It's hard to completely separate from at least some bias when I go into certain films. Case in point: You're Next. I adore horror films (favorite genre, guilty as charged). I particularly enjoy the home invasion thriller subgenre within the horror realm, and I've been a longtime fan of the director, Adam Wingard (seriously – track down and see Pop Skull if you need convincing to join me in this camp). So, my expectations were pretty high. Especially after hearing about the film's initial screening at the Toronto International Film Festival's Midnight Madness program in 2011, where it floored audiences and instigated some sort of serious buzz, which resulted in Lionsgate nabbing up the rights immediately with eager wallets. So when I finally got to see this thing in theaters, it had a lot to live up to. Thankfully, for me, I got exactly what I hoped for. I loved this flick.
The setup is simple enough: The Davidsons are having an anniversary party, and invite all their children to bring their significant others for a getaway. But the celebration is brought to an abrupt halt when crossbow-wielding, animal mask-wearing killers show up and begin picking them off one at a time. Cue mania.
You're Next breathes some fresh life into a fairly tired subgenre by doing something that seems to have been forgotten over the years. It's consistently fun. Crazy notion, right? The kills are inventive (a must for these sorts of excursions), the characters are distinct and everything moves at a pretty deft pace. Not much of a chance to get bored here. And they have a secret ace up their sleeve in Sharni Vinson. Playing Erin, the girlfriend of one of the Sons Davidson, Vinson is more or less a revelation. She gets the duties of completely turning the tables on the killers by being the worst victim ever, in that due to certain circumstances she's a matchmade adversary. The film effectively shifts from survival horror to revenge actioner by way of a female John McClane. Once things shift in this direction, things go more from frightening to plain fun, but I was totally along for that ride.
While all the actors do solid work (AJ Bowen is good, as usual), a standout for me was Joe Swanberg. Also a solid director in his own right (actually the film is littered with actors who are also filmmakers – including Ti West and Larry Fessenden), Swanberg brings the right amount of smarmy arrogance, charismatic douchebaggery, and damn near perfect comedic timing to his character.
Simon Barrett's script is a lean, fierce yarn that's like a shot of adrenaline. The characters are rich, quickly set up and fleshed an appropriate amount before they begin dropping like flies. I've read arguments that the acting is stiff and the dialogue is awkward. Personally, I strongly disagree. The performances are structured rather naturalistically, with a pseudo-mumblecore style that allows for some fun adlibbing (it seems) between the actors – especially in moments like the dinner scene (which had me in stitches and was equal parts uncomfortable and hilarious). It's a stylistic choice that works well. There are moments that "feel" acted and moments that feel like we're genuinely just watching these people interact as if cameras weren't rolling. It all gels and feels appropriate to whatever the narrative's current state happens to be. There are a few twists in store in the final act. So there is an infectious level of audience participation and manipulation at play here.
Wingard's direction is razor sharp. He effectively balances humor, fun and fear for the entirety of the runtime. Visually, everything is kept on the lush side. There are often complaints of his trademarked use of shaky-cam. Personally, I'm a fan of the chaotic handheld aesthetic (and no, it's not "lazy filmmaking" as some people accuse it of – it's a perfectly valid stylistic choice that some people love, some people don't). Having also edited the film himself, one thing that struck me on this particular outing, aside from the visual execution, is Wingard's excellent sense of pacing. The film moves along at near breakneck speed. And when it starts getting completely batshit crazy, with the 80s synth-score kicking in as traps are being set for the invaders, giving the film a bit of a Home Alone-gone-horror vibe (an attacking accusation that some have lobbed at the film that I think is a kind of awesome and complimentary description), things never feel scattershot or schizophrenic. Somehow it all melds together.
A lot of comparisons can be drawn to the also quite good The Strangers – but only in the sense that it's a home invasion flick where the killers wear masks. You're Next is infinitely more fun, and overall, a far more creative and satisfying film. An inspiring example of hard proof that TRULY independent films can be a success without large budgets and A-list stars, you'd be hard pressed to find a more rewarding horror film in the new release section. Grab some friends, grab some beers, kill the lights and hit play. I doubt you'll be disappointed.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
PREVIOUS REVIEW: Now on DVD: Dallas Buyers Club acting Oscars well deserved
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Filed under: Movies