By the time the first gruesome murder has struck a family reunion dinner, it’s reasonable to wonder whether You’re Next is an ill-conceived put-on. Up to that point, a handful of bloodless characters have been summarily introduced without ginning up even the slightest interest in who these people are and why we should enjoy watching them be turned into mincemeat. But after one of the siblings gets an arrow square to the forehead, the hysterics commence. And even though the wailings are meant as a joke, you’ll want these people to shut up and get busy dying.
Die they do, in ways that aficionados of the genre might call "fun" or "imaginative." If you're idea of fun is a guy with an ax playing golf with a woman's head, You’re Next tees it off. In most respects this a standard-issue slasher flick. But it has designs to be more. The dialogue is so banal, the line readings so flat, it’s tempting to think this is all part of an intentional send-up of the genre. We soon realize You're Next is less a send-up than a self-conscious presentation of horror tropes, one that attempts to use humor as justification for this routine, unappealing exercise. Except the joke isn’t funny, because there isn’t a joke to be made or enjoyed. Self-conscious indulgence isn’t the same as entertaining subversion.
Its reach for laughs notwithstanding, You’re Next is boring, unimaginative and freighted with Skin-emax-quality acting. Though it takes pleasure in coming up with gruesome deaths, the movie fails to have fun with all the typical horror-movie clichés, and instead just amps them up for maximum fanboy and fangirl appreciation. You’re Next doesn’t go far enough in its dark comic tone to balance out the body count. It’s still a generic gore fest that can't stop winking at us with each overwrought kill, savored as if they're a work of art. For all its self-conscious presentation of mayhem, this is joyless stuff that presumes a rowdy good time involves the bloody dispatch of a clan of one-percenters. These characters are off-putting in their vapidity. But they barely register as human beings, so watching them buy the farm isn't cathartic or vicariously satisfying.
As the bad-ass female heroine Erin, Sharni Vinson (Step Up 3D) gets to be as twisted and ruthless as the attackers. She's the only one among the guests and family who isn't rich or coddled and who shows signs of a meaningful interior life. When Erin goes into full kick-ass mode, she gets a John Carpenter-inspired minimalist dance beat. It's the one time this nasty movie about death seems to come alive.