This opening sequence is really impressively photographed and staged and the choice of song, an eerie pop ditty from a nearly forgotten album, adds a kind of groovy resonance. If there's anything that is comparable to Wes Craven's "Scream," it's this scene, which plays with remarkable similarity to the opening of that movie (where Drew Barrymore is taunted on the phone by a masked killer and eventually gutted). Unfortunately, immediately after this sequence, the movie switches gears and never quite reclaims its mojo.
The main thrust of the story, which begins immediately after this brilliant (if somewhat tangential) sequence, concerns the Davidson family, which is reuniting at their family house out in the country. They are ostensibly celebrating the parents' wedding anniversary (the parents are played by colorless character actor Rob Moran and, in a stroke of pure fucking genius, Barbara Crampton from "Re-Animator" and a particularly memorable 1986 Playboy pictorial). Almost as soon as everyone is assembled, which includes son Crispian (AJ Bowen), who is introducing his family to his hot Australian girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson), a group of masked invaders enters the house and starts offing pretty much everyone. (Horror director Ti West, playing a doomed boyfriend, is the first to go, getting an arrow through the eye.)
From then on out it's like a combination of "The Strangers" and an Agatha Christie novel, as each family member is brutally offed in increasingly creative, blood-soaked ways. What makes "You're Next" so fun, at least initially, is that the family keeps bickering even as they are losing limbs and untold gallons of blood. It's the frenzy of any family get-together, taken to murderous extremes. Crispian feels out of place amongst his WASP-y siblings, especially his super goon-ish brother, played winningly by mumblecore kingpin Joe Swanberg (he somehow gets even funnier when arrows are sticking out of his back).
Writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard, who previously collaborated on 2010's serial killer chiller "A Horrible Way to Die" and shepherded both last year's found footage horror anthology "V/H/S" as well as this year's "V/H/S 2" (which also played at SXSW), clearly know the genre inside and out, and are eager to, if not totally rip it apart and start all over again, then at least to goose it considerably. At 96 minutes, there isn't an ounce of fat on "You're Next," and while it isn't quite the groundbreaking genre triumph most who saw it initially made it out to be, it is still a whole lot of fun. Barrett and Wingard are clever filmmakers, but unlike many modern day horror directors, their cleverness never gets in the way. There's an earnestness to the entertainment in "You're Next" that is truly admirable, and at the end of the day it's a super enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half. Oh, and good luck getting that Dwight Twilley Band song out of your head. [B]