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LAFF ’13: “You’re Next” is Home Invasion Horror Bliss

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by on June 18, 2013

The short review: A whipsmart, tongue-in-cheek take on the home invasion horror genre, Adam Wingard’s You’re Next doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but inverts it with Simon Barrett’s clever characters, tense pacing and a healthy dose of visceral violence.

The long review: Let me preface this review by saying that, when it comes to horror movies, I am what scientists refer to as “a huge pussy.” That’s the technical term at least. When seeing a film chock full of jump scares and over the top gore, I’m the one clutching my girlfriend’s arm in abject terror, not the other way around. My taste in horror skews towards the tense, creepy scares, and not the gratuitous gore porn that’s dominated theaters in recent years, which is why You’re Next, much like 2012′s horror comedy Cabin in the Woods, was such a breath of fresh air.

The home invasion genre is, by no means, new. In fact, it’s getting a little stale. When films like Straw Dogs (1971), The Strangers, Them, and Inside have done it so well, it makes us yearn for innovation. In You’re Next, the set-up is simple, but effective: the well-to-do Davison family has a reunion of sorts at their newly purchased estate, situated a little bit off the beaten path in what looks like a typical New England/Upstate New York-type area. You’re Next plays out like a typical violent but mysterious home invasion flick, but there’s a twist: one of the guests is a more capable killer than the animal mask-clad pyschopaths trying to break in.

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College professor Crispian Davison (A.J. Bowen) brings his T.A.-turned-girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson) to meet his family at their secluded country estate for his parents’ 30th wedding anniversary.  In addition to Crispian’s father Paul (Rob Moran) and mother Aubrey (Barbara Crampton in her best horror role since Re-Animator), brothers Drake (Joe Swanberg) and Felix (Nicholas Tucci), his sister Aimee (Amy Seimetz) and their significant others Kelly (Margaret Laney), Zee (Wendy Glenn), and Tariq (Ti West) are in attendance too.

The family is predictably dysfunctional; right off the bat, there is tension between Crispian and Drake, but this serves to set up the relationships and ground them in reality. Let’s face it – real families fight. They might not be the most likable bunch on the planet, but this isn’t a group of people who deserve the unspeakable violence they’re about to incur. A tense, slow-moving first act gives way to the family under attack by a group of masked mystery assailants laying siege to the Davison home. After the first blood is spilled, it is Erin who springs into action, trying to protect the family by picking off the killers one by one.

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Sharni Vinson’s Erin proves to be the breakout role of the film, as she skips over the whole “damsel in distress” horror shtick and moves straight to canny killer and cool-headed voice of reason. She isn’t a survivor; she’s a survivalist, and that makes a world of difference. Remember how fun it was to watch Kristin Connolly in Cabin in the Woods? Sharni Vinson’s Erin is more enjoyable by half and proves gleefully capable as the film plays out like a murderous version of Kevin McAllister vs. the Sticky Bandits.

Having premiered back in 2011 at the Toronto International Film Festival, You’re Next has been biding its time for a little while now after being scooped up by Lionsgate. Thankfully, the film’s story is fairly evergreen, so it isn’t bogged down by dated references that make it feel like a film from another time. A rare mix of both style and substance, You’re Next oozes confidence from its script and cinematography. This confidence serves them well, as director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett’s passion project hits all the right notes, generally avoiding the pitfalls of what can be considered well-trodden genre territory.

In short, even if you don’t like horror films, you owe it to yourself to go see You’re Next. It’s smart, it’s savage, it’s genuinely unnerving, but, most importantly, it’s a blast. A slow start belies one of the most enjoyably terrifying experiences you’ll have in a theater this summer, and if your audience was anything like mine, you’ll find yourself cheering and screaming along with the on-screen action. And if you need someone to hold your hand, find someone else, as I’ll be too busy sinking into my seat cushioning.

Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s You’re Next hits theaters on August 23rd. Have you seen it? Are you going to see it? Let us know in the comments below!