On paper, You’re Next doesn’t sound like a particularly original idea: a family host a rare get-together at a spooky mansion in the middle of nowhere, then (inevitably) find themselves under attack by murderous, masked invaders. As the bloodthirsty interlopers lay siege to the house, the family must work with – or against – each other to survive.
As is typical of the home invasion genre, the film wastes no time in getting us to the house and showing off its creaking floorboards and dark, (annoyingly uninvestigated) closets. As the various members of the family arrive at the mansion, we’re left in no doubt as to the inevitable direction of proceedings – an incidental pre-credits taster also helps, of course. Crucially, however, the film takes care to first introduce a diverse and identifiable group of characters before opening the bloodshed.
We first meet mild-mannered Crispian (AJ Bowen), who is introducing his new girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson) to his family for the first time. Erin provides the audience with a likeable and identifiable protagonist, first meeting Crispian’s parents followed by his siblings and their significant others. A solid ensemble cast allow the quirks and personalities of the family to become immediately clear in a relatively short build-up. Joe Swanberg is particularly enjoyable as sleazy, jock-like older brother Drake, while horror veteran Barbara Crompton (Re-Animator) is great value as the frazzled mother overseeing a difficult reunion.
Once the animal-faced killers gate-crash the group’s first evening together, director Adam Wingard pulls no punches, gleefully throwing all manner of jump-scares and suspenseful moments at us. The action is brutal, bloody and hugely entertaining, with the cast also bouncing well off one another throughout the mayhem. As Erin takes a surprise lead in protecting the family and mounting a fightback against their attackers, the film’s smart use of its setting recalls John Carpenter’s classic siege thriller, Assault on Precinct 13. In fact, just like Carpenter’s effort, You’re Next makes judicious use of a sinister, discordant synth soundtrack to really drive home some of the tenser scenes.
But a straight-faced thriller this is not, as writer Simon Barrett has penned a brilliantly sharp and witty script with which the cast clearly have a ball. There are genius one-liners abound, and more than a few memorable scenes revel in grim gallows humour. One particular highlight involves an ill-advised attempt to sprint out of the house via the front door: this is set up in almost visual joke form, with the audience primed for a horrible outcome but forced to wait and wait for the pay-off. Despite the gruesome violence used at such moments, the film just about prevents one feeling too sorry for the victims, partly because the family are mostly pretty unpleasant people. But a sense of gleeful nihilism also exists throughout, so that even the death of mother Aubrey in front of her children finds a laugh or two. You’re Next is equally unafraid to joke about its own logical absurdities, such as Erin’s amusingly deadpan explanation of her conveniently lethal fighting skills.
Sharni Vinson is excellent as Erin, the hunted-turned-hunter who takes on the murderers at their own game. Despite largely playing it straight, she gradually injects levity at the right moments, proving a likable protagonist while she eviscerates the home invaders with ease. Indeed, by the end of this film, Erin has kicked so much arse you half-expect her to be left with colons for shoes. It’s refreshing, too, that the film-makers do not resort to making her a damsel-in-distress in order to motivate her to this point. Right from the start, Vinson gives a simple, understated performance of warmth and confidence. Guaranteed you will be rooting for her right to the final shot.
From start to finish, You’re Next is a smart, frantic and funny addition to the genre of comedy-horror. A film that balances its scares and giggles, thanks to clever direction and an excellent script, it deserves to be a permanent fixture in your DVD collection. If you can see it at a cinema: even better, as the crowd-pleasing violence and abundance of laughs make for an evening well spent. However you see it, make sure you do. Otherwise? YOU’RE NEXT.