The precocious and prolific Adam Wingard has not just one, but two films in the programme of this year’s Film4 FrightFest (22-26 August 2013). The rising indie horror director has been championed by the festival, which screened his wistful, affecting A Horrible Way to Die in 2011, followed by the anthology film V/H/S (for which he shot the wraparound segment) in 2012. This year’s edition of FrightFest sees the UK premiere of V/H/S 2, as well as the London preview of You’re Next.
With You’re Next, Wingard delivers a hugely enjoyable, thrilling, smart take on the home invasion sub-genre. After a terrifically creepy, brutal opening sequence, teacher Crispian takes his new girlfriend Erin to his parents’ isolated country mansion for the latter’s wedding anniversary. They are joined by his siblings: his obnoxious, successful brother Drake (mumblecore actor/director Joe Swanberg) with his wife Kelly; his younger brother Felix, accompanied by sulky, scornful girlfriend Zee; and his over-enthusiastic sister Aimee, who has brought along her new filmmaker boyfriend Tariq (played by House of the Devil director Ti West). Tensions rise over dinner as the smug Drake purposefully provokes Crispian. But as the festivities descend into a generalised shouting match, barbed comments are suddenly replaced by crossbow arrows, as the family comes under attack from sinister assailants wearing animal masks. As the besieged relatives devise strategies to survive the terrifying aggression, Erin turns out to be surprisingly well equipped to deal with the situation.
The first part of the film is exhilaratingly tense, thanks to a tightly wound script and taut direction, enhanced by the surreal sense of dread created by the animal masks. With their inhuman appearance and no apparent motivation to their actions, the aggressors seem to be playing random, cruel games with their victims (in a way that is reminiscent of David Moreau and Xavier Palud’s Them). Once the reason for the attack is revealed, the film switches to a different kind of dynamic, losing that unnerving strangeness, although it remains ruthlessly effective.
While You’re Next doesn’t have quite as much heart as A Horrible Way to Die, it provides all the required blood, gore, thrills and jumps, which have been so glaringly absent from many recent horror films. Wingard demonstrates a real talent for directing action scenes, cleverly plotting and expertly choreographing them. The dialogue is sharp and entertaining, the characters believable and well defined, with Erin (an exciting performance from Sharni Vinson) adding a brilliant twist to the final girl type. Wingard and his writer Simon Barrett use the premise intelligently, integrating the personal relationships and family conflicts to feed the terror, and have fun playing with audience expectations. The most nerve-racking horror film to come out in a long time, You’re Next is a blast, from the viciously intriguing beginning to the humorously nihilistic ending.
Watch the trailer: