With its combination of brief-but-gratuitous nudity, deliberately deadpan dialogue and hyper-stylized blood and violence, Adam Wingard’s peculiar horror concoction is almost exactly the kind of film Michael Haneke was scolding us for enjoying in his intentionally sadistic Funny Games. A fact which, to the right sort of viewer, doesn’t make it any less fun to watch.
It’s not a film that takes itself terribly seriously - many of the characters, including a scarf-wearing filmmaker played by Ti West, are really just there to make us giggle when they meet their terrifying demise - but it still wants very much to create an atmosphere of dread, even as it is constantly tearing down its genre pretensions and poking fun at itself. It’s a delicate balance, to be sure, sort of a low-budget cross between Thomas Vinterberg’s brilliant family drama The Celebration and Bryan Bertino’s genuinely unnerving horror thriller The Strangers, with a better sense of humor.
All we know at first is there is a group of marauding, animal-mask-wearing psychopaths running loose in an isolated but well-to-do wooded area where the houses are scarce but very expensive. They strike first on an unsuspecting couple one evening, taking the time to terrify their victims before doing them in with a machete (they even scrawl the film’s title in blood on the wall for the male victim to witness before hacking him down, taking the time to make proper use of an apostrophe in the process).
The next day, we meet the Davisons: Patriarch Paul (Rob Moran) and wife Aubrey (Barbara Crampton), a slightly older couple about to celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary with their large brood of grown children. There’s the nebbish Crispian (AJ Bowen), a negligible writer fallen on financially hard times who arrives with his new, radiant Australian girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson); the smugly portentous Drake (Joe Swanberg), who loves needling his young and unsuccessful brother, and his cold-fish wife, Kelly (Margaret Laney); the indifferent Felix (Nicholas Tucci) and his equally disaffected goth girlfriend Zee (Wendy Glenn); and bouncy daughter Aimee (Amy Seimetz), who has brought along the aforementioned filmmaker boyfriend, Tariq (Ti West).
But just as the family has settled down for the big celebratory dinner - and as Drake is busily ruffling the feathers of Crispian - the murderous psychopaths strike at them from outside, firing deadly arrows from a crossbow into the dining room. Thus ensues a particularly bloody game of cat-and-mouse, as the surviving family members huddle together and try to survive their ordeal. Fortunately for them, Erin unexpectedly displays unusual cunning and ferocity in dealing with the killers, and quickly becomes their best chance of survival.
Wingard’s low-fi home invasion flick is part pastiche and part homage. Like the films of Ti West - who, in fact is a filmmaker, along with Swanberg - Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett have conjured a mash-up of elements, and doused them all with a screwball sense of humor. For most of the first third of the film, Drake runs frantically around the house with an arrow sticking out of his back, a visual gag that earned giggles from the receptive audience every time he appeared in frame; when asked by the blood-spattered Erin if one of the killers she’s just brutally dispatched with a meat tenderizer is recognizable to anyone, Felix responds with “It’s kind of hard to tell”; and even as the arrows are whizzing past them, Drake and Crispian continue their argument over the latter’s weight issues.
Still, it’s not played for total campy fun - frankly, there’s too much realistic gore and sadistic cruelty to leave you completely at ease - which makes some of its scare scenes significantly potent, even if it goes to the time-honored well of fake-out jump scares a bit too frequently.
And it’s not at all hard to root for a kick-ass woman among this tribe of pasty, blue-blooded and self-important drips. Erin is immensely likable precisely because she has almost nothing to do with this snobbish gang, and proves to be the only one who can properly handle a knife, tenderizer or, in one climactic scene, a blender, about which the less said, the better.
Haneke would doubtless storm out of the theater in a rage about the casual manner in which we Americans enjoy our latest lunettes de violence, but, fortunately, there are some young wisenheimer filmmakers who are fully in on the joke. He might be a brilliant auteur, but he’s not much known for his sense of humor.
You’re Next 86 Cast: Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci, Joe Swanberg, Wendy Glenn, AJ Bowen, Amy Seimetz, Ti West Director: Adam Wingard Rating: R, for strong bloody violence, language and some sexuality/nudity Running time: 96 minutes