At the end of a summer plagued by a long slew of big-budget letdowns comes You’re Next, an aptly If un-creatively titled horror film hoping to re-create the success of similar films like The Purge and The Conjuring. You’re Next is the latest example this summer—following Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel—of misleading advertising. The trailers suggest a generic “asked-killer-attacks-a-house-full-of-people-in-the-woods” gimmick, and while the actual movie does feature masked killers attacking a house in the woods, both the tone and the places the movie chooses to go with its premise are far from typical.
You’re Next is a mixed bag that seemingly shouldn’t work, but, surprisingly, does. Its characters are, in most instances, exceptional only in their lack of development, and the plot, when stripped of all its twists, is far from plausible. A couple of characters are so chillingly ruthless that they become farsical rather than terrifying, and some of the characters with the most potential are offed too early in a first act that will doubtless keep at least a few producers of red food coloring in business for years to come.
Yet the film has enough going for it to succeed. Its main attraction lies in its star, Sharni Vinson, playing the girlfriend of a man whose family finds itself the target of a vicious by vicious strangers wearing animal masks and toting medieval weaponry (though guns probably would have been a more sensible choice). She’s one of the more memorable protagonists this summer. Unlike most horror-movie girls, her only recourse is not to run and scream (most likely while tripping and falling more times than humanly possible so that the lumbering villain has enough time to catch up). Erin proves herself a resourceful hero, a force nearly as dangerous as the enemies outside the house. Though the script gives her little to work with, the actress’ work—combined with a couple of some smug, eminently hate-able villains (who manage to arouse just as much anger as fear) managed to arouse my sympathies and immerse me in the blood-soaked proceedings.
You’re Next isn’t the straight horror movie it first appears, and pretends to be in the trailer. At times, it’s almost gleefully self-aware, and pauses from poking holes in people’s feet with nails to poke a little fun at itself. There’s a scene where Erin takes a piece of glass in the leg and starts hobbling through the woods, an homage to the countless horror films that have a scared young heroine bumbling and stumbling as a slow-moving antagonist chases after her. Erin doesn’t fall, though; she bandages herself up and keeps on fighting. In another scene, one of the villains asks a victim “why won’t you just die? This is hard enough already.” While those looking for pure, simple scares might be left a little disappointed there’s enough else going on in the movie that the fact that its terror is only intermittent is not a game-breaker.
The second act of You’re Next is more thriller than horror, mixed with black situational comedy that helps wash out the taste of the death and suffering presented in the first. You’re Next has, funnily enough, found the tone that Kick-Ass 2 was floundering in search of and the first movie nailed so skillfully—an unlikely combination of black humor and dark seriousness, a melding of absurd, over-the-top action and gritty realism. Instead of feeling incongruous, it feels fun, albeit in a terribly dark kind of way.
You’re Next could have been more than it winds up being, had it had the benefit of a stronger script—another twenty minutes spent exploring the characters and their motivations before diving into the action would have made the movie’s central mystery (the motivations and goals of the masked murderers) much more satisfying. In short, the movie, which already plays like a bloodier, more breathless And Then There Were None (previously known as Ten Little Indians) could have benefited greatly from the characterization that Agatha Christie uses to set up her reunion/bloodbath scenario. Christie’s characters aren’t really complex at all, but they’re as complicated and believable as they need to be—which is to say, more so than most of the family in You’re Next.
Those looking for some healthy scares and a dose of mad action should see You’re Next—though it’s best to be aware that this is possibly the bloodiest movie since Django Unchained. A good third of the script is probably gurgling, as the movie attempts to compete with Sweeney Todd for throat-slashing goriness. It’s not for the faint of heart, but for those looking for a little of what Kick-Ass 2 should have offered, it arrives at just the right moment. 8/10 for sheer, off-the-wall mayhem.