Sick of weak-tea PG-13 horror? You're Next delivers the goods 

Mumblecore Massacre

Mumblecore Massacre

A Brundlefly of Ordinary People and The Osterman Weekend, You're Next juggles several different tones effortlessly, taking the audience on a journey through the different kinds of catharsis that can be wrung from ragged, hacking trauma to the family tree. There's no way of knowing how this movie got an R rating, but that's OK — this isn't a frustrating MPAA interaction, like awarding PG-13s to films that kill millions of people but don't show any blood. Rather, it's fun that adults looking for violent entertainment will find it, with a lot of ritual sparagmos thrown in as a bonus.

You're Next plays like a gleeful mockery of the Indie Family Reckoning movie, starting with its setup: a dysfunctional family reunion interrupted by crossbow-wielding assassins. It uses its dynamite cast of Mumblecore All-Stars to make hay of the genre's tropes — e.g., secrets settled in tearful monologues, with unpleasant (if true to life) stasis as the end result. Here, however, the monologues are bloody and there's no stasis whatsoever. You're Next settles things like a $500-an-hour litigator: with extreme prejudice, and an eye on the bottom line.

The audience's stand-in is Erin (Sharni Vinson), an outsider capable of observing the various members of the Davison clan and their associated lovers with a fresh eye. Her boyfriend, Crispian (played by remarkable actor and bear icon A.J. Bowen) has basically brought her so he can have someone who's on his side. That makes sense once we meet his brother Drake (Joe Swanberg, the acclaimed actor-filmmaker of features such as Hannah Takes the Stairs and the current Drinking Buddies). Swanberg really brings it here as a loathsome human being; just watching the way he approaches his siblings' insecurities — like a geologist plotting faultlines — gives you three decades' worth of backstory without three decades' worth of exposition.

But Erin proves to be knowledgeable and resourceful once the creeps start preying on the Davisons in animal masks. Vinson made an impression in the Australian 3D sharks-in-a-flooded-supermarket epic Bait, but after her convincing work here she's going to be much in demand for action and genre films. She plays Erin not as someone with secret kung fu treachery or superpowers, just a person who pays attention when it counts. As the body count mounts and the plot unwinds, You're Next changes the parameters of its horror, refocusing from abstract terrors to very specific fears while ratcheting up tension every step of the way.

Up to now, director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett remain best known for their contributions to the two V/H/S horror anthologies. But they've been at this game for a while. Their first film, 2010's A Horrible Way to Die (with much of the same cast as this film) starts like an American take on Philippe Grandrieux's masterful 1998 serial killer art-fugue Sombre, then takes a turn through Jack Ketchum territory before ending in a completely unexpected manner. So playing genre leapfrog is nothing new for the two. Barrett (that's him in the tiger mask) gives You're Next a beautifully structured screenplay — inventive in the way it initially seems sloppy on the front end, when it's actually baiting the hook for a series of deftly played developments. One character death, for example, is placed in a new light by a tidbit we're granted later — a gambit that produces different emotional responses at different times, both legitimate.

Though it was made two years ago, You're Next serves as a predictive corrective to The Purge (or a funnier, more intricate riff on The Strangers); it has a subtle libertarian streak that manifests as abject disgust toward weaponized industries. But this isn't a Participant production, this is a full-throttle horror film — and it delivers everything you could want for your $12. One moment in particular suggests what would have happened if Tex Avery had made a splatter film, and it reflects the inventiveness that Wingard and Barrett bring to this film. Rarely do inanimate objects get thunderous ovations; during the advance screening, it happened twice.

More impressive is the way the film gets at very serious questions about relationships and the bonds of family in a manner that is shockingly direct and disturbingly funny, unafraid to get at how resentment and canned pleasantry starts to look the same after decades. Time and again you worry that the whole endeavor will collapse in on itself, but Wingard and Barrett keep things kinetic and visceral, and damned if they don't manage to pull off one of the finer genre hybrids of recent years. See it with the whole family, if you've got the gumption — or just the freethinking potential lover you want to place on a moral continuum.




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