It's hardly a redefinition of the genre, but "You're Next" succeeds in making the home invasion/slasher film actually suspenseful and - strangely enough - fun again. A hit at Sundance, the film directed by Adam Wingard ("A Horrible Way to Die") adds a dose of humor, realism, and dimension to a genre that had become stale and disconnected.
The home invasion thriller became rote and played out like a paint-the-numbers cat and mouse game that became old pretty fast. Here, Simon Barrett's script opens with a familiar scene: Man screws his much younger disaffected girlfriend, then, as he takes a shower, she plays loud music while getting stalked by an unseen predator. Soon enough, the two are dead and the title "You're Next" splashes on the screen.
Cut to our main characters. Instead of unruly young adults making their journey to some off the map and questionable abandoned house, here we have a Davison family coming home to their vacation house in the mountains to celebrate mom and dad's 35th wedding anniversary. Along with dad Paul (Rob Moran) and mom Aubrey (Barbara Crampton), we have their kids: Professor son Crispian (AJ Bowen) and his girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson "Step Up 3D"), son Drake (horror director Joe Swanberg) and his girlfriend Kelly (Margaret Laney), son Felix (Nicholas Tucci) and alt-girlfriend Zee (Wendy Glenn), and finally daughter Aimee (Amy Seimetz "Upstream Color") and filmmaker boyfriend Tariq (horror director Ti West.)
These couples converge on the elaborate mansion, bringing along a testy family history that is somewhat hilariously played out over dinner. But just when things aren't going so well between siblings, an unseen assailant lets loose a barrage of crossbows on the house that kills one and injures another. Suddenly, the family is fighting for their lives, with the various girlfriends and boyfriends caught in the literal crossfire.
Eventually, the killers are revealed to be three men in animal masks: Lamb, Tiger, and Fox. This is creepy for sure, and the fact that they are clearly out to get the family and have access to both the inside and outside of the house is terrifying. WIngard is great at amping up the tension and giving us a number of surprise attacks that come when we don't expect them. This is a true "grab your armrest and hold on tight" movie that is also surprisingly funny. When the family first gets attacked and they decide someone has to try to go outside and get to a car, youngest daughter Talia starts wailing about how no one believes in her because they want to send others out instead of her. The bitterness between brothers and sisters keeps bubbling up at inappropriate times, and the only sane one appears to be Aussie girlfriend Erin, who seems to know a lot of survival skills. Handy.
There are a number of twists in "You're Next," not all of which are surprising. A few are telegraphed a bit too early, and a few more exist to make us think they will play out one way, but they get turned on their head to shock us, which is the fun of the film. And while the film is brutally violent, Wingard mercifully cuts away most of the time, allowing the suggestion of what is happening to be the gross out factor rather than the actual visual itself. Basically, I've seen gorier films, so if you're squeamish about violence, yeah, it's in here, but it's not as distracting and unnecessary as you'd expect.
All the cast does a fine job, with a number of horror directors making solid debuts. But it is Sharni Vinson, already a star in Australia, who shines. She's a believable bad-ass that we want to cheer for, and she makes for a great heroine.
"You're Next" does what it sets out to do: It scares us, makes us grab our seats, and allows us breathing room to chuckle until the next scream-out-loud moment. If this type of horror film is not your thing, you might not be persuaded, but credit should be given where credit is due. It's a sharp, well-made thriller that has real brains along with its blood. Wingard won me over. I suspect... you're next.