’You’re Next’ finds some silly amid the slaughter

San Francisco ChronicleAugust 23, 2013 

“You’re Next” avoids horror-flick cliches by casting Sharni Vinson as Erin, a survivalist who surprises a crew of killers.

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About halfway through “You’re Next,” the realization dawns that this is not a rebooted slasher from the 1980s, but something more shrewd and self-aware, something even slightly funny — and not by accident. This doesn’t mean that people who don’t like slashers need to see it, but it does mean that, among movies in this lowly genre — face it: the lowliest — “You’re Next” is one of the better ones.

After an opening scene in which two people are killed for having sex, or at least they have sex and get killed soon afterward (very ’80s), the movie settles into a family saga-siege. Four grown siblings and their significant others gather together in a country house, celebrating Mom and Dad’s 35th wedding anniversary. And then someone has to spoil it all by shooting arrows at them from a crossbow through the windows. The mirth is displaced. Dinner is ruined.

“You’re Next” could be used as an NRA recruitment video, in that a couple of rifles inside the house could have solved the intruder problem in no time. But then the movie might have been only 20 minutes long. Instead, it’s a long drawn-out ordeal, one that — and this is the good part — gets better as it goes along.

What seems, at first, like the usual wallow in sadism reveals itself to be something slightly different. One of the differences can be located in a single character — Erin, played by the Australian actress, Sharni Vinson — who accompanies her boyfriend, played by A.J. Bowen, to the dinner, because she wants to meet his family, which she does, at the last possible moment. Unbeknownst to the boyfriend and to everyone else at the gathering, Erin grew up — you’re going to love this — in a survivalist commune. And so, like Liam Neeson in the “Taken” movies, Erin has “certain skills.”

Just that one character transforms “You’re Next” from a formulaic gore fest into a female version of “Straw Dogs,” with maniacs trying to get into the house and a mild-mannered person inside, blossoming into a homicidal genius. One of the delights of “You’re Next” — sorry, but you have to take pleasure where you find it — is in watching Vinson whaling on her attackers with a wrench. She keeps swinging long after it’s necessary.

By slasher standards, the writing is good, with interesting turns and surprises. And the acting isn’t bad, either, though Vinson is the one to remember. Tall and lean, she looks athletic, physically capable of dealing out damage, and from an acting point of view, she makes a convincing transition from girlfriend to superwoman. Best of all, she conveys an absolute moral disgust, which the audience shares and which buys the film a lot of indulgence.

Someone should give Vinson her own action movie, or something even better.

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