Silver Screen: You’re Next **1/2
Mario Bava’s 1971 Bay of Blood is generally considered the progenitor of the slasher films that dominated horror cinema in the 1980s. But though its influence is written in arterial spray all over series like Friday the Thirteenth and Halloween, Bay features no undead campers or possessed lunatics. The story is a fairly simple, almost Hitchcockian riff on a ruthless spouse angling for a big payday, but it was articulated with a level of brutality that significantly upped the ante.
That’s worth keeping in mind while watching You’re Next, an intermittently fun but empty bit of wry splatter porn that’s actually something like an homage of an homage of an homage. If the movie was half as clever as it thinks it is, we’d all be in for a treat.
Next-gen horrormeisters Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett (both of V/H/S) team up for this tale of an ill-fated family reunion. A wealthy defense contractor (Rob Moran) welcomes all of his children to his vacation home for their first time together in years, but the cloistered house of adult-age children and their significant others is thrown into an uproar when, apropos of nothing, one of them is shot in the head with an arrow and attackers in animal masks attempt to invade the house.
There’s one hitch in the killers’ seemingly complex plan: Erin (Sharni Vinson), the middle son’s girlfriend, was raised by a survivalist. While the rest of the family panics and wanders into traps, she goes on the offensive, and in doing so inadvertently uncovers the dark secret behind the massacre.
You’re Next gets points for ruthlessness and basic craftsmanship. There are some great gore shots, cheap-but-effective startles, and even a few moments of moderate suspense. An inconsistent tone hampers the first half-- the movie is still aiming for dark laughs while a mother (Barbara Crampton) is wailing over the corpse her nearly decapitated daughter. It’s a moment that upsets the entire balance of the film, reminding the audience of the grim consequences of violence the movie is about to treat so lightly. By the big finale, though, it’s clear this was all tongue-in-cheek, particularly when the villain launches into a long, erratic monologue about his motives that recalls Matthew Lillard’s spastic, spittle-flecked rant at the conclusion of Scream.
You’re Next is clearly inspired by Scream, which is problematic in that Scream itself was a genre commentary. What exactly do you get by making a self-aware riff on a meta-movie? Anything like substance and novelty must be sacrificed. You’re Next is drowning not in blood but in-jokes. Director Wingard, working from Barrett’s script, casts several prominent young film directors in roles, including Ti West, SIU alum Joe Swanberg, and Amy Seimetz. Crampton is a soap-opera actress best known for her work in horror fare like Reanimator and Chopping Mall. But the big question is, does anyone care? What does putting Ti West in your movie add, except for a brief tingle of recognition from the tiny handful of people who will get the gag?
A bunch of directors get together to make a movie inspired largely by another movie that was inspired by several other movies, most of them not very good. That’s both a lot of inspiration, and not very much of it.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.