Creepy animal masks, silent murderers and a tone the recollects one of the genre’s all-time great slashers. It’s without any doubt that You’re Next, the latest film from director Adam Wingard and writer/producer Simon Barrett, is here to terrify its audience. The opening is as cold as it is vicious and honestly could work effortlessly as a truly terrifying short film. What isn’t initially apparent is that this brief glimpse into incredibly well done home invasion terror will go on to be one of the most entertaining and exhilarating films of 2013. Seriously.
Director Wingard and writer Barrett, a duo that many genre fans may be familiar with from their previous film works A Horrible Way To Die as well as segments in V/H/S, V/H/S/2 and The ABC’s of Death, have taken it upon themselves to (quite successfully) breathe new life into the home invasion genre with You’re Next. After the unbelievably strong opening sequence I was honestly curious how the pair would keep such a dire intensity going. The answer was found in a simple family reunion/dinner party.
One of the biggest complaints I see people have about modern horror is a lack of character development. Why should you care that a character dies if you have no interest or attachment to them? This is, for me, an aspect where You’re Next shines brightest. Despite having a central cast ten people deep come together in a fairly short dining setting, Barrett, Wingard and the cast are able to infuse each character with life and depth. Whether it be the two eldest brothers (A.J. Bowen and Joe Swanberg) continuing their implied lifetime of feuding, the disenfranchised youngest sibling (Nicholas Tucci), the almost fake sincere happiness of the lone sister (Amy Seimetz) or the near obliviousness of it all by the well-to-do parents (Barbara Crampton and Rob Moran), this feels like a living, breathing family. There’s quite a few bits of comedy sprinkled in with the family drama that makes the scene intensely relatable and organic. With the time taken to establish the family’s nuances, traits and flaws, it adds a tremendous amount of weight to the brutal proceedings when the film makes its sudden shift back to violence. This already sets You’re Next apart from not only much of modern horror, but much of modern cinema in general.
There is a bit of a tonal shift once said violence kicks in. While it maintains many of its obvious horror sensibilities in its tone and the sheer brutality, the pacing becomes more dynamic with action beats that takes over as the plot itself shifts from terrifying home invasion to a last person standing thrill ride. Where the opening scene recalled the feel of John Carpenter’s slasher masterpiece, Halloween, the second half of the movie almost steps into Die Hard territory. I say that in the absolutely highest of praise possible.
While nearly the entire cast turns in worthwhile performances, especially Swanberg as the dickish Drake, the film belongs to Sharni Vinson. I don’t want to say too much as to not spoil the experience, but Vinson’s character, Erin, is basically “un-fuck-with-able.” Her transitions throughout the film are incredible to see and reveals an unbelievable amount of range by Vinson. She is truly an acting force to be reckoned with and I can’t wait to see what projects come her way next.
This turn towards a more action-packed infused storytelling could easily land the film in the all too familiar tropes of the action and horror genres, but thanks to Wingard’s keen eye and Barrett’s plotting the film never feels like it’s just spinning its wheels until the end comes. The plot builds alongside the body count, and while the tonal shift lends the violence to a more enjoyable realm, it never loses its sense of tension and dread. It’s a film where anyone could die at any moment and you know damn well its going to be a gruesome death too.
Aside from my unabashed love of the film, what I most want people to take away from this review is that You’re Next not just a straight up horror film. Yes, it is based in horror and knocks those elements out of the park, and at times might be a bit too intense for those not accustomed to the genre. That said, it becomes so much more than that. You’re Next manages to transcend the genre into something quite special that I could see being enjoyed by viewers from all walks of life, given that said viewers have a penchant for extreme violence and dark, dark humor. This film and all of the creatives behind it deserve every bit of love and appreciation it gets. Go see this as soon as possible.
You’re Next is rated R and opens in theaters everywhere on Friday, August 23, 2013.