Australian college student Erin (Sharni Vinson, "Step Up 3D") is about to meet her boyfriend and former teacher Crispian's (AJ Bowen, "The Signal") three siblings and parents on the occasion of the Davisons' 35th anniversary. As they drive through remote countryside towards the English Tudor style mansion, Crispian's mom Aubrey (Barbara Crampton, "Re-Animator") is insisting her husband Paul (Rob Moran, "Hall Pass") investigate a noise she heard coming from upstairs in the just-opened (and found unlocked) house. Next door, neighbor Erik Harson's (filmmaker Larry Fessenden, "Habit") already found the body of his mutilated girlfriend with the bloody message "You're Next."
Editor/director Adam Wingard ("V/H/S") was working alone in a remote area and began to get creeped out thinking about home invasion movies, so he pitched his "A Horrible Way to Die" writer Simon Barrett with coming up with a new twist on the genre. The resulting film, which arrives on a wave of festival buzz, isn't really all that original though. It's also a bit of a one trick pony - once the 'surprise' is revealed, it mostly just goes through the motions. Still, horror movies generally being mediocre at best, "You're Next" should satisfy genre fans.
Crispian gives the vaguest hint that his family reunion might not be easy sailing and sure enough, not soon after they get there, older more successful brother Drake (mumblecore director Joe Swanberg, "Drinking Buddies") arrives to start turning the screws. Drake's wife Kelly (Sarah Myers) is an uptight Republican type who finds Erin offputting because of her accent. Erin's surprised to actually like Crispian's parents, especially after learning dad's made his money in defense contract, but sister Aimee (Amy Seimetz, "Upstream Color") is an overgrown daddy's girl who still calls her mother 'Mommy' and sports an obscure filmmaking boyfriend Tariq (Ti West, "Drinking Buddies") who's clearly in it for her money. The last sibling to arrive, youngest Felix (Nicholas Tucci), is taciturn and has a scary looking girlfriend, Zee (Wendy Glenn). At Aubrey's beautifully set dinner table, Drake begins to needle Crispian about dating a student. Things escalate quickly, but while the family argues, Tariq's noticed something odd outside and gets up to look out the window. It takes a while for everyone to settle down and notice, but Tariq's got an arrow through his head.
A masked crossbow wielding maniac begins to fire rapidly through the glass windows and though everyone hits the deck, Drake's shot in the back. Erin quickly begins to take charge, staunching Drake's wound and coming up with strategies. It's decided Aimee will try to make a dash for a car, but she runs right into a trap. Aubrey, whom we already know is on meds, takes to her bedroom. Bad idea. Kate panics and runs out into the night. Crispian decides he must slip out to find help. Erin, having dispatched one killer with a meat tenderizer, begins to set traps of her own within the house, which clearly has at least one other attacker inside.
"You're Next" has been described as horrifying, but in truth, it's all played for laughs, which can be a bit disconcerting given the carnage that ensues. There's really only a couple genuinely creepy moments involving the hiding places of a killer. Wingard has professed admiration for 2008's "The Strangers" and it shows, not only in the use of masks (here a sheep, wolf, tiger and fox), but by imitating that film's unsettling use of a record needle skipping on vinyl with the looped, stuttering song 'Lookin for the Magic' by the Dwight Twilley Band. Another sequence involving a flash camera illuminating a darkened basement (nicely shot by "V/H/S" cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo) is straight out of "Silence of the Lambs."
But the mystery of 'Why?' is revealed too quickly and the film loses steam rapidly thereafter. The film's most inventive idea is Erin's back story, revealed to Zee while hammering nails through boards to place under windows. Even the 'You're Next' message theme isn't carried through, abandoned pretty early on. It's a passable horror flick that gains cred with its cast of horror film directors and the retro scream queen who's come out of retirement to be brutally slain.
Robin did not see this film.
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