You're Next (2011) / Thriller-Horror
MPAA Rated: R for strong bloody violence, language, some sexuality and brief nudity
Running time: 94 min.
Cast: Sharni Vinson, AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Rob Moran, Barbara Crampton, Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn, Sarah Myers, Amy Seimetz, Ti West, L.C. Holt, Simon Barrett, Lane Hughes, Larry Fessenden
Director: Adam Wingard
Screenplay: Simon Barrett
Review published August 25, 2013
You're Next, I'm vexed. It will likely be remembered, not as the year's best horror film, but as the goofy one with the bumbling guys in silly animal masks who invade a country home and proceed to butcher up the world's most annoying family residing inside.
Is it subversive satire, as some critics are hailing it, to turn dumb, clichéd horror movies on their ear by making one that is much dumber and even more clichéd?
You're Next is an independent film, and has generated some buzz since its debut at film festivals two years prior to its commercial release. I'm surprised that many critics are touting this as one to watch, as I find it to be a ridiculously weak and predictable horror-thriller that telegraphs just about everything that's going to happen, and does so without so much as raising one's pulse even a single beat. This is a case where its reputation has built to levels it cannot sustain due to its off-market credo and relative unavailability. I can only conclude that those hailing You're Next as one of the most original deconstructionist takes on horror movies in years haven't actually seen a horror movie in years. Or, perhaps they've seen so many that one that pushes the boundaries of plausibility and genre tropes beyond the breaking point actually seems like something fresh. 'It's so dumb, it has to be intentional! What a masterwork!'
The family in question are the well-to-do Davison clan, a dysfunctional group who travel, each with his or her significant other, up to their remote vacation home in the hills for a reunion retreat to celebrate the 35th wedding anniversary of the parental units. While at the dining room table, they are viciously attacked from unseen perpetrators who begin using crossbows, axes, and booby traps in order to slaughter the family for reasons that aren't immediately known (except to anyone who picks up on the clumsy clues and tells strewn liberally around the movie). The masked men come in through windows, from under beds, and from outside, wreaking havoc and making a misbegotten mess of things once one of the potential victims knows a thing or two on how to survive such an attack.
The highlight of You're Next is the quality physical performance by Sharni Vinson, who becomes the film's de facto heroine, exerting that sense of "I got this" cool that propelled Vin Diesel to stardom in his first take as Riddick in Pitch Black. Vinson, whose previous starring effort came with Step Up 3D, gets to show off a few more nifty moves, as she runs, slides, ducks, and parries while the masked baddies go booga-booga at predictable intervals. She claims to be a survivalist, but more likely, like us, she's seen a horror movie or two just like this one in her day and can spot predetermined jumping-out spots and inept plot twists a mile away.
Director Adam Wingard's (V/H/S, V/H/S 2) technique is rife with overused shaky-cam effects in order to give the semblance of tension, though not even the most tremulous of moments can cover up for the fact that this family just cannot emote convincingly a look of sheer terror when their own beloved wives, sons or daughters are being butchered in front of their very eyes. Not that he's working with a cracker-jack script here from his frequent collaborator Simon Barrett (Dead Birds, The ABC's of Death), as the plot creaks and cracks from the massive amount of implausibility from some of the so-called nifty twists to work. The ensemble is a disappointment, though some truly hardcore horror fans will like a few of the casing choices, such as B-movie scream queen Barbara Crampton (Body Double, Re-Animator) as the mother, schlock writer/director/actor Larry Fessenden (Habit, The Last Winter) as one of the first victims, and director Ti West (Drinking Buddies, Silver Bullets) as one of the significant others. "Mumblecore" director Joe Swanberg has a sizable role as Drake, the most annoying Davison of them all.
Outside of Vinson and some choice scoring/music selection that, along with its story, evokes some of the memorable 1970s work from John Carpenter (Assault on Precinct 13 and The Fog come to mind), You're Next is a fairly dreadful choice for a scare flick, with ineffective acting choices, a laughable premise, and no real surprises offered to anyone who actually pays attention to the poorly written dialogue that occurs between scenes of violence. Plus, the animal masks are goofy, nonsensical, and generate no actual scares. If you're one who appreciates horror flicks strictly for cheesy black humor, blood quotient and visceral technique, perhaps you'll be more forgiving of a shoddy story, anemic acting chops, idiotic characterizations, zero suspense levels, and obvious plot gimmickry. However, most others will likely shout, "Next movie, please" long before the lame-brained and thematically empty conclusion to You're Next.
©2013 Vince Leo