There's just… something about a good horror-movie mask. It's a detail that can make or break a movie, all on its plastic lonesome. Good ones can be icons and totems, bad ones can make a 6'4" lumbering axe-wielding lunatic look like an idiot. The masks worn by the gang of bad dudes laying siege to a house full of family reunioners in Adam Wingard's You're Next - innocent, hyper-creepy animals' faces in cheap hard plastic - are fantastic. So is the film.
Crispian Davison (A.J. Bowen) is filled with trepidation he can't quite articulate to his new girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson) as they drive to his father's newly-purchased retirement villa deep in the dark, secluded woods. When we meet his asshole siblings, his flinty mother and cruel father, the source of his anxiety becomes clear. A reunion dinner turns almost immediately from tension to petty squabbling and from there into near chaos, which is again turned by Wingard and writer Simon Barrett into anarchy as the dinner is interrupted by a hail of judding crossbow bolts fired into the room through a broken window. The siege is on. Windows are locked, escape routes are planned, masked strangers loom and lurk and take the survivors out one by one.
The great surprise of the film, which sets itself up as an ensemble version of recent home-invasion movies like The Strangers or À l'intérieur, is that it's... funny. Amidst the chaos of creepy masks and bloody executions it's got a completely charming sense of humour, which is massively impressive, as the wrong joke at the wrong time could send the film's spinning plates of sibling rivalry, horror and building resolve all crashing down to the ground.
Instead, Wingard, Barrett and the cast sprinkle the proceedings with exactly the right amount of tiny, slapsticky moments and sidelong shots of Crispian's clueless brother lurching around the house zonked out on vicodin, unaware that he should be running and screaming.
It's not treacle-cutting humour either, used to manipulate the level of tension the film's producing. It's smart, character-based and tonally really clever. It helps film as it pretty elegantly transforms itself from siege-movie to scared-hunted-woman-turned-badass-hunter-woman as wee Erin steps up to turn the tables on her masked attackers.
The whole thing works. It's scary, it's funny and it's both based on solid performances, a good script, and really smart, well-done details like great costumes and snatches of a very good Georgio Moroder-y synth score (the unevenness of the score is the film's one technical shortfall but director Wingard has indicated there may be changes to come). It's clever, and it was made by people who have as much idea of how to craft a tense hallway encounter as they do how to avoid the potholes that lie in the road to making a film like this work. It's a pure, bloody pleasure.
More reviews and footage from all 10 Midnight Madness nights at thesubstream.com!