When you break it down, there are really only two types of horror movies: those that embrace conventions of the genre, and those that attempt to subvert them. Director Adam Wingard (V/H/S, A Horrible Way to Die) and writer Simon Barrett have opted for the latter with You're Next, a crowd-pleasing twist on the home invasion thriller that almost makes you feel sorry for the bad guys. Debuting on the film festival circuit back in 2011, the film sat on a shelf for years while Lionsgate acquired Summit and planned for a theatrical release. But unlike the godawful All The Boys Love Mandy Lane (which has received an even lengthier delay and will be released this fall), You're Next is absolutely worth the wait.
Director: Adam Wingard
Starring: Sharni Vinson, AJ Bowen, Nicholas Tucci, Joe Swanberg
From the opening shot, it's obvious the filmmakers are going to have fun playing with the audience's expectations here. A partially open door obscures a man and a woman grunting loudly; with the way it's shot, this could be mistaken for a murder scene, but it's revealed they're actually having sex (a different kind of stabbing, hey-oh!). As with most couples who have sex in the opening scenes of horror movies, they're quickly killed, this time by silent home invaders wearing creepy animal masks. The real story picks up from there: Crispian (AJ Bowen) and his girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson) drive out to the country to meet with his extended family for a celebration of his parents' 35th wedding anniversary. His dad worked for a defense contractor and is now retired and very wealthy, a fact not lost on the mask-wearing invaders who start picking off family members one by one in violent and gruesome ways.
But much in the same way that last year's The Cabin in The Woods went against the grain of expectation, You're Next throws a fun hitch into the bad guys' plan: Erin has her own very particular set of skills, and she uses them to turn the tables on the masked murderers. Wingard and Barrett are very aware of the conventions of the genre and the classics that have come before, so a shout-out to The Shining late in the movie feels right at home. But they also understand the difference between something like Sam Peckinpah's classic home invasion thriller Straw Dogs and the more lighthearted tone they're going for; this is not a movie filled with growing dread or an introspective examination of the human psyche stretched to its limit. Watching Erin switch the power dynamics becomes fun, so much so that when she starts killing the intruders, our audience regularly broke out into cheers. On a basic level, it's not socially acceptable to cheer when someone kills another human being, but this movie all but encourages you to do just that. The clever script and Wingard's tight direction make everything almost too much fun.
This is a star-making performance from Sharni Vinson (Step Up 3D), an Aussie actress who completely owns her role as Erin. This character is a great twist on the "final girl" concept, and it's refreshing that she's undoubtedly the most competent person in the whole film. Vinson imbues Erin with an incredible physicality (she leaps out of a window at one point, which seems crazy for anyone else but pretty normal for Erin) and her quick thinking, intelligence, and empowered attitude will likely make her a feminist icon for years to come. Bowen does some good work as AJ, and Joe Swanberg is a stand-out as his douchebag brother Drake.
You're Next is a violent, funny, clever, and often-outrageous entry into the horror genre, and I can't wait to see what's next for all those involved with bringing it to life. It's a shame the film had to sit on a shelf collecting dust while studios figured out what to do with it, but I'm thrilled Lionsgate is giving it the release it deserves and hopefully - if nothing else - we'll be seeing a lot more from the extremely talented Sharni Vinson very soon. Until next time...