There’s a scene about 20 minutes into “You’re Next” that raises your hopes and tricks you into thinking that it’s not just another home invasion movie.
In this particular scene, a trio of crossbow wielding lunatics in animal masks attack a family who is in the midst of a very tense anniversary party. As most of the family lays injured or dying, they still manage to carry on with their petty bickering. The characters are so self-obsessed and neurotic that the violent siege on their household seems to be a secondary concern. It’s a darkly amusing idea that suggests what would happen if the dysfunctional family from “The Celebration” crossed paths with the sack-headed psychos from “The Strangers.” But unfortunately, “You’re Next” doesn’t develop this rancid family dynamic much further and discards it immediately after it’s introduced. “You’re Next” could have been an instant classic, but instead it’s a standard (albeit, entertaining) stalk and slash-style film.
As stated earlier, “You’re Next” revolves around an anniversary party gone horribly awry. “Re-Animator’s” Barbara Crampton and Rob Moran are celebrating 35 years of marriage with their four grown children at a secluded country estate. But before they’re victimized by that trio of aforementioned lunatics, “You’re Next” takes its time to introduce us to the family, who are an infuriating collection of insufferable snobs, sleazy lowlifes, and needy irritants. The only semi-relatable characters come in the form of middle son AJ Bowen and his girlfriend Sharni Vinson, whose unexpected survivalist skills suggest a mysterious past. But, of course, nothing is as it seems, and to say anything more would ruin the film’s various twists and turns.
Before the film eventually succumbs to the alluring familiarity of genre conventions, “You’re Next” is characterized by an oppressive sense of dread and hopelessness that is heightened by a pounding synth score. Early sequences like the one in which an unhappy couple go through the motions of mediocre sex to the strains of The Dwight Twilley Band’s “Looking for the Magic” shortly before they’re brutally murdered are not only uncomfortably voyeuristic, but jarring in their unpredictability. For a few brief moments, anything could happen in “You’re Next.”
But even when the film starts encroaching on familiar territory, it’s still fun to watch. Sure, “You’re Next” is all too eager to conform to audience expectations, but you have to admire the way it does that, especially towards the end, when the surviving family members start fighting back and the film starts to resemble “Home Alone” if it was directed by Eli Roth. Of course, it’s moments like these that only serve to remind you that hidden beneath all of the jump scares and all of the other predictable horror movie tropes lurks a far more interesting movie.
As it stands, “You’re Next” is neither the dark comedy it aspires to be nor is it the genre-defying reinvention it considers itself to be. What it is, however, is a smarter than average variation on “Straw Dogs,” and even though that’s nothing groundbreaking or particularly special, it’s still something that’s definitely worth your time. And I guarantee you, watching somebody get stabbed in the head with a working blender is definitely worth your time.
Rating: W W V