Fantastic Fest Review: Adam Wingard's Horror Thriller 'You're Next'
by Jeremy Kirk
September 28, 2011
Every sub-genre of film, every specific type of story that falls into a much broader category, has to have itself shaken up every once in a while. A movie comes along that follows the tropes, makes it evident where its heart lies, but its mind offers something fresher, more inventive, and an absolute blast. You can take the Adam Wingard-directed You're Next as one of these sub-genre breakers. It looks, acts, and sounds like a home invasion movie, and it really is. But once you watch it, you will realize the level it's working truly at, the self-awareness that Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett are playing around with.
I say "playing around" not out of some noticed carelessness that went into crafting this movie, but more out of the playfulness, the near tongue-in-cheek aspect of You're Next that ultimately makes it one of, if not the, most satisfying, entertaining, and ridiculously enjoyable films at Fantastic Fest. To say You're Next is the Scream of home invasion movies might be jumping the gun. That would imply some sense of built-in financial success which You're Next hasn't achieved yet. Yet. Released and marketed right - Lionsgate picked the film up last week for a possible Fall 2012 release - You're Next provides the kind of entertaining experience that could kick in a new era of this type of film.
The story is simple enough. Three brothers and their sister - significant others in tow - visit their parents' mansion in the middle of the woods for an anniversary party. Tensions are raised between the family members. Not all of them get along, but all of that becomes trivial when the group is attacked by a trio of animal-masked men. They don't want to toy with them. They don't play around knocking on doors or banging windows. They just want everyone in the house dead, and what started as an evening for celebration quickly becomes a fight for survival.
That's one of the many areas where Barrett's script stands out from other recent home invasion movies. Movies like Ils (Them) or The Strangers had the besiegers playing with their pray, even messing around in the background after they had gotten into the house. The attackers in You're Next are smart. They don't blast their way in full-force, but there is hardly any question as to their ultimate goal here. The question Barrett raises instead is motivation, but even that isn't given too much expository screentime until late in the film. Instead, we have attackers outside, survivors inside, and, as Wingard and Barrett make us fully aware from early on, all bets are off as to who may or may not survive.
But even this could easily have turned into an exercise in tedium, a plodding ball of tension where one-dimensional killers are taken out one-by-one. Two elements help fight back against this tremendously, and that isn't even factoring in how well-realized every one of these characters are. The first of these elements is the humor. Wingard and Barrett know their audience. They know exactly the kind of crowd who is going to watching You're Next on a Saturday night, and it's the kind of audience that wants to have fun with this material. You're Next, while a soupy pot of horror-level gore, pulls no punches in trying to make you laugh. The thought of two brothers bickering is one thing. Joe Swanberg and AJ Bowen could make a 90-minute movie of themselves arguing back and forth about who is the more successful one, and it would be entertaining. But when they're two brothers in this particular situation, and one of them is horribly wounded, the idea of him still calling his brother a "fat ass" brings heavy laughs from the audience.
The other element is Sharni Vinson, who plays Erin, one of the brothers' girlfriend. While the entire cast is great in their own way, Vinson is a force here. As the one character in the house who is more concerned with actually fighting back against the attackers than trying to get away from them, she brings a level of seriousness that still feels organic given the almost jovial tone the rest of the film has. When the action really turns on, she's there without even a flinch, making Erin one of the most kick-ass horror movie heroines of all time. Hyperbolic, I know, but that doesn't mean it's any less true. Just as You're Next has the potential to bring a whole new level of success to home invasion movies, Vinson has the potential of becoming a star off this performance. Here's hoping she keeps bringing the intensity with each role.
You're Next is the kind of film that could fall into the "too much hype" camp, the place where festival films go when too many people praise their merits with an absolute fervor. When this is done too hard too early before a film is released to the public, it could flame out by the time the world gets to see it. However, it's hard not to be enthusiastic about You're Next, a film that whips you around like a frenzy of sheer entertainment, a roller coaster that you want to ride again as soon as you've experienced it for the first time. It's a carnival for horror fans full of interesting characters, creative deaths, and satisfying pay-offs to everything it sets up. A true treat for fans of the genre, You're Next has the potential of being a horror classic. That title would be definitely well-deserved.
Jeremy's Fantastic Fest Rating: 9 out of 10