2013 (US) - 94 minutes
Directed by: Adam Wingard
Written by: Simon Barrett
Starring: Sharni Vinson, AJ Bowen, Nicholas Tucci, Joe Swanberg, Wendy Glenn, Rob Moran, Barbara Crompton, Amy Seimetz, Margaret Laney
“You’re Next” is a genre rarity – a horror film that embraces beloved traditions while at the same time subverting them in ways that don’t undermine the experience. The film avoids satirizing to the point of overt comedy and also doesn’t venture into territory so dark it feels more like a torture endurance test rather than thrill ride. The gore and tension are there, but not to off-putting excess and the fun elements dovetail into the terror.
From an opening sequence that adds a subtle bit of role reversal to all the character revelations along the way, writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard pay homage while crafting a steady, unique tale – even though the setup is a standard one.
Paul (Rob Moran) and Aubrey (Barbara Crampton) head to their palatial Tudor house in the woods where their grown children are convening for an anniversary celebration. Like any old house it the woods, it creaks and has dusty furniture covered in sheets, immediately setting the unnerving tone. Showing for the festivities are eldest son Drake (Joe Swanberg) and wife Kelly (Sarah Myers), Aimee (Amy Seimetz) and filmmaker boyfriend Tariq (filmmaker Ti West), Crispian (A.J. Bowen) and teaching aide turned girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson), and youngest son Felix (Nicholas Tucci) and girlfriend Zee (Wendy Glenn).
It may seem like a lot of characters to keep up with, and it is, but characterizations are never confusing. The ensemble manages to capture the uncomfortable mix of merriment and disdain when everyone gets together. Swanberg is a standout as the oldest child who isn’t shy when it comes to passive aggressive quips at his siblings. The petty bickering continues even with an arrow sticking out of his back. It’s also easy to keep track once family members start to get picked off in fairly rapid order.
Crashing the dinner are masked antagonists bent on murder and mayhem. But mostly just murder. These aren’t terrorizers with some misplaced sense of vengeance or physiological instability; they’re killers with a motive that is revealed organically within the confines of the plot. Behaviors may not always make sense in the moment, but there are very few instances where you shake your head at the stupidity on either side of the conflict. Actions logically reveal characters without too may “why-don’t-they-just-(blank)” moments.
The film is too well-paced for lingering questions to fester.
After a rash of home invasion films, it is refreshing to see motives unfold naturally and not from an ambiguous nihilism. Where something like the abysmal “The Purge” from earlier this year starts with a high concept that quickly devolves into stagnant fare, “You’re Next” smartly starts with the simple concept then reveals itself along the way, building the experience rather than sputtering to the finish line.
Once the carnage starts, its full throttle. The killers are calculating, but not impervious to mistakes - or bludgeoning. These attackers dish it out, but are also forced to take it, especially after one member of their prey proves to be much more formidable than anyone could’ve imagined. This person isn’t a typical ‘final person standing’ due to their moral purity, but their badassery.
Finally being released after it was finished over two years ago, “You’re Next” doesn’t wear the wares of a troubled production. It is compact and efficient in its storytelling, never meandering or stalling with unnecessary bloat. The film isn’t revolutionary, but puts the horror pieces together in an interesting way to sustain tension and excitement.
It’s purposeful and winks and nods without stopping the action. Animal masks are creepy, but that doesn’t mean an animal-mask wearing psycho can’t listen to his iPod under there. Music is a motif that serves the film well. The looping of the song “Looking for the Magic” on a neighbor’s sound system could be an eye-rolling gimmick, but instead is a grin-worthy gimmick that surfaces at a few key moments of intensity. A John Carpenter-esque score is ever-present and enhances the proceedings with a playful yet dire droll.
Hitting mostly all the right notes, “You’re Next” takes well-traveled roads buts adds sufficient swerves to keep us on our toes and the edge of our seats.
© 2013 by Blake Crane