September 05, 2013

Pre-Game For Halloween Horror With The Violent (And Funny!) YOU'RE NEXT

"You never want to do anything interesting."
Here's what none of the trailers or commercials for You're Next are telling you: this movie is hilarious.  Not "so bad it's amusing," but just genuinely knock-you-sideways fucking FUNNY.  Also a lot of people are killed in spectacular fashion.  So it's a pretty good time.

I'm hardly the world's biggest horror movie fan.  While many would probably agree that the genre is in the midst of a sort of renaissance, many of these films/franchises tend to run together in my mind and eventually they all start to feel the same.  But with October just around the corner, I'm starting to plan a month-long buffet of horror films that will likely turn me into some kind of hatchet-wielding psychopath by Halloween.  (Feel free to make suggestions.)  There have been plenty of horror movies released this year with great buzz around them, stuff like Mama and The Conjuring, but the one that's really drawn my attention (other than the Evil Dead remake) was Adam Wingard's You're Next.

First of all, as opposed to your typical ghost story or Jason Voorhees-esque unstoppable killer, the premise of a simple home invasion feels almost refreshingly novel.  You've got a family trapped inside their own home, with a silent team of trained mercenaries wearing pale-faced animal masks skulking around the property inside and out, picking people off one by one.  Something about that setup is disturbingly realistic.  I'm not actually afraid of being attacked by a guy with knife-fingers in my dreams, but I could totally be in the wrong place and the wrong time and end up as collateral damage in an effort to kill some friend, family member or guy I happen to be standing near.  That's still a pretty unlikely, but it at least falls within the realm of plausibility.  Incidentally, this also separates You're Next from the summer's other home invasion movie The Purge, which is steeped in a pretty heavy sci-fi concept.  (It's the exact same premise that drives an episode of the original Star Trek.)  As opposed to so many horror movies where the heroes have to solve some kind of puzzle in order to keep the evil at bay, the only mystery here is why the family is under attack.  Although honestly, if we never found out the answer I probably would have been okay with that simply because the whole thing is so well executed and so wildly entertaining.  As it is, the reason for the siege is revealed about halfway through the film, and it's once that curtain is lifted that things REALLY kick into gear.

It would be one thing if You're Next was nothing more than a collection of awesomely staged and extremely gruesome kills, but in reality the film is so much more than that.  After our standard introductory slaughter (which utilizes a music cue that starts out awesome but eventually becomes like nails on a chalkboard) we get a bit of a slow burn setting up all the various family members and the relationships between each one.  Normally this kind of stuff is a slog to get through but here it's fantastic.  There's so much delicious bickering and drama among the siblings that you almost forget about the killers outside and just want to see everyone have it out at the dinner table.  Even the characters you hate, like pompous older brother Drake, are such spectacular assholes that you want to see them stick around for as long as possible just to watch them needle everyone else.  Moreover, all that in-fighting pays off in spades once the actual violence commences and they have to work together to stay alive; the decision to have someone run for help eventually devolves into a juvenile argument over who's the fastest among the siblings, ending with the great line, "I'm the fastest but I've got this fucking arrow in my back."

The great character work is all the more impressive considering there isn't a "name" actor in the entire cast.  Mumblecore director Joe Swanberg is sort of great as the smarmy Drake and Barbara Crampton of Re-Animator fame is lovely as the beleaguered family matriarch, while Amy Seimetz is sadly underutilized, especially after seeing her amazing work in Shane Carruth's Upstream Color.  Thankfully she does at least get an absolutely fabulous death scene.  (Not really a spoiler.)  But the real standout is Australian newcomer Sharni Vinson who plays Erin, one of the most kickass movie heroines in recent memory.  As the new girlfriend to wimpy son Crispian (AJ Bowen), Erin starts out as the Davison family's Winston Zeddmore, a.k.a. the outsider who asks questions and gets things explained point blank on behalf of the audience.  (Never pass up an opportunity for a Ghostbusters reference.)  But her backstory, which even Crispian is unaware of, actually makes her super competent when the shit hits the fan, so we get the added bonus of rooting for someone who knows exactly what the hell they're doing instead of stumbling through and getting by on blind luck.  Besides, how can you not love a character whose weapon of choice is a fucking meat tenderizer?  It's like all my adolescent kitchen-appliance-weaponry fantasies finally validated on screen.

Much like Drew Goddard's Cabin In The Woods and the (finally) upcoming All The Boys Love Mandy Lane, this is a film that spent a fair amount of time collecting dust between when it was filmed and it's eventual release in theaters.  In fact, You're Next was shot in 2011 and played at a few festivals that year where it absolutely KILLED.  It then sat on a shelf for two years for reasons passing understanding.  Seriously, I can't figure out how someone could watch this movie, particularly if they saw the kinds of reactions it drew at Fantastic Fest, and not want to distribute it.  But I've been hearing my favorite film writers just raving about this thing ever since, so as soon as it showed up in my local theater I grabbed my buddy Lance and bought tickets for the 7:30 PM show on Saturday night of opening weekend.  I was really hoping for a good crowd that would have some fun reactions to the onscreen carnage and mayhem, but sadly there were only about a dozen people in the theater.  That made for a somewhat awkward first half, where the reactions were a bit more tentative as everyone tried to feel out the film's tone.  ("Are they trying to be funny?  Was that meant as a joke?  I want to laugh but I'm not sure I'm supposed to.")  But once the Animals started taking people down, the crowd got real vocal real quick, particularly the guy in front of us who, upon the film's final reveal, yelled out, "I KNEW IT!" prompting much laughter from the tiny audience.  By the time the villain launched into his big closing monologue (which is fucking incredible), I was practically bouncing in my seat I was having so much damn fun.

It's a minor miracle that the film managed to get theatrical distribution two years after the fact, but at this point I'll take what I can get.  Sadly, a late summer release and a somewhat muddled marketing campaign have led to a fairly disappointing performance at the box office.  That's a damn shame because this is one of those movies that I not only can't wait to watch again, but I want to drag people into the theater and show them exactly what they're missing out on.  You're Next is still playing at your local theater right now, so if you're looking for a movie this weekend and you're not feeling Vin Diesel's return to the Riddick-verse,* then I implore you to get some friends together, head to the theater and reward Lionsgate for having the good sense to bring this smart little horror gem to the masses.

Embrace the fall season.  Watch some football, have a pumpkin-flavored thing and go see You're Next before it disappears into the shadows.

*For the record, I am TOTALLY feeling it.

Title: You're Next
Director: Adam Wingard
Starring: Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn, AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, Ti West, Barbara Crampton
Year Of Release: 2013
Viewing Method: Theatrical - Showcase Revere

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