A young woman slinks downstairs in her underwear to fix another drink, recover from some bad sex and turn on some music. The secluded house far away from any city limit sign offers a perfect opportunity to crank of the volume without any close neighbors calling the cops.

When her sugar daddy finds her dead body, he’ll also find a message for him scrawled on the sliding glass doors in blood. Thus begins You’re Next.

This blood-splattered couple is just the appetizer though. The real focus of the film is a neighboring family that puts the “fun” back in “constantly bitching.” Paul Davison (Rob Moran) and Aubrey (the legendary Barbara Crampton) are father and mother to the brood. Drake (Joe Swanberg) is the ass-kissing mess stuffed into a turtle neck, Aimee (Amy Seimetz) is the perpetual Daddy’s Girl even in her adulthood, Felix (Nicholas Tucci) is the disaffected middle child of history, and Crispian (A.J. Bowen) is the ridiculously-named good son who acts as our entryway into a night that’s meant to celebrate 35 of marriage but will be invaded by figures in animal masks who only mean harm.

You’re Next is stand up and cheer style horror. It’s the kind of horror film that comes along once every decade, announces its supremacy and then shoves an axe into someone’s face. It’s clever, scary and a hell of a lot of fun.

It’s as if writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard made a list of all the annoying nonsense that usually cripples home invasion slasher flicks and systematically removed all signs of stupidity. Instead of characters making decisions that serve contextless kill set ups more than logic, the decisions made aren’t simply done to see who can run into a knife blade the fastest. After all, the Davison clan is made up of a variety of personalities. Some will shuffle off the mortal coil easily while others have a fighting chance. Fortunately, the sons and daughter have brought their significant others along, and Crispian’s special lady friend Erin (Sharni Vinson in an ass-kicking standout role) knows her way around life-threatening situations.

On that particular cast front, there’s Drake’s wife Kelly (Margaret Laney), Felix’s sullen girlfriend Zee (Wendy Glenn) and House of the Devil director Ti West playing Aimee’s slightly smarmy boyfriend who comes complete with his own Aronofsky scarf. It’s a lot of people, but each actor makes his or her role sing with such distinction that keeping track of them is as easy as slicing through a human neck with a machete.

While it gets off to an awkward start, the uneven scenes of the family coming together end up serving the rest of the plot nicely. Plus, it doesn’t waste much time at all in letting the shit hit the fan or letting the arrows hit the tender flesh of the group. They, of course, are only one of the many methods of mayhem at work here, and the kills are impressively done – ranging from sweet and simple to one in particular that demands a standing ovation.

So yes, the scares are there in full force whether it’s from a sound cue, a killer’s face slamming into frame, or a nuanced shift in shadow. Every style of creating disquiet is utilized in You’re Next, but the movie is far more than its fear. In a way, it’s like Home For The Holidays with savage killers knocking at the door and climbing in through windows. The cringing comedy of family reunions isn’t lost amidst the screaming because the Davisons are damned good at bickering even when faced with the threat of unknown assailants.

The motivation of the guy in the bunny mask and his pals is a nice little package, and it’s satisfying in an upsetting way, but the real joy of the movie is watching all of the actors playing off each other in a gorgeous mansion. It’s a cabin in the woods flick that just happens to have a very, very expensive cabin, but unlike flicks like Funny Games, it doesn’t suffer from unrealistic, passive victims. The human inclinations of fighting and taking flight are given their due here which, frankly, puts a lot of other horror filmmakers to shame. As it turns out, treating your potential victims and the audience with intelligence is a key to building a better scary movie, and the production has made it look easy here.

There’s a comparison to be made to Scream here, but it’s not one of style or even substance; it’s one of feel. Whereas more than a few horror directors have taken a shot at distilling Scream‘s success or aping it outright, Wingard and company have made something that calls on its freshness without copying (or even looking anything like it). Ultimately, the comparison is a simple one: You’re Next is, like Scream was, a much-needed reminder that smart, sharp, original horror can be made. Not a game changer; a game refresher.

You’re Next is pure horror bliss, delivering an engaging group of characters, a badass chick, some iconic masks to add to the collection, and a new twist on slashers. Once it gets its footing, it runs full force and refuses to stop until the credits roll. Simply put, horror doesn’t get much more fun than this.

The Upside: Genre near-perfection that should appeal to everyone along the horror fan spectrum.

The Downside: A little wobbly at the beginning.

On The Side: Lionsgate has picked up the film for release in 2012, so keep an eye out for it. They’ve also worked out a deal for more sequels that smartly keeps creative control with Wingard and company so it might become a franchise without being beaten beyond recognition Saw-style.


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