DIRECTOR Adam Wingard WRITER Simon Barrett STARS Sharni Vinson; Joe Swanberg; AJ Bowen DVD & BLU-RAY 13 January
It’s entirely possible the first scene of You’re Next was designed to fool the audience, as director Adam Wingard throws out a selection of horror clichés that evoke every slasher film ever made before painting the title of his movie in blood on a glass door; five minutes in, two corpses, and some very familiar territory. And then, he throws the book out of the window and proceeds to get a huge amount of mileage out of regular collaborator Simon Barrett’s tight, clever script, taking this low-budget thriller into some grim and darkly humorous places. Although you’ll swear this is a set-up you’ve seen before you’ve rarely, if ever, seen it done this well.
Crispian Davidson takes new girlfriend Erin to meet his family at their large manor house in the depths of the country, where his parents are celebrating their wedding anniversary. As his siblings arrive it quickly becomes obvious that this is a fairly dysfunctional lot, and during dinner Crispian and his brother start taking verbal shots at each other, which quickly degenerates into a family argument that is only interrupted by a crossbow bolt slicing through the window and slamming one of the group in the forehead. From then on it’s a fight for survival by way of Friday the 13th meets Agatha Christie, as three mysterious animal-masked figures hunt the Davidsons through the house and grounds, before discovering some of their intended victims may be harder to kill than others. Ah yes; there’s more going on here than initially meets the eye, and it’s a testament to Wingard’s skill that around the time the intensity begins to let up and natural progression dictates that we learn more about the threat the family face, the film effortlessly shifts gear and seamlessly becomes another proposition, without missing a beat.
Following a first half of some genuinely frightening moments where the invaders are at their most mysterious, the second act ups the action and the bloodshed into a series of superb set pieces that lead to a suitably outrageous conclusion. It’s easy to root for the survivors, especially when an unlikely hero emerges, and this is a film built around good performances and ideas, a rarity in this genre. A slow-motion shot with a brilliant punchline will astound even the most jaded horror fan, as will the skilful writing. “Let’s hide in the basement,” someone suggests. “Let’s not,” comes the reply, “they can just pour gas down the stairs and burn us alive.” It’s this that sets You’re Next apart from the run-of-the-mill: intelligent actions from someone desperate to live, and as such you’ll care about these people.
But the real star here is Adam Wingard, part of the new guard of young horror hipsters, who fully understands that tension and mood are as important as flashy visuals and gore; his camerawork reminds one of De Palma and there’s a level of irony and cruel glee on display here that evokes Michael Haneke. Astonishingly, You’re Next has been sitting on the distribution shelf for two years. Don’t let that put you off. Wingard is well on the way to becoming the next big thing, and this may well turn out to be your new favourite film.