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'You're Next' villains, victims do a switcheroo

| Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, 7:04 p.m.

Frequently, horror movies send some useful idiots to a remote location, and then hack them up victim by victim. But what might happen if one of the potential corpses had some self-defense savvy?

Nothing especially surprising, as “You're Next” demonstrates. But the latest genre exercise from slasher-flick prodigy Adam Wingard (“A Horrible Way to Die”) is, at times, bloodily entertaining. And if the central plot twist isn't all that clever, at least the movie offers some motivation for its mayhem.

That's not apparent at first. In the prologue, two residents of a vacation home are butchered for no apparent reason by black-suited berserkers who wear animal masks. Wingard and scripter Simon Barrett redeem this sequence with a sly joke: Just before she's killed, one of the victims puts the Dwight Twilley Band's “Looking for the Magic” on repeat. It plays for the rest of the movie.

The major bloodbath takes place just up the road at another vacation home, a fake-Tudor mansion owned by a couple whose wealth comes from, heh heh, defense contracting. Paul and Aubrey (Rob Moran and Barbara Crampton) have invited their four adult children (and their significant others) for a 35th-anniversary celebration.

The three sons and their partners are college professor Crispian (A.J. Bowen) and the teaching assistant he has promoted to girlfriend status, Erin (Sharni Vinson); smugly successful Drake (Joe Swanberg) and vapid Kelly (Margaret Laney); and jumpy Felix (Nicholas Tucci) and goth-girl Zee (Wendy Glenn). The couple's daughter, Aimee (Amy Seimetz), arrives with underground documentary maker Tariq (Ti West, who — in real life — makes, of course, horror flicks).

Most of these characters are disagreeable, so the prospect of their imminent demise isn't too upsetting. The movie doesn't dawdle in revealing the houseguest who's going to put up a fight.

Once the predators become prey, however, “You're Next” becomes livelier. Also funnier, although the jokes tend toward the ghastly. Still, it's a nice switch to see a one-by-one murder spree in which an inexorable killer is fighting to save rather than end lives. Even if that effort is not particularly successful.

Mark Jenkins is a contributing writer for The Washington Post.

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