“You’re Next” has taken a long road in getting to theaters. It premiered at festivals two years ago to raves and then had to sit on the back burner until now because of messy distribution business. It’s been a long two years waiting for this to come out, especially since legitimately good horror movies are in short stock and the gems are sought after by horror fans (like myself) as if they were gold. Fear not though, because while long delays like that could also be a signal that the movie wasn’t actually as good as we were lead to believe, “You’re Next” lives up to its hype, and the reasons why are a little unexpected.
It’s the typical setup we’ve seen before in countless other home invasion horror movies: a family goes out to their home in the woods for a reunion dinner. Many of them haven’t seen each other in a long time, and internal resentments begin bubbling to the surface quickly. But they now have a bigger problem on their hands than petty squabbling, as multiple masked men lay siege to the house and take out the family one by one. This general outline, however, doesn’t begin to touch the little details that writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard (“V/H/S”) employ to flesh things out and even turn some horror clichés on their heads.
That’s not to say that “You’re Next” is the next horror deconstruction like “Cabin in the Woods” or “Scream.” Rather, Wingard and Barrett start things out on familiar territory and then slowly begin twisting the little things that frustrate horror viewers. Don’t you hate how everyone’s cell phones in horror movies are always conveniently out of service? Well one character suggests they might be using a jammer. Isn’t it frustrating when a character just lays on the ground screaming in terror as the killer slowly raises his weapon? That isn’t like survivalist Erin, who will roll out of the way, kick the killer in the balls, grab the nearest weapon and begin wailing on him until there’s no possible way he’s alive.
Everything that is unexpectedly smart about this movie can be distilled into Erin, who takes the initiative when everyone else cowers in fear and transitions the movie from straight slasher into a more fun thriller territory. The second half becomes a game of cat-and-mouse where Erin, who must love “Home Alone” given the traps she sets up, and the killers attempt to outsmart each other around the house, often to very bloody ends. These are the kind of kills that inspire both shocks and applause in the audience in equal measure, and the darkly funny tone that emerges once Erin fights back is a delight.
Of course, it’s not all perfect. It’s clear that Wingard and Barrett have their heart more in the blood soaked laughs than in straight horror suspense. The first quarter or so is rather routine and uninspired, as if they felt an obligation to put in a “scary” section before turning the tables. The acting from some parties can be suspect too. Sure, horror movies don’t need great acting but when some of them are quite good then the lesser ones stand out more. Sharni Vinson is the obvious standout, whose physical performance and intensity plausibly sell Erin’s cunning will despite her waif-like stature. Horror veterans A.J. Bowen and Barbara Crampton show up for nice turns too, although a few of the other actors let them down with unconvincing reactions to situations.
Yet sometimes when watching a horror movie, the minor setbacks can be taken with a grain of salt when creativity and smarts shine through the cracks. “You’re Next” of one of those. The uneven acting and slow start eventually fade away when you’re having so much fun watching a character who actually fights back against the psychos rather than bend to their will in cowardice. This is the kind of horror movie best enjoyed with a big group of friends (and/or audience) for the full experience.