Directed by Adam Wingard
The over-hype machine that serves as the marketing engine for Adam Wingard’s You’re Next has reached its top speed over the last couple of months, and I’m certainly not here to throw a monkey wrench into the works. Luckily, the hyperbole has been kept to a minimum for the most part, and although You’re Next doesn’t quite reach the level of an event film, it’s wonderful to see an independent American horror movie (featuring a collective of actors, writers, and directors that continue to raise the bar) getting so much attention on this particular scale. Put simply, You’re Next is a crowd-pleaser that should continue to keep the horror train firmly on its tracks as mainstream audiences continue to hop aboard in record numbers.
From a distance, the Davisons are an upper-class family traveling to the countryside for the weekend to reunite at their lovely vacation estate. Up close, the estate is fairly rundown and the patchwork family is also in need of repair: Drake (Joe Swanberg), the oldest, is snarky and self-obsessed; Crispian (AJ Bowen) is a pudgy sap with a chip on his shoulder; Felix (Nicholas Tucci), the youngest, is a welcome mat; Aimee (Amy Seimetz) is desperate for attention; Mom (Barbara Crampton) and Dad (Rob Moran) are absolutely clueless about how their kids really feel about them. Their significant others are mostly reflections of their insecurities: Aimee’s dating a pretentious filmmaker (Ti West), Felix is shacking up with a dominating Goth girl, and Drake is married to the quiet and submissive Kelly (Margaret Laney). It’s only Crispian’s girlfriend, Erin (Sharni Vinson), that seems normal and well-adjusted – but that quickly changes.
Once the first victim literally stumbles back into the dining room, the film belongs to Sharni Vinson as she quickly takes a no-nonsense approach to what’s happening around her. Trained in the art of survival from an early age, the character of Erin doesn’t stand down for a second, using all manner of household appliances and utensils at her disposal to try to even the playing field against the animal-masked invaders that quickly realize they might be in over their heads. Smartly, Simon Barrett’s script and Wingard’s direction use the masks to show that these thugs are only scary on the surface, and the fear that the fox, tiger, and lamb disguises cause is only temporary and rather useless. Assuming this night was going to be their twisted version of Halloween, they quickly begin to regret getting dressed up at all.
The home invasion sub-genre usually takes on a much more dramatic undertone where the initial break-in is only the beginning of the wrongs that the hapless residents will eventually undergo. The captors are never just burglars who plan on getting in and out as soon as humanly possible; they’re there to inflict pain and anguish or have no choice but to desperately attempt to extort or abuse their captives. The potential mass appeal that Lionsgate obviously is betting on lies in the fact that You’re Next turns the nasty business of home invasion into a carnival style house of horrors where the main victim doesn’t have to wait until the abuse drives her to a violent retort; in You’re Next the victim is already a survivor before the appetizers are even served. In a way, Erin has been training for this night her entire life. It’s a survivalist’s wet dream.
While Erin tries to take control, Barrett and Wingard start toying with the dynamics of the family and how they relate (or don’t relate) to each other while all this madness is going on around them. The battles in the film, bloody or not, are played more for laughs than being intent on showing serious maimings and gore. There’s never anything that crosses the line, and for once a home invasion horror movie doesn’t feature an attempted rape (how’s that for a tagline?). Every time an assailant slips or falls, it’s only to show how their plan is continuing to go south for the winter. With every successful gag (it would have been nice to see one or two more included), the interest level in Erin goes up because everyone wants to know just how she is able to do what she does.
This isn’t the horror equivalent of “MacGyver”, it’s about preparedness and readiness more than it is about how inventive the kills are. Vinson’s character Erin is just more sure-handed, and director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett show a confident hand as well. The Davison family might have ended up ruined by the end of the night anyway with their constant bickering and irreconcilable grudges, regardless of whether or not a group of miscreants interrupted their dinner party. Admittedly, it’s much nicer to see them go out in the fashion that they do.
3 1/2 out of 5