Once brief preliminaries are over, this tale of a wealthy family under siege at the requisite isolated country home offers genre fans what they came for in terms of high-body-count mayhem.
There may be no great originality on display in “You’re Next,” the latest indie horror opus from Adam Wingard (“A Horrible Way to Die,” “Pop Skull”), but there’s certainly plenty of energy. Once brief preliminaries are over, this tale of a wealthy family under siege at the requisite isolated country home offers genre fans what they came for in terms of high-body-count mayhem. No doubt smelling blood — of which there is plenty — as well as B.O. potential, distribs were tightly circling this chiller at Toronto, with prospects of wider play than the helmer has previously scored very likely.
The prelude sees unfortunate neighbors (Wingard’s indie horror compatriot Larry Fessenden and Kate Lyn Sheil) suffer an unpleasant post-coital demise at the hands of intruders who leave the titular phrase scrawled in blood. Pulling up in blissful ignorance shortly thereafter are Paul (Rob Moran) and Aubrey Davison (Barbara Crampton), who are about to celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary in the company of their four children, planning to attend with their partners.
First to arrive is Crispian (AJ Bowen), an unsuccessful teacher/writer accompanied by game, supportive Aussie g.f. Erin (Sharni Vinson). He’s treated somewhat as the family failure, especially by smug, manipulative brother Drake (Joe Swanberg), whose own squeeze, Kelly (Margaret Laney), is his perfect match in bitchy shallowness. Youngest bro Felix (Nicholas Tucci) has a vaguely delinquent air, and his honey, Zee (Wendy Glenn), can barely be troubled to conceal her contempt toward all. Sole Davison daughter Aimee (Amy Seimetz) is a chirpy little princess who’s acquired a sulky artistic boyfriend (Ti West, helmer of 2009 cult fave “The House of the Devil”).
The full family hasn’t gathered for some time, and we soon see why. They’ve barely sat down to dinner before Crispian and Drake are at each other’s throats, with everyone else yelling at them to stop. During this fracas, a guest notices something strange outside the window. Seconds later everyone is screaming for entirely different reasons, as one person has been killed, another seriously wounded, and the remainder are scrambling for cover from a volley of crossbow arrows — not the only weapons that will be wielded by an unknown number of assailants wearing plastic animal masks.
It’s fast apparent the coolest head here belongs to Erin, whose frequently lethal resourcefulness under extreme circumstances is eventually explained as owing to her being raised on a survivalist compound. As Davisons drop like flies, her Final Girl resilience helps somewhat even the odds.
About halfway through the screenplay by Simon Barrett (who also penned 2004’s very good, underseen Civil War-era horror “Dead Birds”) we discover this onslaught is an inside job — though don’t expect much surprise or weight to one character’s full-disclosure speech at the end. “You’re Next” is fairly light on psychological and narrative complexity, but it’s still a good cut above the slasher norm, with a firm grasp on visceral action and the wisdom to place tongue slightly in cheek when things go further over the top.
Able cast is dotted with genre personalities, including all three leads from “A Horrible Way to Die.” Assembly is sharp, with the strong original score undermined only by a brief late foray into self-consciously cheesy 1980s synth sounds.
Film Review: 'You're Next'
A Snoot Entertainment production in association with HanWay Films. (International sales: HanWay, London.) Produced by Keith Calder, Jessica Wu, Simon Barrett, Kim Sherman. Directed by Adam Wingard. Screenplay, Simon Barrett.
Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Andrew Palermo; editor, Wingard; music, Jasper Justin Lee, Kyle McKinnon, Mads Heidtberg; costume designer, Emma Potter; art director, Nathan Truesdell; set decorator, Lanie Faith Marie Overton; production designer, Thomas S. Hammock; sound, Lotus Post; casting, Michelle Morris. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Midnight Madness), Sept. 13, 2011. Running time: 94 MIN.
With: Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn, AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Margaret Laney, Amy Seimetz, Ti West, Rob Moran, Barbara Crampton, Larry Fessenden, Kate Lyn Sheil, L.C. Holt, Lane Hughes, Simon Barrett, Calvin Lee Reeder.