United States. 95 minutes. Directed by Adam Wingard, 2012. Starring Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn, AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Barbara Crampton, Rob Moran.

The Davison family gathers together at their rural vacation home to celebrate their parents’ wedding anniversary. Things go horribly wrong when a trio of masked assailants descend upon the house, picking off family members and their guests one by one. But it turns out that one of the guests isn’t willing to go down quite so easy…

First things first: I can’t be the only one who’s disappointed that the song from the trailer (“Perfect Day,” by Lou Reed, from his 1972 album Transformer) isn’t the one actually used in the movie, right?

But about that trailer. You’d probably be forgiven, after viewing it, for expecting You’re Next to be, for all intents and purposes, a retread of The Strangers. Invasion of a family home in a remote location by masked psychos–that’s certainly what I thought.

And for the first couple acts of the film, screenwriter Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard seem firmly committed to the path of conforming to expectations as obnoxious (and not particularly bright) one-percenters drop dead in succession. Then there’s a twist–isn’t there always? It’s a pretty obvious twist, one I had no trouble calling. But I was really impressed with how the twist was used. Instead of supplying an industry-standard “gotcha” moment, it genuinely changed the flight-path of the plot, in addition to casting a lot of earlier events in an entirely different light.

It’s a neat trick that makes up for a number of flaws in the storytelling. Most of the characters are so thinly sketched that it’s hard to give a damn about them, with the occasional exception of one or two characters I outright despised (Davison brother Drake and his wife Kelly are the worst offenders here). Other twists are just as obvious as the main one but nowhere near as smart, and towards the end of the film, Barrett and Wingard put too much obvious work into avoiding the logical consequences of a character’s action. And there’s simply an overriding sense of “too-clever-for-its-own-good” to the whole production (note how, of the first four characters to get killed or injured, three of them are played by actors who are better known as filmmakers).

Luckily, Wingard’s direction is top-notch, with plenty of suspense to shore up the buckets of blood (although it takes one character too long to figure out what’s going on). The cast, largely made up of Wingard and Barrett’s buddies–AJ Bowen (Crispian), Joe Swanberg (Drake), Amy Siemetz (Aimee), L.C. Holt and Lane Hughes (assailants) are all veterans of previous Wingard films, and V/H/S teammate Ti West makes a cameo–do a great job of bringing the characters to life in a way that the script doesn’t bother with. Sharni Vinson, who plays nominal protagonist Erin, is an engaging actress who does wonders with the role (which occasionally suffers from the assumption that she’s worth the audience’s sympathy simply because she’s the “Final Girl”).

And did I mention that Barbara Crampton’s in here? No? Well, she is.

You’re Next is an enjoyable and memorably thrill ride that at least attempts to be more than a summer time-waster despite not always living up to its ambitions, and holds its own in a year that’s been surprisingly good for mainstream, theatrically-released horror. I’m not sure it’s a classic in the making, but it’s definitely a crowd-pleaser that will leave very few seriously disappointed.


YOU'RE NEXT poster

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