Inspired "You're Next" Likely To Thrill Horror Fans

Lionsgate has the unenviable task of getting out the word on “You’re Next,” a low-budget indie horror flick that’s inexplicably been on the shelf for the better part of two years. To tell moviegoers what sets it apart from other home invasion flicks would be to spoil some of the fun, but the setup alone is something of a snoozer, as is the first third of the film. However, once past a formulaic opening, the picture opens up into something else entirely, ending up as one of the better slasher movies to hit the big screen since the original “Scream” in 1996.

If you haven’t seen the film but intend to, stop right here. This review will be here when you get back. If you have seen the film or are just spoiler-hungry, let’s get to it.

“You’re Next” follows the story of a wealthy couple, Paul and Aubrey (played by character actors Rob Moran and Barbara Crampton), hosting a family reunion of sorts in their isolated vacation home. Apart from a run-of-the-mill pre-credit sequence, the first 30 minutes is spent on the family arriving for the celebration, accented by a few meaningless jump scares. The couple’s three sons, Crispian, Drake, and Felix, and one daughter, Aimee, all bring their significant others, making for a rather large ensemble that might have been unwieldy – if not for the film’s absurdly high body count.

Those aforementioned significant others are mostly tangential to the narrative, serving as little more than targets for the film’s antagonists. All except Crispian’s girlfriend, Erin (Sharni Vinson), who’s an exception to that rule and every other rule in a major way. As the family is picked off by crossbow-wielding maniacs in animal masks, Erin slowly becomes the film’s focal point, her character ultimately turning into one of the single greatest horror heroines of all time.

Credit goes to director Adam Wingard for fully committing to Simon Barrett’s script, enduring some early low points to make the payoff that much sweeter. By the halfway point, Erin begins capably taking down her assailants with great aplomb (and significant bloodshed), making it clear that “You’re Next” isn’t the predictable chore that we might have thought we were in for. Not even close.

Once we learn that Erin was raised by a survivalist, her impressive penchant for self-defense makes sense, and the film sticks the landing on its pretty impressive switcheroo. By shifting the power from a group of murderous masked men to a small but authoritative woman, Wingard and Barrett accomplish two fairly remarkable things. First, not many films have the ability or the gall to essentially swap its protagonist(s) and antagonist(s), but “You’re Next” pulls it off without ever confusing its audience as to who to root for. We’re with Erin all the way to the bitter end.

Secondly, and most importantly, the power shift tranforms the film into a kind of feminist horror pic, something that’s about as common as a romantic comedy aimed squarely at men. That’s not to say the film is without violence against women, seemingly a prerequisite of the genre, but Erin’s response to her surroundings is made even more satisfying because the movie is clearly aware of itself and the horror tropes that it lays out for us.

On a technical level, “You’re Next” is nothing to sneeze at either, as one scene in particular – Erin’s use of a camera’s flash to track an attacker’s movements in a dark basement – struck me as one of best shot and most intense sequences of any slasher pic since John Carpenter’s stone cold classic, “Halloween.” I couldn’t help but marvel at the scene’s simplicity and effectiveness.

I’m not sure how well “You’re Next” will age, but in the wake of a pretty lean decade for the genre, it’s a welcome surprise that’s worth the time of any horror fan. The first act is less than stellar and some of the acting is spotty, but its twist, generally great cinematography, and excellent sound design make it a gem worth discovering. One day, it might even be considered top-shelf horror from this era.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Good)

Release Date: August 22, 2013
Studio: Lionsgate
Director: Adam Wingard
Screenwriter: Simon Barrett
Starring: Sharni Vinson, AJ Bowen, Nick Tucci, Wendy Glenn, Joe Swanberg, Rob Moran, Barbara Crampton, Maragaret Laney, Amy Seimetz, Ti West, Larry Fessenden, Lane Hughes, L.C. Holt, Simon Barrett, Calvin Reeder
MPAA Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, language and some sexuality/nudity)