Everyone loathes the catch-all term “mumblecore,” but I still think “mumblegore” – referring, obviously, to that subgenre of American film derived from the original cabal of directors, actors, and writers but with more emphasis on the horror – remains apropos. It’s a bitch, after all, to speak a monologue of any great depth or nuance when your character’s gone all mealy-mouthed from traumatic blood loss. (Unless, of course, you’re Joe Swanberg. More on that later.)
You’re Next has been skulking around the darkened hallways of indie-film release since it first debuted in Austin at Fantastic Fest 2011, but for genre aficionados and fans of the ’core group of talent at work here, it’s a sly, funny, must-see bloodbath. Director Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett are the creative team behind 2010’s excellent A Horrible Way to Die, and Barrett penned the grossly overlooked 2004 creep-out Dead Birds. They know their stuff, and while You’re Next begins on a familiar slasher/home-invasion note, the film quickly escalates into a hellishly suspenseful, take-zero-prisoners affair that artfully caroms between outright terror and nervous, giddy giggles with unerring precision. It’s a testament to the skill Wingard and his actors (among them Crampton, of Re-Animator fame) evince that the oft-improvised dinner-party dialogue between Swanberg and West (director of The House of the Devil) fits so seamlessly with the overall narrative of a family reunion gone straight to hell. Onscreen family bickering has rarely felt this real, or been this funny, in any film of late, much less a horror show.
The less said about the plot, the better for the audience, but suffice to say that wealthy parents Paul (Moran) and Aubrey (Crampton) host a party for their offspring and assorted significant others, among them Bowen as the hapless Crispian (incessantly baited and badgered by Swanberg’s smarmdog brother Drake) and his capable paramour Erin (Vinson). Off at a country estate in the woods, far from reliable cell phone service, the tense festivities become even more strained when unseen assailants begin popping off party guests for reasons unknown, via crossbows, axes, and machetes. What’s going on here?
Answers trickle in fitfully but with a logic and pacing all their own. It’s fair to note a certain similarity to certain home-invasion films of recent make (specifically Bryan Bertino’s The Strangers). In the end, however, Wingard’s film is its own subset of fractious family crazy.