by Steve Habrat
It’s extremely rare for Hollywood to muster up one semi-decent horror movie a year. Sure, there is always one or two that manage to generate a little bit of buzz before coming out, but once its on the market, they always seem to fall victim to mediocre reviews and lukewarm audience reception. It doesn’t help that most horror movies today are just recycled clichés hidden behind a sleek new mask and wielding a different power tool or kitchen utensil. It appears that 2013 was bound and determined to deliver for horror fans, as we’ve been blessed with three awesome horror movies so far. Earlier this year, we had the good-looking gorefest Evil Dead, a satisfying remake that, yes, could have been spookier. A few weeks ago we got James Wan’s The Conjuring, one of the most solid and terrifying haunted house movies to come out in years. Now we have director Adam Wingard’s You’re Next, a sick, twisted, and totally hilarious spin on the home invasion horror movie. With a giddy cast of unknowns, a script that packs a twist that is sure to have M. Night Shyamalan kicking himself and wondering why he didn’t come up with it, heaping doses of heart-pounding suspense, and some seriously extreme violence, You’re Next refreshes the home invasion horror movie and gives genre fans a brand new heroine that is destined to become as iconic as The Evil Dead’s Ash, Halloween’s Laurie Strode, and The Thing’s MacReady.
You’re Next begins with the wealthy couple, Paul (played by Rob Moran) and Aubrey (played by Barbara Crampton), inviting their four adult children, Crispian (played by AJ Bowen), Drake (played by Joe Swanberg), Felix (played by Nicholas Tucci), and Aimee (played by Amy Seimetz), and their significant others, Erin (played by Sharni Vinson), Kelly (played by Margaret Laney), Zee (played by Wendy Glenn), and Tariq (played by Ti West), up to their secluded country mansion for their wedding anniversary. The family members begin trying to reconnect but their fun-filled weekend is violently interrupted when three men in animal masks suddenly attack the family. With the group in hysterics, the masked maniacs believe it will be easy to pick the family members off one by one, but they get a huge surprise when the sweet little Erin shows off her survival skills and turns the tables on the killers.
Earlier this summer, audiences flocked to the futuristic thriller The Purge, a film that advertised itself as a razor-sharp, politically charged home invasion thriller, but quickly revealed itself to be nothing more than a by-the-number morality tale that borrowed heavily from Sam Peckinpah’s haunting classic Straw Dogs, but with none of the bite. It didn’t help that The Purge never even considered having any fun with its premise, especially after coming in the wake of the unblinking 2008 film The Strangers, a piece that was inspired by the Manson family, and the forgettable 2011 remake of Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. Thankfully, You’re Next never falls victim to the same clichés that The Purge did and it does dare to have a bit of fun with its premise. Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett certainly do know how to keep the audience on the edge of their seat and they are certainly skilled with the placing of their jump scares, but every single time You’re Next seems to be veering onto the beaten path, Wingard and Barrett spring some sort of surprise twist on the viewer or broadside us with a clever belly laugh right in the thick of the horror. They’re also completely game to play into their hard R-rating, willing to chop, cut, slash, smash, shoot, and…um…. blend their victims with maniacal glee. In the final stretch of the film, Wingard and Barrett unleash a truly unique death sequence that will have viewers everywhere screaming, laughing, and applauding all at once.
Further setting You’re Next apart from the group of home invasion thrillers is the actors and actresses that filmmakers decided upon. There is no Liv Tyler, Kate Bosworth, James Marsden, Alexander Skarsgard, or Ethan Hawke anywhere near this secluded mansion. The cast is made up of several independent actors, horror and mumblecore directors, and, yes, one Australian R&B singer. The star of the mayhem is R&B singer Sharni Vinson, who brings the house down as the resourceful survivor Erin. She is excellent early on as a sweet, semi-shy, and slightly mysterious college gal who melts when she exchanges glances with boyfriend Crispian, but when the arrows start flying through the windows, she morphs into cool, clam, and collected bad ass for the ages. When the heat is on, Wingard and Barrett really let the viewer get to know her and, boy, do they leave you wanting more out of this little firecracker. Rising horror star AJ Bowen is great as the pudgy Crispian and he has some hilarious exchanges with indie director/actor Joe Swanberg. Swanberg threatens to steal the film as the sarcastic pill-popper Drake, a guy who always has a zinger for the chaos. Tucci’s Felix and Glenn’s Zee are bizarre as a gloomy couple looking to spice up their relationship in the most twisted way possible. Laney’s Kelly and Seimetz’s Aimee are hilariously over the top as the typical hysterical girls driven to tears and shrieks when the masked madmen come calling. Horror director Ti West also stops by for a chuckle-worthy cameo as the starving artist Tariq, a documentary filmmaker who has made only one film… back in 2008.
In addition to the performances, the sickening violence, and the clever twists, You’re Next is ripe with a claustrophobic and isolated feel that makes you wonder if there truly is any hope for the characters. It effortlessly clears all the hurdles (the whole cell phone reception cliché is smartly tackled here) that most horror films take a tumble over. It should also be noted that as the film progresses, it takes on a retro feel that made this horror fan grin in delight. It begins to feel like Wingard and Barrett were shopping at a garage sale when they happened upon some long-lost horror film from the 1980s and decided to show it to the public. There is candle-wax blood spurting from sliced necks and a synthesizer score that will make you shudder. Another miracle here is that the film is wildly consistent, getting better with each passing second before arriving at one final twist that is sure to have your jaw on the floor. Overall, if you were one of those people who were letdown by the lackadaisical approach to The Purge, You’re Next is guaranteed to simultaneously scare you silly, have you yelling at the screen, and have you doubled over in laughter. For best results, go in with very little knowledge of the film and bring a barf bag. Those with touchy tummies may need one.