Theater of Dull Pain: “You’re Next”

Near the end of “You’re Next,” a home invasion/slasher hybrid that won its share of admirers upon theatrical release in 2013, a young man is dispatched with the business end of a blender. Outside of the conspicuous use of a Dwight Twilley song, it is the high point of a surprisingly dull and sharply disappointing entry in retro-chic horror.

Directed by and co-starring people who have directed and co-starred in better movies, “You’re Next” is that worst of failures, the kind that throws all its resources at one goal — in this case, scaring the audience — and misses wide.

There is no subtext, no character development; no novel plot twist, no attempt to toy with the template. It’s vaguely self-aware but to no purpose, neither “Scream” nor “The House of the Devil.” The most surprising thing about “You’re Next” is that despite contributions from Adam Wingard, Larry Fessenden, Barbara Crampton, Ti West and Joe Swanberg, there is nothing surprising about it, a difficult deficit to overcome for a genre that trades in surprises at the most basic level.

The movie has its share of old school, Tom Savini savagery — a knife to the eye, sledge hammer in the skull, that wonderful blender — but not one effective jolt. Making a killer-in-the-house movie without one decent scare is almost some sort of arch achievement. Yet here we are at film’s end, astonished by how gently we’ve been treated.

Director Wingard helmed and starred in an effectively unsettling, claustrophobic entry in the portmanteau “VHS2,” a story about a man who receives a cornea implant that shows him more than anyone wants to see. But here, his framing is a tease. Characters are placed in deliciously precarious positions — in front of broken windows, staring too long at the dark; trapped in a dark basement — but Wingard never delivers the one money shot that would sweep the viewer’s leg for the rest of the movie.

Even the use of masks on the amoral invaders is botched; first by making them animals, portraying neither emotion nor malice; second by allowing the perpetrators to remove them to reveal dullards who might as well be wearing the red uniform of a USS Enterprise engineer. Oddly enough, they put the masks back on when it’s time to kill, which makes sense as neither plot device nor aesthetic; even if it had been frightening, that horse has left the barn.

The final indignity comes at film’s end when a sledgehammer, portentously rigged to brain the next person to open the front door, finally falls with an impact neither dramatic nor gory. It is, instead, a joke, triggering a bloody title card that signals the film’s end and reminds us that the “you’re next” gag was abandoned an hour ago.

That we know who the final girl is within 10 minutes, and figure out what’s going on soon thereafter, would be entirely acceptable if there were one or two scenes worth remembering — other than that blender, anyway. That was cool; but it wasn’t scary.

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