'You're Next': A dream come true for horror movie fans
By Kate Erbland, Special to MSN Movies
A pushed-back release date is often the kiss of death for films, with traditional wisdom holding that a "shelved" production must possess some sort of problem, some issue that prevents it from hitting a theater near you. Adam Wingard's terrifying horror outing "You're Next" first premiered almost two years ago, hitting both the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival and the genre-heavy Fantastic Fest in September of 2011 before being shelved by Lionsgate for 23 months. What's most shocking about the Simon Barrett-penned home invasion thriller is that there's actually nothing "wrong" with it, and the positive buzz that has stayed strong in the interim between festival premiere and theatrical release has been startlingly dead-on.
There's plenty about "You're Next" that's genre-specific to the point of feeling cliché -- set in a remote area of Missouri, the film centers on a large family gathering that goes gruesomely awry when masked marauders start picking off various guests during an anniversary dinner for the Davison parents (Rob Moran and Barbara Crampton), first with viciously quick bows and arrows, then with steadily more disturbing (and inventive) modes of murder -- and yet Wingard and Barrett are unquestionably interested in filling their film with quirky touches that set it apart. The family dynamic at the heart of "You're Next" is a welcome addition to the home invasion brand of horror film, one that builds in extra tension and emotion thanks to the various relationships that make it up, along with adding some seriously funny distractions (as older brother Drake, indie filmmaker Joe Swanberg is surprisingly and consistently amusing).
Unfortunately, Wingard and Barrett don't take the family plot point far enough, and just as the Davison family (a large clan, including indie stars AJ Bowen and Amy Seimetz) begins to coalesce, all hell breaks loose and much of the crisp humor is slain, along with plenty of just-introduced characters. That quick cut from family dramedy to traditional horror film is unsatisfying on its own, but a third act bid to re-inject the familial dynamic only serves to make its abandonment of "the Davison family" as an essential element of its own sting even more (consequently, an attempt at a twist that centers on family drama comes across as trite and expected).
The true star of "You're Next" is unquestionably Sharni Vinson, a plucky and engaging Aussie who absolutely owns the film as butt-kicking, jaw-dropping "final girl" Erin, girlfriend to Bowen's Crispian Davison. Styled like a classic horror heroine, outsider Erin isn't subject to some of the most arbitrary rules that have long dominated other scream-filled films -- she's a tough, bold, brave, and very funny -- and she gets to do it without trading on cheap sexuality. Wingard and Barrett aren't into a leading lady who flashes her bare breasts, they're into one that bears arms, and Vinson fits the bill perfectly.
Much like "You're Next" itself, Vinson is a dream come true for horror movie fans -- they're both gory, inventive, terrifying and absolutely not for the faint of heart. Cover your eyes? You'll have to cover your ears, too, as the relentless nature of "You're Next" infects every sense, filling theaters and audience members alike with pure fear and participation.
Kate Erbland is a contributing writer for MSN Movies, a critic for Boxoffice Magazine, and an Associate Editor for Film School Rejects. She has been writing about movies since 2008, but has been thinking about movies for far longer. She lives in New York City.