The home invasion subgenre of horror has grown steadily over the last few years with the likes of Funny Games and this year’s The Purge. An off-shot of the slasher genre, the main reason these can have such resonance is the basic fact that it is terror striking at the place we would feel at out most safe and secure; our own homes. You’re Next is another in this tradition but, whereas most of these films can be extremely grim affairs, director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett aren’t afraid to give the film a sense of fun, whilst still understanding what makes the genre unique.
The Davison family are gathering at the recently renovated country house for parents Paul (Rob Moran) and Aubrey’s (Barbara Crampton) anniversary. There’s more than a bit of tension as it’s been a very long time since many of their children last saw each other and they’ve moved in very different directions in their lives, leaving Erin (Sharni Vinson), girlfriend of son Crispian (AJ Bowen) feeling more than a bit alienated. But what could be better to break the ice at an awkward dinner table then an array of crossbow bolts through the window? The house is suddenly under attack from highly armed psychotics in animal masks and the family has to work together if they’re going to get out of there alive. However, more than one of them have some personal secrets that may make the situation far more complicated.
The big difference between this film and many others of the same ilk is the tone. A lot of home invasion movies are of an extremely dark, unrelenting and grim tone, which can get wearisome. Here there’s a lot more humour and levity at work; it’d be wrong to call this a comedy, but there’re more than a few laughs to be had from the interactions between the different family members. This is a strength that all the best mixes of horror and humour get; the scares should be played dead straight, and they are done so here, with all the humour coming from the characters. It gives the needed levity between the horror moments and builds the connection needed to empathise with the characters’ plight.
Another important difference is that the typical home invasion movie often seems very hopeless. In some of these films (recent titles like Inside and The Strangers come to mind) it’s very clear that the characters are completely screwed from the word go, which can be scary at first but it can mean that tension is lost when you realise that, unless the film cheats like hell, you know pretty much how it’s going to end. You’re Next doesn’t have that problem in that it’s clear that as bad as the situation is, it can be fought against, there are potentially ways out. This leads to more tension, as it means the end result is less certain. To quote the tagline of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, “Who will survive, and what will be left of them?”.
The casting is the film’s biggest strength; all the actors give it their best and all get at least some time to shine, even those who don’t make it past the first assault. Of particular note would be lead and former Home and Away star Sharni Vinson giving a very physical performance as Erin, one of the strongest horror heroines in quite a while. Also look out for a few familiar horror faces including Re-Animator and From Beyond veteran Barbara Crampton as mother Aubrey, and The Innkeepers and House of the Devil director Ti West as Tariq. The cast as a whole is excellent, not just in selling the premise, but also for the later stages of the film when the turns come thick and fast as deadly secrets are uncovered.
At a time when many horror films of this ilk are trying to “out-gruesome” each other, You’re Next is a breath of fresh air (although it is worth mentioning there is still a lot of gore present). It offers endearing characters (it’s sad that something as simple as that is so rare in horror these days), strong scares balanced by genuinely funny humour and a storyline that seems to be paying some homage to one of the granddaddies of the genre, Mario Bava‘s A Bay of Blood. For a new take on a relatively new subgenre that already feels like it’s been done to death, this is well worth a look.