Starring: Sharni Vinson, AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg
Directed by: Adam Wingard (“V/H/S”)
Written by: Simon Barrett (“V/H/S”)

When it comes to elevating the standard slasher movie into something more than just a series of cheap thrills and gory kills, “You’re Next” hits the nail on the head by adding just the right amount of wit and peppering the story with enough tossed-off bits of backstory to ground the proceedings in at least a twinge of believability. Don’t get me wrong, we aren’t talking about an intricately-plotted puzzle of terror and dark comedy here, but when it all wraps up the audience should be satisfied with the circumstances behind the protagonist’s deft handling of knives and meat tenderizers in the heat of battle.

After a bloody prologue kills a couple post-coitus – leaving a bloody calling card on a window featuring the title of the film – the story shifts to that all-too-familiar of settings: a creaky old house in the middle of nowhere. Fresh into retirement, Paul (Rob Moran) and Aubrey (Barbara Crampton) arrive on the eve of their anniversary party. While cleaning, Aubrey hears a strange noise coming from upstairs, convinced there is someone else in the house. As Rob ventures upstairs to check things out, he’s surprised by his son Crispian (AJ Bowen), who has just arrived with his girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson). The rest of the family trickles in with spouses and various significant others in tow, kicking off the anniversary festivities. Soon, though, dinner devolves into a family squabble, the arguments only broken up when a hail of deadly arrows begins raining down on the dining room. As attackers sporting creepy barnyard animal masks, jam cell phones and drive hatchets into skulls, staying alive is all that matters to the family now. It’s opportune, then, that Erin spent the first 15 years of her life living in an Australian survivalist commune and is startlingly capable of fighting back.

Director Adam Wingard (“V/H/S”) marshals his cast of relative unknowns into what feels like a mildly-quirky indie drama for the first 45 minutes (prologue notwithstanding, of course) before springing the trap with a bolt from a crossbow making its way through a character’s skull. Wingard also handles a second act plot twist with calm restraint, where a lesser movie would have stuck it smack in the middle of the climax. And while Sharni Vinson’s Erin owes more to horror-movie heroines like the “Scream” series’ Sydney Prescott than to put-upon reluctant heroes like the “Evil Dead” series’ Ash, it is refreshing to have a female lead survive a horror film because she’s a bona fide badass, not simply the beneficiary of good luck and bumbling bad guys.

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