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'You’re Next' – Big Scares, Small Budget

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From the chillingly economical cold open, You’re Next signals to the audience that this is a horror movie developed with craft and care.

A prosperous family returns to a vacation home to celebrate a milestone. Parents Aubrey (Barbara Crampton) and Paul (Rob Moran) arrive first, and then their grown children appear throughout the rest of the day. Son Crispian (A.J. Bowen) drives in with his Australian girlfriend, Erin (Sharni Vinson). Next to join them is son Drake (Joe Swanberg) with his wife Kelly (Sarah Myers). Finally, children Felix (Nicholas Tucci) and Aimee (Amy Seimetz) bring their significant others Tyriq (Ti West) and Zee (Wendy Glenn).

After a few glasses of wine, the polite conversation takes a pointed turn, with the siblings yelling at each other like teenagers. Before they get to dessert, they find that they have to change their focus from personal attacks to external: men are outside, watching them from behind eerie animal masks. Unfortunately, this privileged family is woefully unprepared.Photo: screencrush.com

Most of the family characterization remains superficial  (the jerky brother, the daddy’s girl, the frigid wife). However as the story continues, the hero’s back story is more fully realized.

As the family tries to deal with the onslaught, their true natures are revealed – the coward, the helper, the fighter. The challenge with stock characters is that it diminishes the tension; the audience doesn't know who these people are, so the audience isn't as invested in their fate. 

The acting is a bit uneven among the cast, with veteran Crampton's performance providing a sympathetic foundation. As the grad student girlfriend, Vinson delivers a standout performance. The brothers Bowen and Swanberg bicker realistically, and provide some comic relief.

Adam Wingard and cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo conjure up a visually retro horror aesthetic, while writer Simon Barrett’s dialogue and plotting provides moments of familial humor, dread, and suspense. Palermo (an acquaintance of mine, and the director of short films, and of gorgeous music videos) shoots the house and its inhabitants in a warm soft light. He breaks up the intensity of the human drama with close ups on structural details, or objects in the home. A stereo has never looked so ominous.

The first third of the movie is completely unsettling. Then the tone shifts, as the audience learns before the family does, what motivates the killers. As the spree continues, the movie transitions from true horror to action adventure as the hero continues to try and defend the family. For such a modest budget, the stunt work includes a jaw dropper.

The obvious comparisons to Scream reflect that the fresh execution of this film - the filmmakers adopted some key elements of the genre, but ground it in present day dynamics. The team relied on practical special effects, and things don’t get super gory until the third act. Grab a buddy, lock the front door, and go see You’re Next!

 


Contact Diane Cooney at dcooney@philly2philly.com

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Photo: screencrush.com