Here are two ways to look at director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett's new intensely bloody home-invasion horror flick You're Next:
Option 1. It is a derivative pastiche of ideas and deaths we've seen before, including (and not limited to) elements of Friday the 13th (murder comes right after sex!), Nightmare on Elm Street (an axe rigged above a door, chopping whoever opens it square in the chest!), Home Alone (nails are hammered through a board, which is then placed under a window, nails up!), Gremlins (death-by-blender!), and The Strangers (that whole home-invasion thing!). It telegraphs Manson Family inspiration even more explicitly than the creepy-crawly The Strangers—some victims' blood gets used to paint, "YOU'RE NEXT" on the walls. The killers wear masks that are meant to be so scary, they become iconic (they're flimsy plastic renderings of a lamb, a wolf, and a tiger). There is a final girl.
Option 2. It is a self-consciously clever pastiche of several elements that we've seen before and loved and keep coming back to watch. And by including the kind of family unrest that we see in domestic dramas, it collides two worlds whose orbit patterns rarely intersect. That's novel!
What seeing this movie should come down to for you is whether you want to watch a group of a dozen or so people trapped in a house (one that's remote and surrounded by forest, duh) being brutally picked off for about 90 minutes. About two thirds of the way through, the reasons why this extended family is being targeted are revealed, though revelation of the exact explanation is expertly stretched out for the rest of the film's duration.
Me, I'm an Option 2 kind of guy. You're Next is well-paced and convincingly acted (Sharni Vinson, a ringer for Rashida Jones, has the kind of scream-queen fire that was seemingly extinguished after the '80s); it's gratuitous, but rarely cheap (only during the relatively tame first act does it employ the kind of fake-out jump scares that something like The Conjuring thrives on). It's somewhat reminiscent of The Purge, a surprise home-invasion hit from earlier this year, except there is more payoff (by that I mean death) and far fewer pretensions of social commentary. It's about the sickest major release of the year, sometimes to a hilarious extent ("I want you to fuck me in bed next to your dead mom," says one character's significant other).
It's also acclaimed—it has a 79 percent on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of this post. We are now in an age where pulpy horror, once a critical whipping boy, routinely is judged by critics on its own merits (The Conjuring and Sinister are two recent examples of critical favorites). And it's poised to land at No. 1 this weekend—the only movie featuring death by an inverted blender that will be able to make that claim, should it happen (at least, to my knowledge). This is America's movie this week, and I'm sick enough to find that totally hilarious.