It'd take a lot of skill, talent, and simple energy to create something new in the realm of "home invasion" horror cinema, doubly so when you consider how many decent examples we've been offered lately: the French imports Them and Inside, the sleeper hit The Strangers, heck, I'd even throw The Last House on the Left remake into the pile. (Earlier examples of the sub-genre include Straw Dogs, Desperate Hours, Panic Room, and Funny Games.) So obviously we all have an innate fear of having our safe, secure homes invaded by masked aggressors who have mysterious but plainly malevolent intentions. It's a fear that goes back as far as the cavemen, only back then they were called "cave invasion" movies.
But back to today: just when we thought we'd seen the last new sprinkle of originality employed for such a plainly basic movie premise, bang, up pops a big-time crowd-pleaser that horror fans will love, and it's just good enough to perhaps earn some of that valuable "crossover appeal." In other words, Adam Wingard's You're Next is so much fun that even your mom might be able to deal with all the gooey, gory carnage. Or maybe not; it is pretty splatter-tastic.
The premise is enjoyably simple: a well-off married couple (Rob Moran and Barbara Crampton) are having a long overdue reunion with their four children. a sweet guy (A.J. Bowen), a wise-ass (Joe Swanberg), a princess (Amy Siemetz), and a late bloomer (Nicholas Tucci). The family is slightly estranged but mostly civil, the setting is a posh, isolated home deep in the woods, the characters are consistently clever and colorful ... and then the craziness hits: dinner is interrupted by an arrow through the window, and then we're off on a refreshingly breathless horror/thriller that feels like the wise-assed love-child of The Big Chill, Murder By Death, and Friday the 13th.
The cast is a fantastic collection of indie-friendly performers you should know by now -- and virtually all of 'em are given a few moments in which to shine. The "grown-ups" (Moran and Crampton) add a nice dash of reality to a movie that quickly turns insane, which is precisely when Swanberg, Seimetz, Bowen, and Tucci start to shine. (Filmmaker Ti West is also on board just long enough to deliver a few chuckles.) The breakout star of You're Next is undoubtedly the adorable Australian lass known as Sharni Vinson. Equal parts strong, sweet, and smart, Vinson makes for an effortlessly likable leading lady. There always seems to be a certain amount of improvisation afoot with this sort of acting troupe, but screenwriter Simon Barrett (Dead Birds) deserves high praise for A) giving all the actors some amusing archetypes to play with, and B) finding a formula that somehow makes the "mysterious but very violent siege" concept feel just a little bit fresh and exciting.
And the excitement is what may bring in audiences aside from the loyal horror patrons: You're Next is directed with a lot of unobtrusive style, quiet confidence, and highly satisfying energy. Last year Adam Wingard (Pop Skull) showed a smart and mature side with A Horrible Way to Die, and this year he delivers the horror fan's answer to the widely-adored Clue comedy from 1985. Horror fans will adore the numerous little nods to the genre, none of which I'll spoil here -- but will probably warrant repeat viewings. What You're Next lacks in basic originality (it's a smart-ass Agatha Christie story with gore), it more than makes up for in wit, intelligence, enthusiasm, and a firm willingness to give horror fans what they want without alienating everybody else. Early word is that Liongate is planning to hold their new acquisition until the Halloween season of 2012, and while it's certainly disappointing to have to wait that long, you can at least take solace in the fact that you'll have a very cool treat to bite into next October.
A career high for virtually all involved (except Barbara Crampton; this flick is damn good fun, but it's no Re-Animator!), You're Next is indisputable proof that you can make something old new again, provided you actually know what you're doing. (And you do it with lots of crazy, bloody energy.)