Adam Wingard is a big, tall kid who made a movie using forest settings near Columbia, Mo. The name of the movie is “You’re Next,” and it is a pretty good use of the classic mad slasher movie form that we know from long experience entertains audiences.
The film ended a pretty good cinematic weekend hereabouts. The new releases were “City of Bones,” one of these Gothic, parallel-world movies, series of which are made for adolescent moviegoers; “Blue Jasmine,” a Woody Allen movie absolutely dominated by Cate Blanchett’s remarkable turn as the title character; “The World’s End,” Simon Pegg’s genuinely-amusing answer to all the apocalyptic movies we’ve been seeing; and then “You’re Next.”
This thriller begins with a related but not essential story, a sort of foreshadowing of the main plot. A college-aged girl and a middle-aged man get up from some sexual activity. They are in a fairly-remote, fairly-nice house in the woods. They are each attacked and killed by someone wearing an animal mask and wielding a machette. On the house’s french doors is scrawled, in blood, “You’re Next.”
Then we get the other titles, after which couples begin to arrive at the bigger, half-timbered house a few hundred yards on deeper into the woods. First we get Ma and Pa—rich, healthy, and staring retirement in the face. Then their kids arrive, each with a beau or girlfriend.
One son is a nitwit sycophant. One is a college teacher, accompanied by Erin, a former student of his who has a faint Aussie accent (Sharni Vinson). One, Felix, brings a girl with her hair died black, a girl who calls herself Zee (as in Zuiderzee, I immediately thought). And the daughter brings a documentary filmmaker named Tariq (as in Tariq Aziz, offered up my memory) who wears a heavy shawl.
The first attack on this group is made with a crossbow as they sit in the formal dining room after dark. Most of the audience, I suspect, wanted to scream at the characters to shut off the lights that let their attackers see them. No one on screen seemed to think of this.
That crossbow is only one of dozens of instruments used as weapons in “You’re Next.” The daughter slits her own throat on a wire strung across an exit to the house when she tries to run out. Characters will be killed or wounded with kitchen knives, carpenter’s tools, an ax, nails hammered through a thin board and laid on the floor under a window, and a blender.
The father-flatterer takes a crossbow bolt in the back but lives—in fact he is wounded a couple of times but manages to come back, which may suggest that fate takes care of the stupid as well as the innocent. His girl escapes the house and gets to the place where the college-age girl and the middle-age man have been killed. Most ticket-holders surely noticed that the “You’re Next” message was no longer on the french doors.
There are three attackers in animal masks, a sheep, a wolf, and one that gets knocked off early when it turns out that Erin knows how to fight back. Even before her professor lover sneaks off to drive out of the range of the cell phone signal-scrambler to call for help, Erin is telling the others how to protect themselves.
Don’t go in the basement as the bad guys will just direct gas down there. Arm yourselves with whatever you can find. Lock all the windows and doors. Stay together.
Then as the animals go picking off one member of the family party after another, Erin begins to concentrate on killing the mask wearers, one at a time.
And as her counter-offensive begins to have results, the conspirators fall to discussing their original plans. In the process they give us a reasonable explanation of the killing spree, so that for once we have a slasher movie without madness.
The scenes and the form of the movie are not, of course, new. But they are well-used here. And after the first reel, when the family party members all seem stiff and unnatural, things buzz along pretty well in “You’re Next.” It’s more classic than cliché.