YOU'RE NEXT Review

I've said countless times that horror is probably my least favorite genre and that I find little real pleasure in paying to see people killed or haunted and generally made uncomfortable for the sake of entertainment. I understand why people find it engaging and I have no problem watching scary movies, I just don't really look forward to it unless it's fall and the leaves and weather compliment the small towns that are often represented within the film. There is a strange, oddly comfortable layer of relatability and the fantasy of what might go down in these kinds of films is hopefully as far removed from your reality as possible. What makes this latest piece of original horror so enticing is that it could not feel more removed from the majority of its audiences likely realities, but that it is in on the joke the majority of its audiences would be making about if it were legitimately trying to stir up some scares from us. You're Next is a low budget riff on the home invasion thrillers that have been sprinkled through the genre since its inception. Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett (who have both contributed to the horror anthologies V/H/S and V/H/S/2) made this film a little over two years ago (the film premiered at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival), but have been unable to secure a distribution deal for it and so it is with somewhat of a delayed reaction that we receive the film in all its goofy glory. To say I had fun with this film is to say something that might be easily misinterpreted, but trust me when I say You're Next works just as much as a horror flick as it does a comedy. There is brutal violence, a couple of specific shots that gave me the chills, and a body count that will appease anyone in the genre faithful, but on top of that it also has plenty of bad acting from its D-list cast, a musical score for the ages and dialogue that makes it even tougher for these already unskilled actors to allow us to even try and take them seriously. No, You're Next isn't a great film, it may not even be a very good one when we get right down to it, but to say it is not entertaining or that it doesn't have a certain charisma to it that pulls you in and elates your senses would be a tough argument to make and that alone is worth the recommendation.

Erin (Sharni Vinson) is up for the challenge presented in You're Next.
Beginning rather slowly, the film centers around a wealthy, retired couple who have been re-modeling a new house they bought that looks more like a compound than a mansion. As we meet the couple made up of Paul and Aubrey (Rob Moran and Barbara Crampton) they are preparing their home for the imminent visit of their children in order to celebrate their anniversary. First to arrive is Crispian (AJ Bowen), a professor, and his new girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson) who was a former student of his. It is apparent from the moment they arrive that there is something a little odd with Crispian's parents and their family in general as both the mother is said to be on medication and the father seems to take everything she says with a grain of salt, including when she believes she hears someone walking around upstairs. Next to arrive is oldest son Drake (Joe Swanberg who also directed Drinking Buddies) and his wife Kelly (Margaret Laney). Again, it is evident Drake is a bit of a jackass and that he and Crispian don't necessarily get along as much as they put up with one another. The first half hour or so spends its time introducing us to these characters and nestling us into their seemingly cozy environment that plays up the typical fall horror film with as authentic a nature as possible. The final arrivals are the youngest of the four children which includes the only daughter, Aimee (Amy Seimetz) and her boyfriend Tariq (Ti West, a popular underground horror director who's also contributed to the V/HS and ABC's of Death anthologies as well as made horror indie favorites The Innkeepers and The House of the Devil) as well as baby brother Felix (Nicholas Tucci, no relation to Stanley unfortunately) and his significant other, Zee (Wendy Glenn looking like Olivia Wilde). Clearly, with this many bodies isolated in a big house in the middle of nowhere there are certain things that must happen and as soon as the final family members arrive things begin to go batshit crazy. I won't go any further than the set-up because there are some genuine twists and surprises I'd rather not spoil, but I was hard-pressed to understand why the film had received such positive word of mouth after that first thirty-minutes, but the last hour more than redeems the first half slog.

Going into the film I pretty much assumed we'd be getting a variation on other home invasion thrillers we'd seen before. I really dug the authenticity of 2008's The Strangers as the makers of that film were able to convey the sense of confusion our protagonists were dealing with, that they had lost control and were subject to the randomness of what ultimately went down that night. While You're Next doesn't carry the authenticity in that light it does play up these elements of not knowing what is going on, not being in control, but also lending one of its characters a particular set of skills that allows her to stand out and foil the people on the posters plans. It is from this angle, this point in the process of the film unfolding that it takes up the more campy vibe that I wasn't expecting. So, while I was assuming from the trailers and other promotional material that this would indeed be a scary movie that plays by the rules of empty house, innocent people and killers what we actually get is something more along the lines of a dark comedy that is making a witty commentary on the horror genre. This kind of film seemed to first spring into the spotlight when Eli Roth made Cabin Fever over ten years ago and allowed the scary movie to play to the rules while giving it a cheeky side that would be able to relate to audiences who loved these films, but had grown tired of the familiar structure and scares that most films were using over and over again. In the vein of Cabin Fever and the aforementioned Ti West productions, You're Next goes for the shock value with its body count, but more impressively the way in which it acquires that number. There are plenty of inventive kills throughout the film, many of which include nails, screwdrivers, axes and a blender. What makes these films all the more impressive is that while you are laughing with them as they subvert the outline on which you expect it to follow they also deliver a fair amount of scenes that will have you shrinking down in your seat or turning your head to cover your eyes. While the final act turns into something akin to an 80's revenge fantasy complete with its awesome electronic/symphonic soundtrack it never strayed too far off the beaten path into ridiculousness, but instead created a perfect balance between its twisted sense of humor and it's intent to give us chills.

Fox, Tiger, and Lamb mask are ready for some serious trick-or-treating.
For all intents and purposes You're Next might as well have been a parody of the horror genre, but there is clear skill in the direction, a love of the genre, and an acute insight into the vast landscape of horror films that have come before it that allow the film to be both a love letter to the genre and function as a completely original product on its own terms. Right down to the masks being worn by the "bad guys" to the opening sequence in which a girl (in nothing but her lovers shirt) makes a drink for herself after sex and is subject to the wrath of the killers that would show up later to taunt our main group of characters. In many ways this film and those that are similar are akin to a more narcissistic Scream. That the people making these films and doing all the behind the scenes work have such an excessive interest in the genre they can't help but to equally pour on the criticism while paying tribute at the same time. It goes without saying much more that You're Next is of an acquired taste and if you don't have a certain degree of understanding of the horror movie you will likely look at this as little more than another crappy entry in the genre as the acting alone is enough to make you want to walk out in the first ten minutes, but part of me has to believe it is somewhat intentional. The only one that escapes unscathed would be Sharni Vinson (Step Up 3) who is allowed to flex her natural acting chops while competing to be one of the screen's best badass heroines of all time. She, along with the inventive camera work and pitch perfect musical choices, carry the film to a satisfactory conclusion and allow for the summer of 2013 to go out on an unexpected high note. It's trash, no doubt, but it is thoroughly entertaining trash and I wouldn't mind watching it again were someone to pop it in the DVD player in a few months, heck, I might even recommend it.