A dysfunctional family sits down to celebrate the parent’s anniversary. Dad (Rob Moran) has just retired and is spending his windfall on refurbishing an old country manor. Mom (Barbara Crampton) is eager to see her kids and appears to be suffering from some sort of lingering mental illness. The adult children — Drake (Joe Swanberg), Crispin (A.J. Bowen), Felix (Nicholas Tucci) and Aimee (Amy Seimetz) — all arrive with their significant others — Kelly (Margaret Laney), Erin (Sharni Vinson), Zee (Wendy Glenn), and Tariq (Ti West), respectively — and settle in for a weekend of catching up and old sibling rivalries. What these people don’t know is that they are being watched. A group of masked killers has been stalking the area and they’ve targeted this gathering as their next set of victims.
Thus we have the simple setup for You’re Next, a home invasion movie that mixes just enough old school splatter with contemporary hipster irony to satisfy both the classic fright fan and the newly-formed fear aficionado alike. It takes a while to get going, even after an opening sequence where a portly neighbor and his too-young gal pal get garrotted by our menacing maniacs. Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett want to make sure they set up the characters and the differing family dynamics before letting loose with the gore, and for the most part, they succeed. These moments can be a bit stifling, slowing down our desire to see how this red-tinged rampage will turn out, but then the duo behind the scenes unleashes the terror, and then the twist, which makes the introductions pay off.
Yes, there is a surprise here, though most of the trailers and preview materials insistently hint at what it might be. Let’s just say that not everyone at this gathering is ready to play victim and there’s a viable rooting interest in seeing said person succeed. We also get a backstory as to why this is happening, unlike previous attempts at this material like The Strangers.
Our animal face-wearing wack-jobs do have a purpose, but when we discover what it is, the truth is a bit underwhelming. We’ve seen this kind of story before, except now, Wingard and Barrett filter it through a love of ’80s arterial spray. There’s also a nice level of suspense created, especially when we learn a secret about the old house (and who’s been in it). We anticipate something around every corner, and more times than not, we are right to be so apprehensive.
The performances are especially strong here, given the constant challenge that anyone could be both victim and predator. Crampton is an early candidate for red herring status since she seems to come unglued at the slightest inkling of trouble. Similarly, Swanberg defies expectations by become the jerk who just won’t seem to die. He gets hit with an arrow, stabbed, and shot, and he’s still coming up with criticisms for his brothers. Tucci and Bowen are kind of basic, not really bringing much to the mix, and the rest become victim fodder so quickly that the pains of explaining who they are seem inconsequential. That just leaves unknown quantity Sharni Vinson as the clichéd last girl… except, maybe she isn’t. Indeed, when the finale revs up and we see who will be defending the family, the giddy grin on our face almost makes up for some lax moments toward the middle.
You’re Next is a film that is saved by its spin on genre contrivances. Instead of simply pitting villains against victims and metering out the blood-filled punishment, we have an actual attempt at making something new and novel out of an otherwise redundant idea. Families under siege have long been a staple of the thriller. You’re Next wants to mess with our expectations, and by doing so, delivers the shivers.