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You're Next updates old-school home invasion horror

Old-school home invasion horror from the V/H/S filmmaker

You're Next isn't just a terrific little horror film laced with black comedy, it can actually make you feel better about the future of movies.

Adam Wingard's witty, grisly thriller arrives in theaters at the nick of time as the summer movie season limps to a close. For months we've seen promising spectacles by proven entertainers reveal themselves to be one flashy disappointment after another. Alas, Hollywood's addiction to blockbusters seems dedicated to producing more of the same, only spending more money on projects that'll feel even more familiar.

Along comes You're Next, with no big name stars, practically no budget and yet a highly satisfying, spine-tingling story. I saw it with an audience that laughed, clapped, and screamed in all the right places, as if they'd found the sense of fun they'd been wanting for months.

You're Next's unnerving prologue involves a monstrous home invasion in the middle of nowhere, but most of the film takes place the following weekend at the house next door. Former defense contractor Paul Davison (Rob Moran) and his high-strung wife (Barbara Crampton) have purchased a remote mansion as a retirement project, where they plan a reunion weekend with their four grown children for their 35th wedding anniversary. We get a little backstory from the first arrivals, as milquetoast professor Crispian (The Signal's AJ Bowen) informs his teaching assistant turned girlfriend Erin (Australian dancer Sharni Wilson, who's excellent) about the strained family dynamics.

At the dinner table, the family has barely finished saying grace when the grown kids start bickering and falling into their old juvenile roles. You're Next so gleefully sets up the Davisons pettiness and self-absorption that you're not exactly broken up when masked strangers attack the house. The family initially flails about, making misguided attempts to escape and protect themselves. They snipe at each other even when one has a crossbow bolt in his back.

You're Next's cast and filmmaker stand squarely in the camp of America's current alt-horror movement, which cultivates a maximum amount of mood at minimal budgets. Director Adam Wingard helmed the framing device of last year's found-footage anthology V/H/S, and two of You're Next's actors also contributed chapters. Alt-horror producer/impresario Larry Fessenden has a small but memorable role here, and in a nod to horror history, the matriarch is played by Barbara Crampton, scream queen of such cult classics as Re-Animator.

You're Next takes its characters more seriously than the average teen slasher film, but also gives the audience permission to find black humor in the situation, particularly in lines like "Would you just die already? This is hard enough for me!" As You're Next goes along, the menacing atmosphere turns more prankish, so the film feels less thematically rich than one might hope. It nevertheless provides a wickedly fun night at the movies and fills you with that wonderful horror movie paranoia: Oh my God, don't ever turn your back on anything anywhere for any reason ever!

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