Published Aug 22, 2013Giving the home invasion horror a minor, hardly inspired spin for You're Next — the director's first effort to have been picked up for a significant theatrical run, — anthology veteran Adam Wingard displays a limiting reverence for the kind of idiotic horror tropes that gave rise to the Scream franchise.
Basically, save one character, everyone in You're Next is a complete idiot. It's not simply people making poor, hasty decisions in the heat of the moment, we're talking shout-at-the-screen stupid. Now, it's clear that Wingard and writer Simon Barrett have a sense of humour about the whole thing, but the film falls short of being actually funny, just as it falls short of being scary or particularly horrifying in any way.
The only self-administered genre tag the movie can claim a degree of success with is that of thriller. Admittedly, watching a smart woman creatively dispatch a bunch of dumb assholes is kind of thrilling. Structurally, You're Next unfolds like I Spit on Your Grave, minus the rape and blended with the under-appreciated In Their Skin, sans social commentary and carefully unhinged performances. Or it's Home Alone meets The Strangers, except nobody's alone and the aggressors are motivated by more than random psychosis.
To set up the series of gory kills our lady MacGyver (Sharni Vinson, Bait) inflicts upon a pack of animal mask-wearing assailants, the story takes place during a family reunion. Oh, this is after an opening scene involving the time-honoured tradition of sex and death. Guess what fate awaits every character that displays some nudity?
The senior Davidsons — he is a wealthy, retired defence contractor and she is still lovely scream queen Barbara Crampton (From Beyond) — are celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary. Before they come under assault during dinner, Wingard gives us ample time to get to know Aubrey and Paul Davidson, along with their children and significant others.
Crispian (A.J. Bowen, The Signal) brings recent flame Erin (Vinson); Felix (Nicholas Tucci, the poor man's Justin Theroux) has his dead-eyed goth girlfriend, Zee (Wendy Glenn); eldest son Drake (Joe Swanberg, mumblecore director of Hannah Takes the Stairs) drags his high-strung wife, Kelly (Margaret Laney); while daddy's little girl, Aimee (Amy Seimetz), hauls along her pretentious documentary filmmaker boyfriend, Tariq (only semi-pretentious fiction filmmaker Ti West).
Some of the best scenes are the natural sibling rivalries that play out, particularly between Crispian and Drake. The latter is a complete prick and the former massively insecure. It's a familiar dynamic, but one that gives the family a sense of authenticity, which is more than can be said about the rest of the film.
Other than in their interactions with each other, the Davidsons, their extended clan and the mysterious, crossbow-wielding murderers — again, save Erin — are classic horror film character dumb. The men don't listen to obviously sensible suggestions from the women who manage to keep their tops on. This usually leads to the imminent demise of the offending stubborn male, while the skin-showers tend to scream and run around hysterically before being graphically butchered.
Visually, You're Next is competently put together, though it lacks tension, partly because, once the shit hits the fan, it's clear who's really in charge of the situation and partly because Wingard is unsure of the tone he's reaching for.
However, for a predictable, derivative, archetype-humping horror thriller, you could do a lot worse. Then again, you could do a lot better. (eOne)