectly dull lone-badass-against-the-bad-guys vigilante flick.
Director Adam Wingard clearly has watched a lot of horror films. Not only did he cast Crampton and Ti West (director of House of the Devil and The Innkeepers) in his film, the there is also an early cameo from Larry Fessenden, famed producer of moody indie horror films and director of Wendigo and The Last Winter. The music bares a striking resemblance to the synth-heavy John Carpenter-directed films of the 1980s, and the amateurish tone, along with deliberately odd camera angles and stilted acting, all give You're Next a pleasant grindhouse feeling tempting comparison to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. These little tics and style choices may feel pleasantly well-worn to the lifelong horror fanatic, and actually manage to emerge as something slightly more than blind pastiche. It's a relief to see a horror film that actually has a voice and a style all its own, rather than just blind shiny gore fetishism or shake-the-camera-until-you-go-blind pseudo-naturalism.
I just wish You're Next, rather than merely being atmospheric, were scary or the least bit suspenseful. There is a big plot twist partway through, but it's such a bland non-surprise that it hardly registers as a twist. It's just a plot development. And then there's the rather unfortunate line of dialogue, delivered with perfect frankness: “I was raised on survivalist compound.” This means Sharni Vinson's character will immediately become the kind of hard-nosed butt-kicker usually played by the likes of Kurt Russell, and the type of badass character we've seen in a million of these things. Is it cool to watch her dole out the hurt on the heads of the masked attackers? Yeah, I guess that's fun. She gives good hurt. Is there any insight into any character, good or bad, as to why they became the way they did or why they should be taking such sadistic delight in taking the lives of their fellow humans? No. Not for a second. This is not a film to examine violence, just to depict it.
This is yet another pretty rote horror/actioner that will please late night moviegoers, poke cineastes in the nostalgia bone, and will like be remembered as being “pretty good” in future conversations, despite the fact that a mild bit of style and occasionally exciting flashes of balls-to-the-wall badassery (there's a terrific scene involving a blender) is all it really has going for it. You're Next is better than something like The Purge, and leagues beyond something like Hatchet, but cannot be compared to, say, the films of Ti West.
Or, better yet, instead of watching this film, rent Steven C. Miller's 2012 spin on the home invasion genre The Aggression Scale. That was a film with violence and evil home invaders being fought off by a lone badass, but the film had a rich tone, a good setup, full characters, and a forward momentum. You're Next aims for the middle and lands there.
Witney Seibold is a featured contributor on the CraveOnline Film Channel, co-host of The B-Movies Podcast and co-star of The Trailer Hitch. You can read his weekly articles B-Movies Extended, Free Film School and The Series Project, and follow him on “Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind. If you want to buy him a gift (and I know you do), you can visit his Amazon Wish List.