Adam Wingard’s 2011 horror film You’re Next wasn’t exactly next in line for theatrical release, but the two-year wait was worth it for horror buffs. The movie is a strong offering in the horror genre thanks to Wingard’s seamless combination of alluding to and mocking recognizable classic horror movie tropes, while recreating the same scares to make them work as legitimate thrills. Horror slash comedy is a rare breed of mainstream film that stands on a razor thin precipice between depressingly campy, and scrupulously entertaining. You’re Next easily lands in the latter, and could usher in the next trend of horror films.
Any of the film’s backstory is cut off like a head pretty quickly, because the film gets right to the horror after dedicating a minimal amount of time to introducing characters and setting the “plot”. The Davison family, composed of two parents and four children each with their significant others, reunites at their vacation home in an inconveniently remote location in the woods. The family is wealthy but, as we learn when each sibling introduces their partner for the first time, not very close. Upon arrival at the house, parents Aubrey and Paul (Barbara Crampton and Rob Moran) discover the front door unlocked and hear someone moving upstairs, but it’s obviously just the wind. Actually, it was their son Crispian (A. J. Bowen) and his girlfriend slash college student Erin (Sharni Vinson).
As more members of the family arrive, it becomes obvious the Davinsons are a very dysfunctional family (which we all should have known as soon as we learned they named their son Crispian). At dinner Drake (Joe Swanberg) goes around the table dishing salad and insults one by one, but his assault doesn’t last long, because halfway through the dinner someone ends up with an arrow sticking out of their brain. The projectile was launched from outside the window, where three men in animal masks are attacking the family for no apparent reason (a sheep, a wolf, and a tiger, each of which act with vague characteristics to their animal).
After the brief introduction, the remaining family members begin to fall And Then There Were None-style. The heart-pounding intensity of rapid fire, back-to-back scares distracts from the one plot-related question everyone is thinking until the film takes a break at least an hour in: Why is this happening to the poor Davinsons? The answer comes soon, and though screenwriter Simon Barrett aims for it to be a dramatic reveal to a burning mystery, it’s less thrilling than even the film’s more modest scares, and feels like a half-baked plot convenience more than what could have been an additional exciting layer to the film. There’s a reason the film doesn’t linger on backstory.
The movie uses old school scares and shocking gore more than it depends on suspense, providing a refreshing break from the suspense-dominated horror roster of late. The few pulse-racing suspenseful scenes are handled by Wingard with severe sharpness but unmistakable dark humor. There’s scene in the film’s opening 30 minutes where Aimee (Amy Seimetz), complete with slow motion, over-the-top dramatic camera effects, makes a break for the door. The scene (and its immediate result, which you may or may not see coming, but probably will enjoy it either way) is a perfect balance of jabbing at overdone horror clichés, while proving they can still be done well.
Black in tone, lighting and humor, the film will entertain horror buffs on a comical level, while catering to the less experienced with constant and at times artistic gore. There’s an exchange where, after a solid minute of deciding what the safest course of action is and deciding to stick together, a character says something along the lines of, “There was a noise in the basement. Why don’t you go check that out while we go upstairs?” and promptly abandons the noticeably dumbfounded character to investigate by themself. Wonder what’s gonna happen next.