The very best thing a horror movie can do is get you so invested in the characters that it’s the very idea that they are in danger that troubles you. Not the frequency of gore or the creepiness of the killers at large. And for a while, there, that’s what You’re Next seems to be up to: really immersing you in the family Davison. An uneven clan of resentful, emotionally distant WASPs, there is just as much tension before the killings begin during their countryside weekend getaway as there is midway through the bloodbath. The defining difference: the earlier stuff is a bit more fun.
Middle-aged married couple Paul (Rob Moran) and Aubrey (Barbara Crampton) retreat to their gigantic vacation home in the middle of nowhere, gathering each of their grown children (and their respective significant others) together for a moreover unpleasant dinner. The occasion is ambiguous, although it is suggested that the family is trying to mend some long-tattered fences with this reunion. As such, the meal proceeds with spiteful comments, passive-aggressive comebacks, and a general feeling of discomfort for the only sane one in the room: Erin (Sharni Vinson), second son Crispian’s (AJ Bowen) Australian girlfriend and former student. And then, murders.
Lots and lots of murders. For no discernible reason, the family finds itself the victim of a team of eerily masked home invaders packing machetes and crossbows, bent on slaying each and every one of the dumbfounded Davisons. Naturally, as the characters fall, the stakes rise. But we lose more than bodies with each killing — we lose the fun. The fun in hearing adult siblings argue about which one of them is the fastest and as such most capable of running to get help. The fun in brothers bickering pettily about life choices while one has an arrow lodged in his upper back (that’s Joe Swanberg, far and away the funniest player in the movie). Once the stars begin to get picked off with greater speed, there are fewer opportunities for these family squabbles.
The cat and mouse game to follow, however, is one a few notches above that of a normal horror flick, thanks entirely to the charms, quirks, and skills of guest Erin. Still, what we have from the second act on is a horror movie — a fun one, but nothing more. As You’re Next seems to paint itself with the inventive countenance of something like Cabin in the Woods, you might be entering the game with expectations set high. Lower them just a bit, not too much. What you’ll have in store is not a colorless slasher picture — it’s a fun, funny, occasionally startling, and temporarily interesting. But rest assured, it’s nothing too far outside the box, either.