In You’re Next, three killers crash a family reunion in a remote mansion wielding a variety of weapons and start picking off people one by one. The murderers have thought of everything: a cell phone jammer so their victims can’t call for help; a booby trap of fishing wire stretched outside the house’s front door, ready to decapitate anyone who tries to make a run for it; spooky animal masks to startle and taunt their prey. They even have a catch phrase, the film’s title, which they like to write in blood on the walls of the homes they invade (a prologue reveals they have done this sort of thing before).
Why are these lunatics doing this? Unlike 2008’s far more effective The Strangers, in which the intruders’ motive for torturing Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman in their home was just sadistic evil, there’s a specific and elaborate reason these psychos have targeted the Davison family. You just have to endure lots of gratingly bad acting, preposterous coincidences and hackneyed situations before learning the truth.
The movie is not worth the effort. You’re Next was directed by Adam Wingard, who is part of the new wave of grassroots filmmakers who collaborate on each other’s pictures (he directed and acted in segments of both V/H/S movies). Wingard cast several of his pals in the movie, including directors Ti West ( The Innkeepers) and Joe Swanberg ( Drinking Buddies) and actors Amy Seimetz ( Upstream Color, Tiny Furniture) and Lane Hughes ( A Horrible Way to Die). For a touch of class, Rob Moran and Barbara Crampton play the wealthy parents who invite all their children and their mates to a family dinner in their posh vacation home.
But practically all the actors deliver arch, unconvincing performances, because the screenplay by Simon Barrett (who also plays one of the masked killers) is stuffed with so many contrived situations even the cast can’t buy into them. You’re Next is the kind of horror picture in which characters constantly make bone-headed decisions, such as walking alone into a dark bedroom even though they know there are psychopaths roaming their house. The movie is designed to evoke loud vocal responses from the viewer: It’s a spiritual throwback to the slasher films of the 1980s in which the “kills” were the main attraction, the gorier the better.
You’re Next does not lack for gruesome, ugly violence, and Wingard does pull off a few stylish setpieces: He is clearly talented. But the movie, which was shot two years ago and has been kicking around the film festival circuit since then, feels dated and trite, especially after the refined scares of last month’s The Conjuring. At least the picture tries something different with its main heroine, Erin (Sharni Vinson), the girlfriend of one of the Davison’s sons and the only remotely sympathetic character in the film. Erin happened to grow up in a survivalist compound (no, seriously) and turns into Rambo when the siege begins. As she starts doling out brutal payback to the killers, the audience’s bloodlust gets stoked to hysterical heights. But the final reveal ruins the movie’s few brief moments of gruesome fun. You’re Next is built on such an enormous pile of guff, it comes off as insulting.