In its first two acts, the home-invasion thriller You're Next throws in so many clich©s, one starts to assume it was made by someone who has never seen a horror movie.
How else to explain all these characters faced with deadly assault employing the most pinheaded strategies from the slasher-movie playbook? Let's split up. I'll make a solo run for the car. Send mom to bed alone..
Director Adam Wingard has made a few genre movies (Pop Skull, A Horrible Way to Die) and one guesses he has seen quite a few more. You're Next seems especially beholden to The Strangers (2008), another home-invasion movie in which Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman's intimate romantic weekend was ruined by a trio of remorseless psychos wearing inappropriate -- but creepy -- masks.
And so it goes here, except it is an entire fractious family discovering they're the ones being served up during an anniversary dinner at a remote country estate.
Dad Paul (Rob Moran) is a defence contractor and if this is the country home, he's evidently rolling in it. Mom Aubrey (Barbra Crampton) is heavily medicated for nerves.
Their college professor son Crispian (A.J. Bowen) is apologetic in advance to his Australian girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson) about his family, and it's easy to see why. His brother, Drake (Joe Swanberg), is one of those siblings who can't resist an opportunity to needle. Another brother, Felix, (Nicholas Tucci), is content to stay sullen and close to his creepy goth girlfriend Zee (Wendy Glenn). Little sister Aimee (Amy Seimetz) is the youngest and thus has a need to prove herself, even after her boyfriend Tariq (horror filmmaker Ti West) is an early casualty of an inexplicably hostile masked gang.
These individuals employ arrows, a machete and an axe as their tools of terror, apparently for no other reason than for the fun of it.
But to the surprise of everyone, Erin emerges as an individual who knows a thing or two about defending herself against this kind of co-ordinated attack.
So yes, director Wingard and screenwriter do trot out a few horror clich©s, but when it counts, they deliver some effective jolts, especially when it emerges the killers aren't as unmotivated as initially believed.
The film's other distinction is that the characters aren't the usual slasher fodder: nerd, jock, slut, etc. If no masked psychos made an appearance, this family might have kept our attention under the banner of a mumblecore comedy or maybe a solid indie drama.
Vinson likely would have held her own in any case. She is an impressive presence wielding axe, machete and meat tenderizer against her brutal foes. But one senses she might be just as impressive as an indie heroine wielding a sardonic observation or a cutting retort.
Who says the horror movie's Final Girl convention had to stay strictly in the horror movie?