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Movie Review: “You’re Next”

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More than any other film genre, horror movies tend to split off into different and distinguishable subgenres.

You have your average slasher films (“Friday the 13th,” Halloween” and “Nightmare on Elm Street”). You have your ghost stories (“Paranormal Activity,” “Insidious 1 &2” and “The Conjuring”). You have your monster movies/creature features (“The Wolfman,” “Feast” and “The Descent”). You even have your newer subgenres, such as the torture porn explosion of the last decade or so (including the “Saw” and “Hostel” franchises). Even individual monsters/creatures have branched into their very

"You're Next" masked killers

Ding dong.

own categories, such as zombies, vampires and aliens.

However, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the world of today’s horror movie. Some of the newer (some may say flash-in-the-pan) examples include the home invasion film, which includes such entries as “The Purge,” “The Strangers” (as well as the French film that inspired it, “Ils”), and one of my favorite films of all time, the French film, “Haute Tension” (that’s “High Tension” to you and me, Russ).

Another subgenre that has been gaining steam, of late, is the horror satire – and no, I’m not talking about the “Scary Movie” franchise or the awful Mel Brooks stinker, “Dracula: Dead and Loving It.” I’m referring movies like the “Scream” saga or Drew Goddard’s brilliant, “The Cabin in the Woods.”

Director Adam Wingard’s “You’re Next” is the first cinematic attempt to blend these two, fairly new subgenres (the home invasion film and the satire) together… and it does so rather well.

This film actually made its official debut at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) back in 2011, but ended up sitting on the shelf due to the Lionsgate –Summit  Films merger, but that doesn’t mean that horror fans forgot about it – on the contrary. It’s safe to say that “You’re Next” has been one of the most highly anticipated horror movies in the last few years.

So, was it worth the wait?

I have to admit, Wingard (longtime collaborator Simon Barrett penned the screenplay) does have a pretty decent film on his hands with “You’re Next.” He really nailed the combination of pulse-pounding action and piss-your-pants humor, as the audience spent equal time screaming as they did laughing. It reminded me a little bit (not the plot, mind you) of how, earlier in the summer season, “Iron Man 3” found a way to throw in some genuine laughs into the mix of all the superhero action sequences and managed to mix everything together seamlessly.

This isn’t the first time that Wingard has achieved this mix. In the indie-horror anthology “The ABCs of Death,” which brought together 26 of the biggest names in indie horror (which is an oxymoron, by the way), saddled them with a single letter of the alphabet, and therefore gave them carte blanche to whatever they deemed fit with that letter. Adam Wingard got stuck with letter Q. So, he made a short film about… well… how he got stuck with the letter Q. His segment – “Q is for Quack” – turned out to be one of the better entries into the anthology. It combined humor, satire and, of course, some blood and guts, to boot.

I would say he followed the same formula for “You’re Next,” but the film was actually made before “The ABCs of Death.” So, actually, he was exhibiting his “You’re Next” formula in the “Q is for Quack” entry. Whew. Isn’t time-travel crazy? I don’t know how Doc Brown and Marty did it.

The plot of “You’re Next” is pretty straight-forward. The Davison family – three brothers, one sister (plus four partners) and their mother and father – are meeting up for a family reunion in their isolated, countryside vacation house. Unbeknownst to them, they’re walking into a slaughterhouse. The bickering brothers and their significant others (wow, that totally rhymes – on

"You're Next" movie poster

One of the most creative movie posters of all-time, I want one.

every syllable) sit down for dinner to break bread and attempt to get along. Amongst all the verbal barbs that end up flying around, eventually it’s an arrow that flies through the dining room window, into the head of one of the dinner guests, and really hurts more than somebody’s feelings.

This is the point in which all hell breaks loose. From this moment on, it’s a free-for-all, as the Davisons try to fight off their savage attackers.

The antagonists are interesting enough. They all wear camouflage hunting get-ups and animal masks. One killer has on a sheep mask, while the other killer has on a wolf mask. I think there was a third that some sort of lion mask on, but I couldn’t be sure.

In fact, this is the one problem I had with the killers’ outfits – I couldn’t tell them apart. The point here was to give each killer a separate mask, along with a signature weapon, in order to make each one pose a different threat to the Davison family. It was a great idea, but it just didn’t work. The pace of the action was so frenetic, once the killing started, that I just didn’t have any time to discern which killer was which. It all became rather blurry and confusing.

However, this is one, small gripe regarding an extremely well-made horror movie. The film’s opening offers hints at the terrifying events yet to come, much of the same way “Scream” did. It opens with an unsuspecting couple – the Davisons’ neighbors – (one of which is played by respected indie-horror movie director, Larry Fessenden) meeting the sharp end of the blade from one of the animal mask-wearing killer’s knife. It sets the tone perfectly and I’m positive that the similarities to “Scream” were not accidental.

In a way, the movie is making fun of the genre as much as it’s embracing it, which is exactly the same way that “Scream” tackled the slasher subgenre. That being said, although “You’re Next” incorporates aspects of a slasher flick in it, the real target here is the aforementioned home invasion pics that have become so popular in the last few years.

It’s not that Wingard completely skewers these films, he just needles them a bit, as if to show them not to take everything so seriously. Essentially, he gives them a Fonzie-like, “Ayyyyyyyyy!,” which is ironic because Henry Winkler (who played the Fonz in “Happy Days”, just in case you didn’t know) was also in the “Scream” films. See how everything comes full circle.

Anyway, back to “You’re Next.” The pacing is stretched-out nicely, with the first act (except for the opening sequence) acting as a slow-paced set-up – with some much needed humor mixed-in to the film’s second and third acts, which both come at breakneck speeds.

The sound design is one of the most impressive technical aspects of the production. Every time I heard the drip-drip-drip of an

"You're Next" -mirror, mirror - on the wall

That’s not lipstick… or ketchup… or spaghetti sauce. It’s blood.

old, watery basement OR the cringe-worthy creak of a door opening (or closing) OR the ghost-like groan of the old, (supposedly) empty house settling, I knew that something wicked was coming… and I couldn’t wait.

Wingard knows this. He knows that a large majority of moviegoers who go to see “You’re Next” will be students of the genre. He knows that certain paths that his characters take or particular lines that they speak will elicit a specific response from a savvy audience – and he welcomes this. In fact, he relies on this.

That’s why there were some laughs (at the screening I went to, at least) during an early scene, in which the Davison mother (played by 1980’s horror movie icon, Barbara Crampton) runs out of the house in sheer terror after she hears one, little noise in the (again, supposedly) vacant house. The funny thing here is that her reaction seems to be totally unjustified, as the noise she heard wasn’t really menacing per se, but knowing what we know as moviegoers, regarding all that enter this house, in the end the reaction is an appropriate one.

Basically, what I’m saying is – Wingard WANTS you to laugh at the comic element that occurs within every tragedy during the course of this film. He wants you to cringe and chuckle at the same time. It’s the same adage related to all those nut-shots and slip-and-falls that made  “America’s Funniest Home Videos” so popular – as long as it doesn’t happen to you, it’s funny.

Besides the humor happening at the subtext level, there are some legitimately funny moments in “You’re Next” that don’t involve laughing at the knee-jerk reactions of human beings in trouble. I must say, I was also amazed at the sheer silliness regarding the gore level of some of the more violent “kills” in the film (just know – the body count is rather high… and intimate). Towards the end it turns into a sadistic version of “Home Alone.” Let’s be honest, it’s probably what REALLY would’ve happened if “Home Alone” wasn’t a John Hughes movies and was directed by John Carpenter instead.

In the meantime, Wingard has shown through his past films that he understands the inner-workings of the violent, sociopathic mind (do yourself a favor, if you haven’t yet seen “A Horrible Way to Die,” do so today), as well as the elements of humor that make a comedy film a successful one.

Some of the funniest scenes here involve two of the Davison brothers, Drake and Crispian (frequent Wingard movie collaborators, Joe Swanberg and AJ Bowen, respectively) as they bitch, moan and fight amongst each other. Swanberg (who is also a director, having helmed the recently released “Drinking Buddies”) is amongst a slew of faces that might be familiar to indie horror fans. This includes director Ti West (“House of the Devil” and “The Innkeepers”) who tries his hand in front of the camera here as Tariq, who’s the on-screen boyfriend of Davison sister Aimee – played by actress Amy Seimetz (“A Horrible Way to Die” and “Bitter Feast”). This is in addition to the aforementioned Swanberg, Bowen and Fessenden. Even screenwriter Simon Barrett gets in on the action, as he plays Tigermask, one of the three killers.

However, it’s Australian actress Sharni Vinson that absolutely rules the roost here (there’s a Ti West reference for all you indie-horror fans). Her star-making portrayal of “survivor girl” Erin is, by far, THE standout character in “You’re Next.” The subtle evolution of this character is a wondrous thing to behold, which is a testament to both Vinson’s acting abilities and Barrett’s

Sharni Vinson as Erin the survivor girl

The next big thing in horror… Sharni Vinson, come on down!!! (just leave the axe, first.)

writing. As she went from the unsure girlfriend of Crispian to the surviving group’s only knowledgeable leader to bad-ass murder machine, I cheered every second she was on-screen. In fact, there were quite a few audience members who cheered OUT LOUD during a few of her more kick-ass moments and cheering during movies doesn’t happen often.

Vinson’s gritty performance is even more impressive, considering that she’s a founding member of the girly-girl Australian pop group (with its not-so subtle name) Girlband. Not to mention, one of her biggest film roles to date was “Step Up 3D” (although she did try her hand at horror in the Australian horror film, “Bait,” but according to the IMDb timeline, that was AFTER “You’re Next”). I’m sure her background as a dancer helped her for some of the more physical aspects regarding her role as Erin, but still… it’s kind of like Britney Spears being cast as Nancy in “Nightmare on Elm Street.” Regardless of her pop music past, after “You’re Next,” Vinson’s future in film will get a little brighter – this I guarantee.

Well worth the two-year wait (between the 2011 TIFF and now), “You’re Next” is an anxiety-filled entry into the horror genre – and an exceptional one at that. The movie knows its place and doesn’t act so bold as to try to reinvent the genre, it just expands on what’s already there.

However, it does manage to transcend the genre, due to its production value. This launches it into the same visual level as most films in the suspense/thriller atmosphere. Its humorous/satirical approach gives it a smidgeon of comedy blood in its veins, as well. With all of these other film genres mixed-up in its DNA, “You’re Next” comes out on the other side as a horror/thriller/comedy, which should help it round-up some non-horror fans and ultimately succeed at the box office.

I just hope that Wingard and his smarmy band of indie horror helpers don’t get so big that they transcend the genre too.

 

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