The indie horror scene has so far been content to stay indie, with DIY filmmakers cutting their teeth on cheapie anthology films that wanted little more than to scare up a couple bucks on VOD. “You’re Next,” from established director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett, premiered at festivals two years ago, and has sat on shelves since, waiting to be released as a mainstream viral sensation. But it has the feel of coming from filmmakers who’ve honed their chops. Among its expendable cast are horror filmmaker Ti West (“House of the Devil”) and Joe Swanberg ("Hannah Takes the Stairs"), and it’s poised as operating somewhere between the two: low-rent retro horror but with a mumblecore streak.
The mix is better than that, which is to say that it’s not a balance. There’s just enough formal playfulness and clever, offhand chatter to loosen up the genre, but the goods are still delievered. It’s an old fashioned home invasion thriller, where a massive gathering of a well-off family takes place in the kind of enormous, rural manse that attracts scary intruders with white fox masks. After baddies pepper a dinner with crossbow shots, mom (Barbara Crampton, "Re-Animator") cowers and dad (Rob Moran) bugs out. But the one son’s Aussie girlfriend (Sharni Vinson) proves oddly capable at keeping cool and finding solutions — or at least gorily felling villains with kitchen utensils.
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The tone — comic yet horrific — gains a lot from the indie aesthetics, although it’s nothing approaching a complete overhaul of the genre. Swanberg’s acerbic, pompous son — who enthusiastically informs West’s budding filmmaker that the best filmmaking he sees these days is with commercials — is little more than the stock comic relief, albeit an actually amusing one, who gets wounded with an arrow in the back far earlier than expected. The comedy isn’t merely verbal, but a detached, bemused tenor that isn’t above delighting in its stars’ horrible deaths.
Wingard and Barrett know enough about the horror form that they can gently toy with it while satiating viewer needs. They know how to plant elements, such as a booby trap, then wait long enough for the viewers to nearly forget them, at which point they instigate a nice payoff. By the end they appear to be going for the kind of amusingly cynical worldview as seen in the likes of Mario Bava’s “Twitch of the Death Nerve” — but they know better. More specifically, they know they want a tidy crossover hit.