[This is a re-post of my review from the Toronto International Film Festival. You’re Next opens tomorrow.]
Adam Wingard‘s You’re Next is the home invasion horror sub-genre played to near-perfection. Through a terrific blend of setting, characters, pacing, and creative kills, Wingard delivers a horror film that even non-horror fans can enjoy. The film falters slightly when it offers more information than necessary, but you’ll suspend your disbelief for the fun, thrills, and excitement you’ll get in return.
Crispian Davison (A.J. Bowen) has brought his girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson) to meet his family at their secluded country house for his parents’ 30th wedding anniversary. Along with Crispian’s father Paul (Rob Moran) and mother Aubrey (Barbara Crampton), the guest list includes his brothers Drake (Joe Swanberg) and Felix (Nicholas Tucci), his sister Aimee (Amy Seimetz) and their significant others Kelly (Margaret Laney), Zee (Wendy Glenn), and Tariq (Ti West), respectively. Wingard efficiently sets up the relationships and establishes that this isn’t a group of people we want to see dead, but a regular family who don’t deserve the violence that’s about to befall them. After a tense first act, the family comes under siege by a group of masked, unknown attackers whose motives may not extend beyond mindless killing. Erin springs into action and tries to protect the family from the killers picking them off one-by-one.
Wingard uses the country house perfectly as his setting. It’s in the middle of nowhere, it’s nighttime, and the victims don’t know how many psychos are inside and outside the house. But the house offers its own dangers with narrow corridors, and too many large, windowed roomed where the threat could come from almost any direction. The family would be lost without Erin and that’s where Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett make their first smart play. Erin isn’t the horror-staple “Survivor Girl” who gets lucky. She’s the survivalist girl and her presence gives the audience someone to root for rather than someone who occasionally kicks a killer and scampers away to hide. When You’re Next gets you cheering, it’s for Erin.
But the film does almost everything in its power to take the strategic advantage away from her and does a masterful job of keeping the tension alive. The aforementioned design of the house plays a large part but Wingard knows how to shoot the location for maximum effect and then he throws on a brilliant sound design. The score forgoes the shrieks of violins in favor of gut-punching bass, and Wingard milks every creak, click, and crack for they’re worth. You’re Next demands to be seen in a place where you have a sound system that can shake your seat and envelope you in the terror the characters feel.
The script does have to take a few unfortunate shortcuts to make the story work. You’re Next works wonders when it keeps the audience in the dark and our only solace is that the attackers are flesh-and-blood humans. Nevertheless, we don’t know their motives, their masks are creepy as hell, and for half the film we don’t even know how many there are. However, Wingard and Barrett eventually make concessions that lessen the tension and offer an explanation that would knock you out of the movie if it hadn’t already drawn you in so deeply. The ending is also predictable but Wingard plays it so well that you won’t mind.
Almost everything in You’re Next goes off with a hitch. It’s the perfect balance of horror and action with a little bit of comedy thrown in for good measure. Wingard and Barrett haven’t re-written the genre but they’ve added enough minor tweaks to keep the story feeling fresh. But the film’s greatest strength is in how how it blends jump scares, creepiness, dark comedy, and gore to create a damn fine horror flick that will have you locking your doors and fearing your windows.