You’re Next is a scarily effective treatment of the home-invasion horror movie, a suspense thriller that actually thrills while masquerading as a slasher flick. Not to be outdone, it offers not one, but two tiny surprises that really can’t be addressed in a review. It’s derivative as hell, drawing on inspirations from everything from The Last House on the Left and Straw Dogs, to The Strangers, but it builds upon those sources with ingenuity and genuine tension, until we’re looking not at a shameless carbon copy, but a superior example of the genre. This is yet another in a line of recent horror films that seem to be part of some kind of revolution.
The set-up and characters are purely stock: Four siblings — Felix, Crispian, Drake and their sister, Aimee — gather with their significant others for their parents’ anniversary at a remote country house. We get a little inane sibling rivalry, as Drake mercilessly teases the sensitive Crispian, before someone finds evidence that a squatter may have been living in an upstairs closet. We, the audience, are alone in knowing that the next door neighbor and his girlfriend were murdered in a pre-credit sequence, so there isn’t another neighbor within shouting distance and that ain’t no squatter. No sooner does the family sit down to a lovely dinner, than someone in a pig mask fires off an arrow into the dining room, killing Aimee’s pretentious filmmaker boyfriend, thus setting off a night-long fight for survival.
This is about as far as I can go. Cautiously, I can tell you that someone in the house is hiding a secret that gives the killers a serious run for their money. I’m happy to inform you freely, however, that the battle to survive the night is an utter melee of death and destruction that involves all sorts of cruel and unusual weaponry, including a machete, hammer axe, ice pick, one strategically placed strand of piano wire, and perhaps the most complex use of a blender I’ve ever seen. That last bit is one of many attempts by writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard to inject a sense of mordant humor into their film. I don’t think they’re entirely successful on that front — not because of the blender, but because of a moment of unnecessary exposition near the end of the film that’s meant to resemble black comedy, but instead stops the movie temporarily dead in its tracks. There are other moments, too, intended to make us laugh, such as when one victim prepares to run out the front door, and her movements are dialed down to a Chariots of Fire slo-mo shot; but the humor is lost, because You’re Next is entirely too bleak in tone to let in even the slightest grin. This is a violent movie pretty much from word one, that lets up just long enough to get us oriented with the who and where before picking back up again. I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie that was pitched at this sustainable level of murder and mayhem. There’s nary a body part or patch of skin that doesn’t get cut, scratched, sliced, hammered or pierced. The violence alone borders on too much at times, and would probably be considered abhorrent if Wingard didn’t match it with style and an unremitting intensity. This is a crouch-down, clamp-your-jaw, red-blooded suspense movie that gets its hooks in early and never lets go. In fact, it achieves its goal to startle and terrify so admirably, that by time the credits start to roll, any quibbles have been left in the rearview.
I was really hoping those minor faults would convince me that You’re Next is a bad film. Somehow, I didn’t want to admit that we could have another well-made, effective horror movie in the world after The Conjuring earlier this summer. Frankly, it was too much to hope for. But you know what? Despite any reservations about misbegotten humor or clunky dialogue, You’re Next is really pretty good. It’s good suspense, it’s good horror, and I’ll even admit that, at times, it can be a little bit fun.
So, faults be damned! Get in, sit down, hold on and shut up.
[A quick note: You’re Next is a hard R rating. I’m surprised it was not given the dreaded NC-17. This is NOT a movie for young kids. In fact, this isn’t even a movie for young teens. Older, well-adjusted teens who understand the difference between fake and real violence should be ok. Those with weak constitutions should just avoid the movie altogether.]