You’re Next takes place somewhere unspecified in the Southern U.S. countryside, at the comfy vacation home of wealthy former defense contractor Paul Davison (Rob Moran) and his medicated wife, Aubrey (Barbara Crampton). The four grown-up Davison children and their significant others congregate at the family’s getaway house in order to commemorate their parents’ wedding anniversary – but wind up reigniting old sibling rivalries and other forms of familial pettiness in the process.
However, all those problems get put on the back-burner once the Davisons and their guests find themselves under attack by a mysterious gang of murderers, armed to the teeth with a variety of weapons (axes, machetes, crossbows) and wearing rubber animal masks to hide their identities. It seems as though these violent home invaders are intent on slaughtering every person in the Davison household; though, for reasons best left unspoiled, that may be easier said than done…
You’re Next is a feature-length movie from screenwriter Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard, who previously collaborated on segments of the horror anthologies V/H/S (“Tape 56″), The ABCs of Death (“Q is for Quack”) and V/H/S/2 (“Phase I Clinical Trials”) – with Screen Rant’s Kofi Outlaw having noted during his V/H/S/2 review that Wingard’s movie segment is “more inspired and creative than actually scary.” That same description applies to You’re Next, even though the latter also suffers from having to stretch a clever premise – one that might’ve delivered more of a gut punch (no pun intended) as a short – to fill a three-act structure.
It’s obvious that Barrett and Wingard are hardcore horror cinema fans who possess quite the impressive body of knowledge (regarding the genre’s traditions), given the sheer number of references to iconic slasher films, home-invasion thrillers, and vigilante flicks that are contained (and more than often, wryly subverted) in You’re Next. Barrett’s screenplay is essentially a single-setting scarefest that combines (very) macabre comedy with elements of a horrific cautionary tale and dark social commentary; it makes for an intriguing cocktail of genre tropes, for sure. However, the script’s thinly-sketched characters and strained first act/repetitive third act result in You’re Next feeling more like a partly-successful experiment – and not so much of a genre game-changer.
Similarly, director Wingard – who also edited the movie – and his cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo make effective use of their lower budget, by shooting most of the action in tight camera angles and being careful to not overuse shaky cam/jagged editing techniques, unless they benefit the onscreen proceedings. Nonetheless, You’re Next falls short when it comes to producing real suspense and terror, as the film’s big “scary” moments tend to be just cheap jump scares or moments played for intentional black comedy effect (on a related note: it’s sometimes hard to tell if the John Carpenter movie-like synthesizer score is meant to be creepy, campy, or both). In general, the film is better when it stops trying to be scary and goes for being comically-twisted and sick – especially with its gore gags and kills, which occasionally broach Evil Dead-levels of nastiness.
Most of the You’re Next cast members are saddled with playing flat characters, yet there are standouts among them. The noteworthy performances come from Sharni Vinson (Step Up 3D), AJ Bowen (The House of the Devil), Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies) and Wendy Glenn (11-11-11). Meanwhile, Nicolas Tucci (Choose), Margaret Laney (Absence), Amy Seimetz (Upstream Color) and real-life filmmaker Ti West (The Innkeepers) are either passable or don’t have enough time to leave any strong impression. Moran and Crampton are decent enough in their roles, while the three killers (played by L.C. Holt, Lane Hughes and screenwriter Simon Barrett) each get a brief moment to shine – even when it just involves them inflicting or suffering bodily harm.
Overall, there’s enough innovation and enthusiasm for the horror genre present in You’re Next to make it worth recommending to gore-hounds and hardcore horror lovers – even though the movie doesn’t succeed at hitting all the big marks it aims for. Just don’t expect to leave the theater feeling all that unnerved or extra conscious about needing to lock your doors, once you get home.
You’re Next is 94 minutes long and Rated R for strong bloody violence, language and some sexuality/nudity. Now playing in theaters.