After being a hit at the Midnight Madness portion of the Toronto International Film Festival two years ago, “Your’re Next” is getting its chance to hit the mainstream market. The home-invasion division of horror movies has been presented several times over the past decade, most notably in “The Strangers” and “The Purge.”
When director Adam Wingard and his writer-collaborator Simon Barrett (“V/H/S”) decided to do “You’re Next,” they were facing the challenge of adding some twists to this now-familiar story line to make it stand out.
Wingard is one of the leading pioneers of the “mumblecore” film movement, which employs low budgets — including casts of unprofessional actors — and mostly improvised dialogue to create realistic performances.
The goal of the Wingard-Barrett team was to get away from the standard roster of doomed characters that usually consisted of the obligatory arrogant/obnoxious people, those who were promiscuous and party-hardy, the generally nice but ultimately helpless and useless group, and of course The Final Girl — the survivor, usually smart, under-appreciated, and chaste.
A key move Wingard-Barrett made was using the family reunion as the setting for the imminent slaughter. Such plot set-ups can make for great comedy or searing drama, and it can work well in this situation provided the character development does not fall into the trap of cliches.
“You’re Next” sets the ominous tone in an opening sequence when a young couple is murdered at home by three masked intruders — Lamb Mask (L.C. Holt), the most vicious of the trio, Tiger Mask (Barrett) and Fox Mask (Lane Hughes) — in a seemingly random attack.
We then meet Paul and Aubrey (Rob Moran and “Re-Animator’s” Barbara Crampton), a couple married 35 years. He is a retired defense contractor and they are wealthy and have purchased a huge home that is a retirement fixer-upper for Paul. But first, the couple is celebrating a wedding anniversary and will be hosting their four grown children and their significant others. One son, Crispian ((A.J. Bowen), arrives first with his younger girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson). A college professor now struggling financially, he is uncomfortable about this gathering.
When his older brother Drake (Joe Swanberg) and his wife Kelly (Sarah Myers) show up, there is obvious tension between the two siblings — a little horseplay carries undertones of hostility. Youngest son Felix (Nicholas Tucci) and his sullen girlfriend Zee (Wendy Glenn) and the lone daughter of the family, Aimee (Amy Seimetz) and her documentary filmmaker boyfriend Tariq (Ti West) round out the family.
The house that serves as a setting for “You’re Next” is perfect — large, two-story with many rooms in which to hide and numerous windows in which to gain access. Plus it is old and creaky.
As the family sits down for the meal, Crispian and Drake soon are engaging in a testy exchange, but before this can escalate, it becomes obvious the house is under attack as crossbow arrows crash through windows, one claiming the first victim. The three masked attackers are back.
Amid the chaos, it is Erin who takes charge, and this is the element of “You’re Next” that elevates it to what should make it a favored movie among genre enthusiasts. Erin proves to be one of the most resourceful intended victims ever presented in horror/slasher films. Though she can be terrified, Erin manages to harness her fear and find ways to fight back. There is a reason she has the ability to counter-attack, which she reveals in a rare calm moment.
One of the standards of slasher movies is the scene wherein the killer is seemingly down for the count and the triumphant victim discards his or her weapon in false assumption the battle is over. This particularly galling plot element is smashed to hell in “You’re Next.”
Wingard and Barrett also provide some twists, although one is telegraphed. But a couple of others do take viewers by surprise.
“You’re Next” provides the viewers with the vital aspects of horror and then takes a few turns along the way — and maybe will set the bar higher for The Final Girl, thanks to Erin.
The return of Mulder and Scully
No, the television series is not starting up again, but with the 20th anniversary of the first season approaching this fall, the time is appropriate for IDW Publishing to release “The X-Files: Season 10″ in comic book form. Written by Joe Harris, with artwork by Michael Walsh and Jordie Bellaire, and series creator Chris Carter serving as consultant, the first two issues are now available. Go to www.idwpublishing.com/catalog/series/2590 for more information.