They're Coming from Inside the House
The traditional slasher features a single killer. They are the "Slasher", if you will, doing the actions of the slasher film against a group of unexpecting fodder characters. Whoever it may be that is getting stalked, the killer (or, in the case of the ScreamWhat started as a meta-commentary on slasher media became just another slasher series in its own right, the Scream series then reinvented itself as a meta-commentary on meta-commentary. series, killers acting as one) will work their way through the ascribed list of characters until they come to the final girl. Generally, that's where their plan falls through as the final girl has the skills, or powers, or moxie to win the day.
There is another group of films, though, where the killers (and it is generally a group of killers) stalk a group in a secluded area and mow through them all in bloody fashion. Think the Texas Chainsaws and Hills Have Eyes films. These movies could almost be considered monster films except for the fact that the killers are very much human, no matter how they may dress or act. They act like a primordial force, coming out of the woods or hills to take out the group with no seeing reason except killing is fun and that's what they do.
Released in 2013, You're Next is a slasher that blends to two genres together. It's takes the idea of the home invasion murder spree and mashes that together with a more traditional slasher concept, the group of people killed by a group dressed in similar styles. And then, to add to it, there's motivation and reason for the crimes to be committed. Of course, none of that matters when the Final Girl shows up for the party and runs all their plans, in proper slasher style.
The film opens at the house of Talia (Kate Lyn Sheil) and Erik Harson (Larry Fessenden). After having sex, Talia goes out to the main part of the house to get a drink and listen to some music. But there's already an ominous sense of dread pervading the scene even before Erik comes out. He finds Talia dead, with a blood streaked message on his windows: You're Next. Then he gets an axe to the head and the killers make their statement that no one in this film is safe.
The next day, Erin (Sharni Vinson) shows up with her boyfriend, Crispian Davison (A. J. Bowen), at his family's place for a big gathering. There she meets his father, Paul (Rob Moran), and mother, Aubrey (scream queen Barbara Crampton), and then later his asshole brother, Drake (Joe Swanberg). More family files in, all before dinner that night. Dinner, though, is interrupted when crossbow bolts start flying into the house, killing one family member and wounding Drake. The family is freaking out, quickly realizing they're trapped in the house while killers stalk them, one by one. Seemingly the only one ready is Erin, who was raised by prepers and knows how to handle herself. Now it's one woman against a band of trained killers, all to try and survive the night.
You're Next is an enjoyable slasher romp, providing plenty of what fans of the genre are looking for: kills and surprises. The kills come early, but the surprises come flying as well. That early scene at the dinner table that truly kicks off the action comes just late enough after the opening scene with Erik and Talia that you've all but forgotten you're watching a horror film. Thus, when the crossbow bolts fly in, it's a shock for your unprepared selves. You should have know, the movie even warned you, but then it catches you off guard later. It's smart.
There are plenty of other good moments like that. Another scene involves a hidden garrote wire and a grisly death that soon follows. There's a pretty bloody death via a blender. And, of course, there's Erin, working her way through it all, resourceful and ready to kill to defend herself. She ratchets up her own body count as she cuts her way through the killers, never letting up as she proves to be an even more powerful force than the guys she's facing off against. She's a great final girl in a film where she was least expected.
That's actually part of the joke of the film (and spoilers now). Her boyfriend, Crispian, brings her along to act as a witness to the whole scene, a way to prove his own alibi as the killers do their work. He wants to inherit his parents' fortune, having hit rough times in his own career and seeing no way he'll even make it on his own. He's failing in his job as a professor, even falling for one of his own students, Erin, proving just how unprofessional he really is. Of course, the joke is that he doesn't pay enough attention to those around him to realize that Erin is the single worst person he could have brought to the dinner since she's good at defending herself.
Credit to the film, it manages, though all its twists and turns, to reinvent a side of the genre I never really cared for. There's only so much you can do with the idea of people trapped in a house, getting murdered by crazies. Texas Chainsaw is both the most famous example of that style of film, and also its end point. There's only so many ways you can tell that story (which is why Texas Chainsaw has struggled to find anything new to say in its series over nine films). And yet, because of Erin, You're Next breathes new life into the idea.
It helps that the killers have a pretty creepy aesthetic to them. They wander around in animal masks, like rejects from The Purge, while otherwise dressed in military tactical gear. They're a bunch of trained guys who have no problem killing, and as eventually revealed, they're just in it for the money, not caring about who they have to kill or why. It's motivation without passion, which makes it even scarier. They don't care who they kill, which puts them on even footing, in a way, with Erin, since she doesn't care how many of them she has to take out to survive.
At a tight 94 minutes, You're Next is able to get in, introduce all its characters, reveal its twists, and end on a concussive final note. It provides the kills and thrills fans of the genre want, all without overstaying its welcome. That's the kind of horror fans want, and the kind of film the genre needs to stay fresh.