If Luis Buñuel had ever made a slasher film, it would probably have been a lot like You’re Next.
You’re Next tells the story of the ill-fated Davison clan. Paul (Rob Moran) has recently retired from his job as a defense contractor and now, he and his wife, Aubrey (Barbara Crampton) are looking forward to celebrating their anniversary at their isolated vacation home. Soon after they arrive at the house, Aubrey is convinced that she can hear someone else in the house. However, since the frail Aubrey is obviously emotionally unstable, Paul dismisses her concerns.
Over the course of the day, Paul and Aubrey’s children arrive at the house. Though, in the best tradition of all troubled families, the Davisons attempt to maintain a facade of peace and harmony, it quickly becomes clear that each member of the family is dealing with his or her own issues and petty jealousies.
For instance, oldest son Drake (Joe Swanberg) obviously feels that he’s superior to his siblings. His wife, Kelly (Margaret Laney), is just as obviously unhappy with their marriage.
Crispian (A.J. Bowen) is a neurotic academic who is struggling financially and is viewed as being a weakling by the rest of his family. His girlfriend, Erin (Sharni Vinson) has a secret in her past that will become unexpectedly important as the day progresses.
Daughter Aimee (played by Amy Seimetz, who was so good earlier this year in Upstream Color) tries so hard to be cheerful that you know that she has to be secretly be on the verge of having a nervous breakdown. Her boyfriend, Tariq (Ti West), is a struggling filmmaker who is scandalized to discover that Drake prefers to watch commercials as opposed to documentaries.
Finally, there’s the youngest son, Felix (Nicholas Tucci). Felix appears to be the most well-adjusted of all of the Davison children but his quiet girlfriend Zee (Wendy Glenn) is a different story.
Once the family has gathered together for the anniversary dinner, the bickering begins. What the family don’t realize is that a group of men (all of whom wear animal masks) have previously slaughtered the neighbors and have now surrounded the Davison house. The bickering is interrupted by a brutal attack that leaves one dead, one seriously injured, and the rest of the family fighting for their lives.
You’re Next starts out as an effective but rather standard home invasion film (think of The Strangers or even Michael Haneke’s Funny Games) but the film features two twists which set it apart.
The first twist is that Erin turns out to be as effective and determined a killer as the men laying siege to the house. I’ve sat through a lot of horror movies and I love movies where women get to kick ass and I can tell you, without fear of contradiction, that there’s probably no other horror heroine who kicks as much ass as Erin. As played by Sharni Vinson, Erin is destined to become an iconic character in the history of horror.
The other twist is one that I can’t tell you about because it’s this twist that literally turns the entire film upside down. What I can tell you is that this twist forces you to reconsider everything that you’ve seen up until that point. Most impressively, director Adam Wingard reveals this twist to us long before he reveals it to the film’s characters. As such, just when the viewer is getting used to the idea of You’re Next being just another home invasion film, a whole new element of suspense is added to the story.
Some reviewers have referred to You’re Next as being a comedy. I disagree, if just because the film’s violence is too brutal and the gore is too graphic for this film to be considered anything other than primarily a horror film. That said, there is a strain of dark humor that runs through the film and occasionally provides a much needed relief from the nonstop tension onscreen. A good deal of the film’s humor comes from just how incredibly screwed-up the Davison family is, even before they find themselves under attack. This is a family of people who, even while they’re trying to plot their escape from the house, can not resist getting into argument about who can run the fastest.
Ultimately, You’re Next works as both a brutally effective horror film and as a satirical portrait of an All-American family that’s secretly so dysfunctional that — even if they weren’t being attacked by masked men with crossbows — they probably would have eventually ended up killing each other anyway. It’s a genre film that manages to transcend the rules of genre even while embracing them. In a year that, so far, has been dominated by surprisingly intelligent and effective horror films, You’re Next is one of the best.