Home-invasion movies reached their psychological zenith in Sam Peckinpah's violent drama "Straw Dogs" (1971), about women's perceptions of masculinity. While the straight-ahead horror film "You're Next" doesn't pretend to such aspirations, it clicks as an exercise in suspense and well-paced, slowly unfolding answers. It then makes its own mark as a stylistic nod to those great old 42nd Street exploitation movies of yore, which trod subversively into extremes of cultural acceptability in a way that, at their best, echoed the boundary-pushing comedy of Lenny Bruce in smoky burlesque houses.
Partly, that's signaled by the casting of grindhouse goddess Barbara Crampton, the Levittown native who played the female lead of "Re-Animator" (1985). Without giving too much away, a silent and immobile Crampton, as the wife and mother at a 35th-anniversary reunion with her and her husband's four adult children and their significant others, provides the basis for the single sickest line in the movie -- "sick" in both the traditional and the slang sense.
By that time, the family has come under attack at an isolated weekend home by three men in commando gear and creepy animal masks -- an homage to similar attackers in the school-invasion movie "Fortress" (1985), the Australian-horror cult-classic starring Rachel Ward. As if to drive that connection home, the heroine here is also Australian: Erin (Sharni Vinson), girlfriend of the couple's put-upon son, Crispian (A.J. Bowen). When arrows start piercing heads and razor wire starts lopping them off, it's she who unexpectedly leads the family's defenses.
There's no explanation for why the killers would risk tipping off the family by writing words in blood on a neighbor's window before anything else happens, but logic was never exploitation movies' strong suit. Delivering shock and an unpolished feeling of seeing something you're not supposed to -- that's what they, and the retro "You're Next," do just fine.
PLOT Home invasion at an isolated mansion
RATING R (strong bloody violence, language, some sexuality and nudity)
CAST Sharni Vinson, A.J. Bowen, Rob Moran, Barbara Crampton
BOTTOM LINE Good old-fashioned grindhouse movie, in the best sense
'YOU'RE NEXT' MAKERS GO FOR SCARES
'You're Next" had a rollicking world premiere in 2011 as part of the Midnight Madness section of the Toronto International Film Festival that had the audience on its feet cheering during the screening.
That first showing has become part of the film's lore, a signal of its effect on audiences.
"We came to realize that the best way to deconstruct horror nowadays is actually just to make a really great horror movie," director Adam Wingard said. "You don't have to sell the reference thing or be that clever. Recognizing all the horror tropes and playing off audience expectations is kind of the new deconstruction.
"We went into the recesses of our minds and said, 'What got us into filmmaking?' " noted Wingard. "And we realized it's fun, action-y horror stuff geared toward having a good time."
"A lot of studio films seem to assume that horror audiences aren't very bright," said screenwriter Simon Barrett.
"We are the horror audience, we see everything we can and we are consistently insulted by how bad they are. So we knew we wanted to do something that still entertained on a broader level but didn't fall into any of these familiar pitfalls of cliches that everyone is sick of and anticipates anyway."
-- Los Angeles Times