Director: Adam Wingard
Stars: Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn, AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Rob Moran, Barbara Crampton, Margaret Laney, Amy Seimetz, Ti West
For independent horror aficionados, You're Next has become a Holy Grail of sorts. After premiering at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival to rave reviews, director Adam Wingard's (A Horrible Way to Die, V/H/S) crafty home invasion flick was picked up for distribution by genre giant Lionsgate, the heads of which then limited its subsequent exposure to just one epic Fantastic Fest screening weeks later. With its post-festival buzz sky-high, You're Next fell victim to Lionsgate's merger with Summit Entertainment two months later, a business move that put the film on the back burner for two long, anticipation-laden years for those unfortunate enough to attend either TIFF or Fantastic Fest in 2011.
Now that You're Next finally has an August 23 release date, Lionsgate programmed Wingard's crowd-pleaser as one of SXSW's Midnighters, and the word-of-mouth has circulated throughout Austin since the first You're Next showing last Sunday night. But is it really the second coming of self-aware horror, a la The Cabin in the Woods?
Not quite, and it's all good. It's not going to reinvent horror—rather, You're Next is simply a vastly entertaining and well-staged blast of adrenaline, carnage, clever humor, and "final girl" subversion, the last of which is credited to standout star Sharni Vinson. Screenwriter Simon Barrett tweaks the overused "home invasion" sub-genre to pose the question: What happens when somebody actually fights back? At times, You're Next rocks with an energy comparable to The Strangers on steroids, due to the three-way marriage of Wingard's kinetic direction, a breakneck pace once the violence sets in, and Vinson's serious ability to whoop tons of ass.
Before the bodies hit the floor, though, You're Next is actually a strong comedy of family dysfunction. It's Aubrey (beloved veteran scream queen Barbara Crampton) and Paul Davison's (Rob Moran) 35th wedding anniversary, and all four of their kids are coming over to their swanky, deep-in-the-woods mansion for dinner: the level-headed professor Crispin (AJ Bowen), the arrogant douchebag Drake (Joe Swanberg), the upbeat Aimee (Amy Seimetz), and the more subdued Felix (Nicholas Tucci). They each bring their significant other, Crispin's being Aussie cutie Erin (Vinson). During the contentious supper, there's a sudden—and well-executed on Wingard's part—attack via cross-bow, and from there You're Next speeds into overdrive.
Much has been said about how Barrett's script is one of horror's smartest in years, an opinion that'll only hold water with viewers who know slasher cinema well. Barrett conceives a few particularly stupid tactics for his characters to attempt in the course of life preservation, techniques that earned huge laughs from the in-the-know SXSW audience but could very well fall flat for August ticket-buyers who don't get the tongue-in-cheek jabs.
In one scene, someone thinks it'd be wise to fool the outdoor assailants by, get this, running at full speed through the front door, even though the killers have already shown that they're working the aforementioned cross-bow. The payoff is funny and savage, but it'll ring as little more than idiocy for people who've never seen moronic characters in '80s horror flicks off themselves through poor decision-making.
The good news: Wingard and Barrett, thankfully, don't keep You're Next strictly for insiders. Once Vinson's Erin starts complicating the attackers' plan, the film upgrades into a raucous, applause-worthy series of tense cat-and-mouse stalking, vicious beatdowns, and shots purposely designed to turn Vinson into the best horror movie heroine since the Neve Campbell's Sidney Prescott from the Scream franchise.
Backed by an occasionally abrasive but wholly effective synth score that's clearly influenced by John Carpenter's sensibility, You're Next is the opposite of a slow-burn horror—it's fast, grim, and humorously mean-spirited. Hopefully Lionsgate handles its marketing properly this summer, because Wingard's long-awaited film really delivers on its promises of fun, jolting horror. It's a crossover movie that's waiting to find its mainstream following.