From the promotional posters of You’re Next alone, it’s possible to discern what kind of territory we’ll soon entering. Though the ‘home invasion’ motif as a key plot device goes back many decades, it’s outings like the original When A Stranger Calls and 2009’s The Strangers that bring to mind the most accomplished efforts. While there is nothing cerebral about these story-lines, they still (for the most part) manage to do one thing: frighten. Unmotivated murder, for all its lack of mystery, remains terrifying because of its sheer mystique; evil simply for the sport of it, where no amount of plea bargaining or desire for mercy will likely get results. Though a motivation does surface in the latter stages of You’re Next, it’s a revelation that ultimately hurts the viewing experience.
After an old school slasher scene opens proceedings (with an ominous lamb mask doing the duty), we are then privy to the lives of Crispian Davison and his fiancée Erin on their journey to a wealthy family reunion at a secluded vacation house. It’s Crispian’s parents wedding anniversary, and joining them for the fun is the whole Davison entourage: brothers, sister, and all their respective partners. Of course, with all that blood-kin under one roof it isn’t long before tensions arise: sibling jealousies, parental judgments, and attempts at humor that go astray. Though I’d previously heard criticisms You’re Next is ‘slow to get going’ I found the build up an essential part of establishing some sort of emotional connection with the soon-to-be slain. There’s Erin (the wily accented Australian with hardcore survival skills); there’s also Drake ... a yuppie son who leads the tensions. With some of the other players almost mute, the upsurge of dialogue and character growth gives the film a splash of sophistication where it would have been all too easy for the writer's to proceed directly to carnage.
And that’s where things get tricky: the carnage. On one hand we have a memorable dinner scene, complete with errant arrows that take out some of the tribe in interesting ways. On the other we have all surviving family members (in the aftermath) behaving as though they’ve just finished watching 80’s horror: 101 dumb things protags do when confronted by killers. Of course, I'm merely being facetious here ... but there are more than enough cringe worthy decisions put on show a percentage of you will switch off. The rest, no doubt, will be staying for the revelations: mysteries revealed that put a vulnerable and all-too-human face on our cabal of animal-faced killers. One positive thing on show is some slapstick family dynamic. Though almost none of them are overly likeable, there are just enough comedic turns in the second act to keep You’re Next chugging along nicely until the final one.
All told – and when the end credits are rolling - we have a horror film worth your time. The methods of dispatch are compelling (no guns are used at all in our maiming), and some scenes toward the climax are inane and creative enough to be funny. Always underneath the surface – particularly for the score – a subtle eighties homage simmers, both writer and director hamming it up for audiences with gore filled splendor we may have seen before but find difficult to place. Though the masks used will not produce any future icons, they are creepy enough to find a place in some future Halloween ball. Mostly, audiences will get a kick out of seeing our take-no-prisoners Australian heroine.