I’m a huge horror fan, and I’ve seen it all — from the excruciating drill sequence in The Gates of Hell to the comedic stylings of Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street. It takes a lot to impress me in the horror genre, so when flicks like Scream or The Cabin in the Woods come along, I take notice. There was a lot of hype surrounding The Conjuring, but although it was entertaining, it borrowed way too much from other movies without introducing anything new. You’re Next doesn’t rise to the level of The Cabin in the Woods — my favorite new horror movie of recent years — but it takes a familiar format and twists it a little while still delivering the goods.
You’re Next has been on the shelf since 2011, which is usually a bad sign. However, I’ve learned that the movie was shuffled around in the middle of movie company consolidations or some such nonsense and then kept on getting pushed back because of the potential timing of its release. Well, the Halloween stores are already open across America and The Conjuring did really well, so in a strange way, this is the perfect time for this movie’s release. Major reasons for the quality of You’re Next are the horror pedigree of the talent involved and the way it fully embraces the genre without running away from it. Director Adam Wingard directed segments for the three recent horror anthologies V/H/S, The ABCs of Death and V/H/S/2, and writer Simon Barrett worked with Wingard on these same segments and others in the same anthologies. Actor Ti West was the writer/director of The Innkeepers and also contributed to these anthologies. Actor Joe Swanberg wrote and directed segments for V/H/S. Actress Barbara Crampton starred in such films as Re-Animator, Chopping Mall and From Beyond, and she shows some of her scream queen past in You’re Next, which is certainly better than any of the anthologies that join these filmmakers.
The premise is very simple; it’s essentially a home invasion movie like the recent The Strangers, Straw Dogs or even The Purge. In this case, a well-to-do American family gets together in an elaborate vacation house for a celebration in some unidentified wooded area. Soon after the arrival of the last of the siblings, some mask-wearing killers pick them off one by one. Nobody is safe from death or horrible, bloody accidents, so it’s uncertain who will be the last ones standing until it happens. Paul (Rob Moran) and Aubrey (Crampton) arrive at the house first and then greet each of their children and their significant others when they arrive. Son Crispian (AJ Bowen) and his girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson) are first, shortly followed by son Drake (Swanberg — also writer/director of Drinking Buddies) and his wife Kelly (Sarah Myers). Daughter Aimee (Amy Semetz) and boyfriend Tariq (West) also show up, and son Felix (Nicholas Tucci) and girlfriend Zee (Wendy Glenn) make up the rest of the group. The family gets to at least sit down to dinner before the all-out assault from the killers credited as Lamb Mask (L.C. Holt), Tiger Mask (writer Barrett) and Fox Mask (Lane Hughes).
A prologue introduces the killers in another house, but nothing is revealed about their identities. When they start to kill the family members, a panic takes over the family and drives their actions for the rest of the film. The title comes from the message the killers leave in the house written in blood for someone else to find. Fortunately, the film avoids most horror movie clichés, and the characters aren’t dumb, either. The actors do a good job of appearing scared, and some even reach action-star levels when fighting back. You will likely be surprised by the major plot twist as well as the characters who emerge to be the strongest after all. There is a perfect amount of humor throughout that encompasses sibling rivalry and carries over to the nervous energy that characters exhibit in the midst of the attack. You’re Next never rises to the level of parody of the genre or an outright comedy. Instead, it’s very clearly a horror film; it’s just not such a grim one, which makes this ride a lot more fun. The sound effects are perfect here. You almost feel every cut, pierce, slam and slice from the variety of weapons because of the excellence of the sounds. This attention to detail firmly establishes the film as horror — not a romp. When I and the audience cringe during the gruesome moments, the filmmakers have done their job.
You’re Next surprised me because I knew nothing about this film going into it and it wowed me with its brutal nature coupled with occasional humor. Moviegoers compared aspects of the film to Home Alone, and there are certainly those aspects there with contraptions and traps. It’s really nothing new, but its attraction is the way it puts it together. The film doesn’t let up at all until the very end, so strap yourself in for a pretty intense roller coaster ride. Wingard and Barrett are teaming up again for The Guest, and I hope that the response to this film gives them the confidence and incentive to do something just different enough to captivate horror fans as they have with You’re Next.