Watching Hollywood's endless parade of genre remakes, sequels and ripoffs can get pretty discouraging -- enough to convince you there's no undiscovered country left out there; that it's all been done before and filmmakers will keep repeating themselves over and over again until the end of time. Thank goodness, then, for something like 'You're Next,' which is scary and fun, and, best of all, fresh and original. It restores your faith in the future of horror movies.

That's not to say it doesn't bear some clear similarities to earlier movies. The crass Hollywood logline would go something like "It's 'Die Hard' in a slasher film," with one key difference: the victims are being picked off one by one by its mute, animal mask-wearing bad guys, and they aren't a bunch of bosomy co-eds or high school students. They're a dysfunctional family with retirement-age parents and their adult children and spouses, who've all gathered at their parents' isolated vacation home for a reunion dinner. Just as the festive meal turns not-so-festive, with brother yelling at brother and parents yelling at everyone, the group suddenly and inexplicably finds itself under attack from crossbow fire.

When the trouble starts, the family members -- which includes mom (Barbara Crampton) and dad (Rob Moran), and various sons and daughters and their significant others -- all lose their minds except Crispian's (AJ Bowen) girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson), who springs into action to protect the survivors and prepare them for future attacks from these black-clad killers who will seemingly not rest until they're all dead. The bad guys continue their assault, but Erin continues to outsmart them and survive.

The setting is familiar from movies like 'Scream,' and Erin's defense techniques recall 'Straw Dogs' and 'Home Alone,' but the exact combination of elements is something new, and the added dimension of this story happening to a family instead of some airheaded teenagers gives the film a weight and a sense of pathos missing from most mainstream horror movies. The fractured relationships between the siblings only increase the tension in the scare and suspense sequences when they're forced to work together to survive.

The cast assembled by director Adam Wingard here is a veritable who's who of indie genre film directors, including Ti West, Amy Seimetz and Joe Swanberg, who delivers one of his best performances to date as the smarmy Drake, who lives to make life difficult for his brother Crispian. Without spoiling too much, Swanberg is injured during the initial onslaught, and his various reactions to the wound yields one twisted laugh after another.

'You're Next' was directed by Wingard and written by Simon Barrett; previously, they teamed to make the serial killer thriller 'A Horrible Way to Die' (which also starred Bowen, Seimetz and Swanberg). That film was effective, but it was also a bit of a downer, and Wingard and Barrett have said that watching the movie tour the festival circuit, and witnessing audience's depressed reaction to it, inspired them to make a horror movie that was a bit lighter and more entertaining. That's exactly what they've done with 'You're Next.' This thing is a blast, an ideal movie to see late at night in a theater with as big and rowdy an audience as you can find.

Some of the movie's twists are a bit predictable, the rich family dynamics established in the first act are almost completely abandoned when the assault begins in earnest, and the reason Erin is so incredibly competent at defending herself and kicking the crap out of the masked invaders is awfully convenient. But these are all minor quibbles, and a small price to pay for such an incredibly fun -- and incredibly clever -- scary movie.


'You're Next' hits theaters on August 23. 

Matt Singer is a Webby award winning writer and podcaster. He currently runs the Criticwire blog on Indiewire and co-hosts the Filmspotting: Streaming Video Unit podcast. His criticism has appeared in the pages of The Village Voice and Time Out New York and on ‘Ebert Presents at the Movies.’ He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, dog, and a prop sword from the movie ‘Gymkata.’

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