When a movie has been stuck on the proverbial shelf for as long as “You’re Next” has, it usually doesn’t speak well of the film’s quality. But in the case of Adam Wingard’s home invasion thriller, it’s actually quite the opposite. After debuting to rave reviews in 2011 at the Toronto International Film Festival, “You’re Next” was quickly scooped up by Lionsgate, only to be placed on the back burner for two years while the studio completed its merger with Summit Entertainment. During that time, the movie gained even more buzz on the festival circuit, and for the most part, the hype is justified. It’s not exactly an instant classic, but “You’re Next” is a horror movie lover’s treat that embraces as many genre tropes as it subverts.
The Davison clan has gathered at an isolated vacation home in the country for the weekend to celebrate the 35th anniversary of their waspy parents (Rob Moran and Barbara Crampton), and they’ve all brought along their significant others for support. It’s been a long time since the entire family has been together under the same roof, and it immediately becomes clear that Crispin (AJ Bowen) and his siblings don’t get along. But when they’re suddenly attacked one night in the middle of dinner, the family learns that they’ve been targeted by a gang of deadly intruders wearing creepy animal masks. As the houseguests are murdered one by one, Crispin’s girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson) surprises everyone – including the intruders – when she begins to fight back, proving that she’s the most dangerous of them all.
It’s hardly the most original story, but “You’re Next” still feels remarkably fresh due to its clever mix of black humor and brutal violence. Despite some well-placed laughs, however, the film is not a horror comedy by any means, and though it’s not jump-out-of-your-seat scary either, it does squeeze a good deal of suspense from the legitimately frightening home invasion setup. (The animal masks are a nice touch.) Like most horror movies, it starts out pretty slow, but once Wingard gets rid of all the dead weight (pun very much intended) and Vinson’s heroine goes into survival mode, the film kicks into high gear and never looks back. There are some really inventive kills on display, and the “Home Alone”-esque traps that Erin sets for the masked assailants makes you wish that more horror victims were as smart and resourceful as she is.
Unfortunately, the rest of the characters are just as one-dimensional as the actors playing them. With the exception of Vinson, the cast (which includes friends and fellow directors like Joe Swanberg and Ti West) is pretty bad, and it’s a big reason why the first 30 minutes are so weak compared to the rest of the film. That’s somewhat to be expected from an indie movie, but the script has its share of dumb moments as well, almost as if none of the characters have ever watched a horror film in their lives. In spite of these minor annoyances, “You’re Next” still manages to be a real crowd-pleaser, thanks in large part to its badass heroine, who’s one of the most memorable “final girls” in quite a while. Though the movie isn’t as great as the horror classics that it’s drawn comparisons to, and the twists are a little predictable for anyone paying attention, genre fans can only wish that more horror movies were as much fun to watch as this.