If you’ve seen the trailer and the posters for You’re Next, you may think that this is just another crappy late-summer slasher flick. Actually, it’s not. It’s a dysfunctional family comedy that’s wrapped inside a slasher flick, and a pretty funny one at that.
The movie begins with retired couple Paul and Aubrey Davison (Rob Moran and Barbara Crampton) inviting their four grown children and significant others to their countryside mansion to celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary. When three killers wearing combat gear and animal masks start picking off the family members one by one with crossbows and machetes, an unlikely person takes charge: Erin (Sharni Vinson), the oldest son’s much-younger Australian girlfriend.
Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett (who also portrays one of the masked killers here) collaborated on a previous feature called A Horrible Way to Die (which I must admit I missed) as well as anthology horror films The ABCs of Death and V/H/S and its sequel. They don’t generate any real scares, and they don’t have control over the tone of this piece, which is what keeps this movie from the top ranks of funny slasher flicks like The Cabin in the Woods and the underappreciated Behind the Mask. Also, I sniffed out the identity and motives of the killers about a third of the way in.
The cast is full of actors who are directors in their own right: Joe Swanberg (Hannah Takes the Stairs) as the douchey middle son, Amy Seimetz (Sun Don’t Shine) as the coddled daughter, Ti West (The Innkeepers) as her boyfriend, Larry Fessenden (Wendigo) as a hapless neighbor who gets killed in a prologue segment. They contribute some slapstick gags and one-liners: Asked who’s the fastest runner, one character says, “I’m the fastest, but I’ve got an arrow in my back.” Much of the humor comes from the way the family members continue to bicker and pick at one another’s insecurities amid the carnage. Even before the murders start, we’re treated to a scene in which the middle son rattles on cluelessly about the movie business to his youngest brother (Nicholas Tucci), a struggling documentarian.
Erin makes for an oddball heroine, too. The surviving family members can’t help noticing that for an English-lit grad student, she’s suspiciously calm under fire, not to mention knowledgeable about different ways to kill people. The dancer who starred in Step Up 3D, Vinson manages to make her character distinct from the cookie-cutter spunky heroines usually found in horror movies like this. The climactic showdown, when Erin faces the last surviving party to the murder plot, is terrifically underplayed like a scene from a domestic comedy. Hilariously, the villain calls Erin’s ability to kill bad guys “really, really weird,” as if it were some character defect. You’re Next doesn’t always work, but any cheap horror flick that takes the trouble to distinguish itself from the crowd is worth noting, and any one that’s this funny is worth the ticket price.
Starring Sharni Vinson. Directed by Adam Wingard. Written by Simon Barrett. Rated R.