OCTOBER 11, 2013
This morning I looked at BoxOfficeMojo and discovered that You're Next still hadn't even hit the 20m mark, which is so depressing since it was originally projected to make almost that much in its first weekend (and certainly deserved to). I still don't understand why the public rejected the movie, but I DO know that if it was a hit, movies like Torment would be able to get better deals for distribution than they might now, as it's in the same "home invasion" sub-genre and even has some similar elements (including killers wearing animal masks). Hopefully it will still find its way out there, as I found it to be a solid entry in the growing "folks terrorize people in their own home" series of films.
The first forty minutes or so work best; it's not long after our hero family (a man, his son, and his new wife Sarah, played by Katharine Isabelle) arrive at their vacation home that they realize someone has been in there: dirty dishes in the sink and in the bedrooms, a hole in the basement door, and - worst of all - one of the kid's stuffed animals has been taken. Assuming it to be burglars that have since moved on (and receiving no real help from the local police, embodied by Stephen McHattie, in case you weren't sure that this was a Canadian production), they go to bed... only to discover that their son is missing in the middle of the night.
From then on it's almost a realtime account of the two parents running around trying to find their son while dodging their attackers, who kill the cop, injure Sarah, and quite disturbingly have cut the heads off the kid's giant stuffed animals to make into masks. There are some terrific setpieces throughout this portion of the film, with director Jordan Barker (returning to Screamfest after his enjoyable ghost thriller The Marsh played there in 2006) doing Carpenter proud with some fine use of widescreen and background gags - I particularly loved when a barely visible light turned out in the background behind our hero, letting us (but not him) know the killers were still around. And he milks every second of the more suspense driven parts, with Isabelle or Robin Dunne (the husband) making their way down a hallway, not sure if the killer or killers are waiting to jump out of a room or from a closet behind them. And we know they're brutal killers from the opening scene where they kill a neighbor family (another thing that might bring You're Next to mind; I couldn't find if this was shot before or after YN began making its festival rounds), so there isn't much of a "safe" feeling for anyone but the kid - and he's MIA!
The Strangers may also come to mind, but here's where the film differs greatly from that one - the killers have a motive and explain why they are targeting this guy. It's not a terrible concept, but unfortunately the villain speaks with a voice not unlike Bane's from The Dark Knight Rises, and thus it's almost impossible to keep up that level of tension when I keep having the instinct to burst out laughing. I'm sure the thinking was that it would be creepy and unsettling, but it's just kind of goofy, and I'm of the opinion that these particular movies are scarier without any motive (YN being an exception since it was also more of a fun approach to such things), so the final 20 minutes or so aren't as strong as what came before. But it's got an appropriately grim ending and an admirably left-field twist (one that also registers as more goofy than creepy, to be fair), and it's only like 75 minutes without credits, and thus is never boring.
I also enjoyed seeing Isabelle in a likable, "normal" role, since her biggest genre turns so far have been Ginger Snaps and American Mary, both of which had her playing not particularly sympathetic characters. She's a lovely woman and a solid actress, and I was worried she'd only do horror movies that were in line with those, which would get tiresome. Good to see she's not "above" more traditional "final girl" type of roles, and also that she's playing her age instead of following the lead of some of her peers and trying to keep passing for college students when they're in their 30s (the irony being she'd have no trouble passing for someone ten years younger). And it's always good to see McHattie; he is used well in his two scenes and is pretty much the only other person in the movie besides the family and their pursuers, so it's good that they got an icon of sorts.
In short, it's not a game-changer, but it gets the job done and only has a few minor missteps. Sure, I'd rather a movie with a better 2nd half than the first, so you go out on a high note, but it's not like Mute Witness where you might as well shut the damn thing off once the truly suspenseful/scary part is over with and the movie has to get bogged down with its plot. And I liked it a lot more than any of the shorts in the following block, which only produced one I really enjoyed (Dembanger, about the drawbacks of accepting random friend requests on Facebook). There's this new trend where short films are just basically pitches for feature films, and are equally underdeveloped (as they are saving a lot of the narrative for the feature) and too damn long, and I'm getting kind of sick of it. I also tend to dislike guests of a short who are rude when the other ones are playing, such as the folks for Thirteen, which was also the weakest of the lot to boot. This is part of why I'd rather they didn't do a block and just attached them to the features, but oh well. I also enjoyed Woodland Heights, tho it too could have been a bit shorter. Hopefully the programmers just assumed Friday night would be tough and just sacrificed the weakest ones of the bunch in order to save the really good ones for the other nights, though that wasn't the case last year - Friday night's two short blocks in 2012 were among the all time best I've ever seen. Either way: MAKE SHORTER SHORTS. I didn't love ABCs of Death but at least I knew nothing would be more than 5-6 minutes; I saw one in the Screamfest program guide that runs just under a half hour - that's not a short film, that's an episode of a TV show!
What say you?