“Will you just die already? This is hard enough for me!”
Disappointment that the hype surrounding director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett’s film You’re Next was proving impossible to achieve set in about halfway through. I expected what many called an entertainingly fresh horror thriller with comedic flourishes, but all I saw was the usual home invasion tropes and by-the-numbers carnage courtesy of animal-masked predators and their unsuspecting, family weekend attendee prey. Then something happens to change its tone completely as attractive Aussie plus-one Erin (Sharni Vinson) rolls away from her anonymous foe, picks up a meat tenderizer, and decimates him into a bloody pulp of flesh way beyond simple death. An exhilarating and empowering turn of events earning an involuntary grin despite its carnage, watching fellow victims Felix (Nicholas Tucci) and Zee (Wendy Glenn) get shocked silent was exactly the type of genre-bending fun I’d hoped for.
It isn’t as complex or as far-removed from horror expectations as Cabin in the Woods, yet it somehow found itself similarly languishing in a two-year purgatory from its TIFF Midnight Madness debut until theatrical release. The creative team saw three short film compilations hit festivals and home video in that span, probably shaking their heads at how an original feature with huge buzz and a ton more creativity than most Halloween-targeted studio fare could have such a cloudy future. Perhaps it was somehow too ahead of its time? Maybe Lionsgate knew something no one else did by holding it back until they could provide their rather large marketing push earning stellar word of mouth? Either way, it landed at number six at the box office and eventually grossed a respectable $26 million—$25 million more than its budget.
Shot on site at a Missouri mansion over four weeks, the setting’s wooded isolation keeps things dark, scary, and quiet for the screams and soft tissue gnashing to come. Sticking to its horror roots, we’re introduced to this affluent suburban escape as Erik Harson (Larry Fessenden) enjoys naked time with his co-ed—and less than enthused—fling Talia (Kate Lyn Sheil). He heads to the shower and she walks past the floor-to-ceiling windows for a drink and the Dwight Twilley Band’s catchy 1977 track “Looking for the Magic”. We hear some noise outside, see the reflection of a lamb’s head mask, and know their time is soon up. Blood-scrawled letters spell out the title on the wall and we cut to daylight as Mr. and Mrs. Davison (Rob Moran and Barbara Crampton) arrive at their retreat next door.
Wingard manufactures a foreboding weight to the air as Aubrey Davison jumps at a loud bang before heading to the driveway in frightened tears while husband Paul investigates. Tension builds, their son Crispin (AJ Bowen) and his girlfriend Erin enter to diffuse tension, and their “normal” family getaway begins. The final three couples join what becomes a bickering, self-centered air primed for bouts of sibling rivalry to shine and thinly veiled barbs at significant others to land before a crossbow bolt comes crashing through the dining room window so its impalement may commence Lamb, Tiger, and Fox’s remorseless dance. Rounded out by older brother Drake (Joe Swanberg) and wife Kelly (Margaret Laney), younger bro Felix and date Zee, and sister Aimee (Amy Seimetz) and boyfriend Tariq (Ti West), each is unprepared for the body count to follow.
While my aforementioned disappointment did set in around here, I have to give Barrett credit for opening the floodgates on malicious intent. With a huge house and ten potential victims at their disposal, he and Wingard waste no time separating everyone up through fear so the three intruders may run free with machete, ax, and bow. Whether stabbed, partially decapitated, or chased through the trees and smashed through a pane of glass, hardly anyone is left unscathed after the blood starts to flow. Deaths pile up quickly until it becomes Erin, the killers, and the motionless/scared bystanders watching the walls close in. To go more in-depth than that would ruin the true surprises and revelation of motive, though, so I’ll just say it does find its way to black comedy nicely once character duality and aggression escalates.
I wouldn’t say You’re Next holds bona fide twists and turns when many secrets can be guessed due to the dwindling numbers onscreen, so don’t expect some huge reveal to leave its horror behind for another scheme. It’s horror through and through—the inclusion of a victim possessing the goods to wreak havoc in return only providing its sub-genre clichés an added bonus. Everyone has a motivation for their actions and multiple roles will be reversed to keep you on your toes as you wonder how far Erin will go to survive. Think The Strangers meets First Blood as Erin sets booby traps and readies for the next wave of animal masked assault. Her steely calm demeanor and shoot first/ask questions later philosophy keeps things tense while her adversaries falling prey to or luckily avoiding the bait carries humor.
Unsurprisingly, Vinson rises to the top as Barrett’s star heroine kicking butt. Swanberg is great as the pompous dick; Seimetz the stereotypical damsel in distress always being underestimated; Bowen the nice guy with hidden temper; and Tucci/Glenn the macabre goth types seemingly unfazed with wry smiles as hell breaks loose. Moran’s patriarch looks to stifle fear while Crampton devolves into a mess of hysterical nerves and even the three antagonists played by Barrett, L.C. Holt, and Lane Hughes get time to be more than stealthy bringers of death. While they alternate between good and evil, however, it’s Vinson who remains vigilantly aligned with the former. We revel in her lack of quit, high-five her when wielding a blender as weapon, and know that even she cannot afford to breathe easy for one solitary second.
 Sharni Vinson (“Erin”) stars in Lionsgate Home Entertainment’s YOU’RE NEXT. Photo credit: Corey Ransberg
 The tiger-masked killer in Lionsgate Home Entertainment’s YOU’RE NEXT. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate
 AJ Bowen (“Crispian”) stars in Lionsgate Home Entertainment’s YOU’RE NEXT. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate