What happens when a gang of Michael Myers clones interrupt a mumblecore indie flick? That seems to be the driving force behind the film "You're Next," Adam Wingard's enormously entertaining throw back to the slasher and home invasion genres.
In many films of this type, the characters are interchangeable 20-somethings, maybe with a single definable quirk that comes back to haunt them. Their relationships are generally no more filled out than 'group of friends' or 'romantic interest.' This film sets up a simple concept that allows for a mixed age group of people with easily defined and exploited interpersonal relationships.
An estranged wealthy family, consisting of three sons, a daughter and their spouses reunite for their parents' 35th anniversary. The family dynamics are instantly established through concise and effective dialog, some of which is recontextualized and plays multiple roles on the second viewing, or while driving home after the flick.
This creates a mixed group of protagonists, all with unique relationships to each of the other characters trapped in the house during the assault.
Soon though, it becomes clear that this - like in many slasher films - is a one-woman show. Normally, the 'final girl' survivor is notable mostly for being the least defined character in the film. As horror flicks ripped off Jamie Lee Curtis' Laurie Strode from "Halloween," they embraced the surface level aspects of the character such as intelligence and chastity, and abandoned any level of nuance.
Sharni Vinson's Erin, is cut from a different cloth entirely. Amazingly capable, intelligent and brutal when the occasion calls for it, Erin is a feminist reconstruction of the final girl trope.
The second things become dangerous, she takes control of the situation and orders the family around. In a wonderful touch, once the action starts, she is rarely seen without a sharp object, and seems to be compulsively taking potential weapons out of every room.
Unlike the classic horror protagonist, Erin never makes a wrong move. She never investigates a mysterious noise unprepared, never rests in an unsecured room and never succumbs to incapacitating fear. It's nice to have a heroine who seems to have watched all the same films the audience has and is prepared to get things done.
The film delicately balances its tone, never quite fully committing to going over the top, but carefully toeing the line of the top so that the blissfully intentionally silly moments hit that much harder.
There are some clever visual and auditory gags that may become iconic in horror circles, including a looped CD that repeats throughout the entire film and a great scene in a basement with repeating camera flashes that deserves to be seen in a darkened theater.
"You're Next" may not have the gripping atmosphere of the summer's other fantastic horror offering, "The Conjuring," but it has a bold energy that's hard to replicate. Where the films overlap is in their committal to strong, interesting characters who aren't simply filling roles to be knocked off.
It's a lesson more horror flicks could learn from.