JUNE 19, 2013
I thought I had written at least a capsule review of You're Next when I saw at Fantastic Fest back in 2011, but apart from an article I wrote for BadassDigest bemoaning the fact that Lionsgate was sitting on it for too long (as it turns out, I was being optimistic!), I guess I never did. I assume it's for the same reason I'm about to put in words here as a full disclosure - I am friendly with a couple folks from the cast and crew, including the writer and director - but now that I've seen the trailer and marketing for the film, I thought I'd at least offer up my two cents as well as "spoil" a certain thing about the movie (not about its plot, don't worry!) that the advertising ignores. Also keep in mind this is the same team that made my least favorite segment of V/H/S/2, so if you want to claim I'm biased, there's some precedent to the contrary.
Anyway, I quite like the movie, and was happy to see it held up to my initial reaction from that long ago screening. Yes, it's unfortunate that LG sat on it for too long and now idiots will claim it's a ripoff of The Purge since both films deal with a family being terrorized in their own giant home by people with creepy masks, but trust me when I say that this is the superior film. Unlike the other film, it's always clear where the characters are in relation to another, and while the exterior of the house suggests potential for more chase/hide n' seek style scenes than we actually get, the location is utilized wonderfully. It's big enough to understand how something can happen (i.e. a murder) without the others hearing, but not so big that you feel "lost" and disoriented - because it's THEIR home and thus they should know every nook and cranny even if the lights are out (an ability the heroes in The Purge didn't seem to have). And speaking of locations, even though it's an isolated home in a remote area, there's an in-movie reason that the cell phones don't work (a jammer) instead of the usual "there's no service out here!" crap, which I appreciate.
Also, it's scary. Granted it's been a while, but I jumped TWICE, which is pretty rare anyway let alone for one I have already seen. And the crowd (men and women alike) were getting jolted much more often, of course (also if you're not familiar with the site, please don't take this as "I'm too tough to be scared" - it's just something that rarely happens that I chalk up to desensitization due to watching horror at a very young age). I've mentioned this before, but there's something that's more depressing/upsetting about seeing a family wiped out as opposed to the usual gang of teenagers, and even though they're dysfunctional and obviously don't get together too often, the movie is still able to take advantage of that inherent "Oh the boyfriend and the bitchy wife will die, sure, but the family unit will be safe" feeling we have sort of built into our subconscious after seeing so many other horror films that DON'T have the balls to say, let a daughter die right in front of her parents.
But while it works on that typical survival level, it's not without crowd-pleasing moments. A few of the kills are frustratingly off-screen or edited around (so we see a weapon swing in closeup and cut to said weapon already embedded into a person's head), but they often have a Friday the 13th sensibility - I particularly enjoyed the upside down blender attack. Even a couple of the good guy deaths carry that perverse sense of humor you see in the Final Destinations or whatever, like when someone makes a run for it in a big hero moment only to be killed almost instantly. The body count is pretty high by the end, and the movie effectively balances our need to care about the people being killed and our desire to see some splatter and cheer for it - it's a tough act to pull off, and kudos to director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett for getting it pretty close to exactly right.
And that leads me to what I mentioned earlier - the movie is a lot funnier than the ads would have you believe. Yes, it's scary and dark and thus not a "horror comedy", but there's definitely a sense of humor to the proceedings. The dinner scene is damned hilarious, with the brothers (AJ Bowen and Joe Swanberg) sniping at each other, the daughter's filmmaker new boyfriend (Ti West) trying to explain what an "underground" film festival is, etc. And their fights continue even when the killers start attacking; Swanberg can't help but say Bowen's character is too fat (he's not fat) to be of any use to run for help, leading to another fight that you can barely hear because the crowd is laughing so hard. And without spoiling the particulars, the main bad guy's final dialogue moment had this audience laughing just as hard as they were in Austin, where I could hear the reaction from the bathroom because I couldn't hold my bladder any longer and (stupidly) assumed I wasn't going to miss much for the next 60 seconds. I guess in a way it's a smart approach, as it can be a surprise bonus to intelligent viewers, but sadly any horror film will attract some folks that simply aren't that bright, and thus they'll mistakenly assume the movie is just being "retarded" (as the idiot behind me described a moment that was, yes, SUPPOSED to be funny). So I figure if I can just let a few people know that the humor is intentional so that they can appreciate it all the more when they see the movie in August, it's worth the "spoiler".
Really, there are only two things about it I'm not completely on board with, and the first is minor though SOMEWHAT spoiler-y (I'll be as vague as possible) - at the end we discover a certain character was not meant to be harmed, but someone was very definitely trying to kill her/him at one point only to be thwarted at the last second by an outside element. It's one of those things that no one will notice on a first view, but on a second it stuck out as a bit of a cheat, making a scene out of something that logically made no sense (its akin to all those bits on 24 where someone will save Jack Bauer from certain death by anonymous goons in an isolated firefight, only to be revealed as one of the terrorists 3 episodes later). The other, more problematic one is Wingard's obsession with shaki-cam, which is thankfully much improved since A Horrible Way To Die, but in a way just makes it more jarring when he does it. It's particularly obnoxious during the dining room attack, with the camera bobbing and swishing around at random to give a sense of the chaos, but they go way overboard with it. Thankfully most of the big scenes keep it in check, but it's almost like he was saving his strength to jerk it around even more during those other moments.
But those are both dwarfed by what the movie gets right, and again, I'm happy to say it holds up on a second view, something I worry about when I like a movie as much as I did this the first time (where I was also a bit inebriated, hence the bladder problem). Not sure if that's quote-worthy ("I enjoyed it even when I was sober!" - Brian Collins, Horror Movie A Day would look nice on a poster, no?), but it's worth noting all the same. August 23rd, folks - don't let the long delay trick you into thinking this was something they were trying to hide. I truly believe they wanted to make sure that they had time to market this one properly and build up a buzz (no one could have predicted The Purge; hell it wasn't even SHOT until after You're Next showed at those festivals that got it picked up by the Gate in the first place), so let's reward them by packing those theaters in two months.
What say you?
P.S. The film was preceded by the short "The Apocalypse", which I had seen before but only online - was great to see with a crowd. It was also great to see post-This Is The End, as Martin Starr (who stars in the short) was reduced to a background extra in that film, so this sort of makes up for it. "I made a puddle!". Highly recommended, I believe it's online as well.