An immediate ominousness presents itself from the very start, intruding on an older man and a disinterested college girl in bed together, with a voyeuristic camera prodding the uninhabited corners of the screen. Creating anticipation and dread, the blurred edges of the frame and the lingering shots of darkened entryways make the large, lonely house even more terrifying than its grand size and emptiness betray. The mass of tangled, dead trees that populate the dense woods around the area also foreshadow the futileness of escape, aided by the inherent creepiness of a lightless nighttime setting. And this is all before the main characters are even introduced.
Paul (Rob Moran) and Aubrey (Barbara Crampton) are celebrating their 35th anniversary by gathering together their entire family at a fixer-upper mansion they recently purchased. Their son Crispian (AJ Bowen) and his girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson) arrive a day earlier than the rest, settling into the cavernous building with some unease, as Aubrey is certain that she heard someone walking around upstairs. The following day, confident, judgmental son Drake (Joe Swanberg) and his wife Kelly (Sarah Myers) show up, followed by daughter Aimee (Amy Seimetz) and underground documentary filmmaker boyfriend Tariq (Ti West) and, lastly, son Felix (Nicholas Tucci) and his displeased gothic fling Zee (Wendy Glenn). Just as they begin engaging in a typical family spat at dinner, masked assailants begin terrorizing the household, murdering them one after another with crossbows, axes, and machetes.
“Everything’s going to be fine out there,” insists Crispian, donning the unlikely confidence that seems to infect far too many participants of horror movies. At times the characters annoyingly wander down shadowy corridors alone or succumb to panic and flee the scene in a flurry of screams and commotion. These moments always end the same way, with the body count increasing and, in the case of this film, some graphic, sadistic act of violence befalling the helpless victim. Isolation, loss of power, disarmament, abandoning superior weapons, or breathing a sigh of relief seconds too soon accompany much of the shock, though quite a few surprises are also gratifyingly lined up for audiences, taking care not to overdo the twists while still allowing several to alarm the unsuspecting. In its efforts to craft a set of believable reactions to the frightening scenario (which is a difficult task), darkly funny and delusional methods of decampment lead to unintentionally hilarious happenings.
Loud, sudden percussive sounds, moaning horns, and twanging piano notes all help to facilitate the hysteria – along with a contradictorily melancholy repeating track from a CD changer. This is accompanied by the expected jump scares and shaky cam (during an attempted focus on a family portrait, the image can’t manage to stop jittering), which heighten trepidation while obscuring the visuals. Like many home invasion thrillers, “You’re Next” uses a steadily nerve-wracking escalation of inventive escape tactics for the pursued to evade their killers. With the large number of characters and enormity of the estate, there’s a plentitude of opportunities to highlight the perverseness of stalking humans one by one - with an even more rewarding caged-animal premise that turns the hunters into the hunted. It’s here that the movie goes too far, using wayward dialogue and over-the-top brutality to bring a humorousness that can’t be shaken, especially as the climax draws nearer. Still, with an admirably low budget, unsettlingly mammalian masks, and a brisk pacing, “You’re Next” is a highly entertaining survivalist nightmare that boasts a unique, refreshing hero.
- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)