Saturday, February 1, 2014

Blogorium Review: You're Next

 Festival screenings are a funny thing: movies can really build or destroy their reputation based on playing at a festival, and sometimes it happens for reasons beyond the creators' control. For example, while I really do like Don Coscarelli's John Dies at the End and I think it does the best possible job it can adapting the book with the budget he had and the time constraints (and there's a lot that didn't make the adaptation), I think it benefited immensely from playing after Dawn of the Dead with audiences at the Nevermore Film Festival last year. I was there, and most of the people who came for Dawn of the Dead (and it was packed) stuck around for John Dies at the End, which played shortly thereafter, and they were already pumped having just seen what is arguably the best of Romero's "Dead" films (it's not my favorite, but I won't argue it's the best constructed). As a result, what is already a very good movie went through the roof because people were excited in the first place.

 I didn't see You're Next in 2011, because I wasn't in Toronto, Austin, San Francisco, Sydney, Los Angeles, or any of the other cities it played it. But apparently audiences went gaga for it. I probably read about it and then, as time went on, forgot about You're Next. Like The Cabin in the Woods, there was a sizable gap between the completed product and release. In the case of You're Next, it finally came out last August, and just recently came out on DVD and Blu-Ray, which is how I saw it. And you know what? It is pretty damn good.

 Crispian (AJ Bowen) is going to visit his parents - Paul (Rob Moran) and Aubrey (Barbara Crampton) - at their fixer-upper house in the woods for a family reunion. He's bringing along Erin (Sharni Vinson), his girlfriend, to meet his siblings: Felix (Nicholas Tucci), Drake (Joe Swanberg), and Aimee (Amy Seimetz), as well as their respective SO's Zee (Wendy Glenn), Kelly (Sarah Myers), and Tariq (Ti West). What none of them know is that three killers just murdered Paul and Aubrey's only neighbors (Larry Fessenden and Kate Lyn Sheil) and are preparing for a little family reunion home invasion. Then again, what the killers don't know is that Erin may be more than they can handle, much to the surprise of everyone else...

 I was already enjoying the set up of You're Next as it built towards the first attack on the family, but the moment that one of the killers (dressed in black and wearing animal masks, like they do in these kinds of movies) breaks through the glass and tries to grab Erin, I was sold. Instead of scream, she plunges a knife into his arm and pins him to the window pane, and the killer is standing there, howling with pain, while she looks for something to finish him off with. Her rationale why they shouldn't hide in the basement and the reaction it gets from the others is also priceless. The tone is just off-kilter enough to to overcome the predictability of the genre, which is always welcome, but Vinson is without a doubt You're Next's selling point.

(Also seeing Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, From Beyond) again is a bonus, who came out of semi-retirement to be in the film, although I honestly didn't recognize her until I saw her name in the credits)

 Coming in, I'd seen the quotes that You're Next was "ground breaking" and that it would change the rules of horror movies, which to be honest is the kind of festival-related hyperbole that increases expectations for a movie beyond where they need to be. You're Next is a really good horror movie, and probably the best domestic "home invasion" entry I've seen in the last decade (at least), but it doesn't reinvent the wheel, gang. It's okay for a movie to just do its job very well. Director Adam Wingard (V/H/S 2) and writer Simon Barrett (The ABCs of Death) made the kind of straight ahead horror movie that audiences will eat up: great kills, some clever laughs, fun characters, and actual suspense. The Final Girl has a novel back story that explains why she knows so much about fighting back (she grew up on a survivalist camp in the Outback), and the "twist" may not be novel (it's taken from the playbook of 60% of all thrillers) but it plays out well. You're Next doesn't need to be described as game changing, because it plays the existing game and does a damn fine job of it.

  You're Next also (apparently) falls into a category I'd never heard of before: "mumblegore." To be honest, I wasn't aware such a distinction was necessary, but the internet does love to create hybrid subgenres, and it was only a matter of time before "mumblecore" horror films had their own category. Other than Baghead, I'm not really certain what else qualifies as "mumblegore," because You're Next is most certainly too well scripted and too tightly directed to be considered a largely improvised, boring piece of shit. Oh, I'm sorry. I'm letting my bias slip through, but I really don't like mumblecore movies. Unless the way they've been made has changed drastically since I endured Funny Ha Ha, You're Next has one scene that even resembles "mumblecore" - the dinner table conversation right before the first attack.

 In the extras on the disc, Wingard and Barrett mention that they wanted each conversation to be distinct from each other and that there were many, many takes to get it just where Wingard wanted it to build to, but even in that I sense a greater sense of control than "just let them act and we'll shoot it." There's still a sense of control in the editing that I don't associate with movies by the Duplass brothers or other directors of that ilk. To be honest with you, I haven't seen A Horrible Way to Die or Pop Skull (Wingard's other horror movies), so maybe that's why You're Next gets lumped in, but I don't agree with that any more than the ridiculous notion that Ti West also falls into that category.

 Maybe that happened because West (The House of the Devil), Swanberg (Drinking Buddies), and Barrett are in You're Next, and (SPOILER) have some of the most memorable death scenes. Wingard does mention in the cast commentary that he wrote many of the parts for his friends (including Seimetz, who could only film in fits and spurts because she was in Upstream Color), which I suppose is something that gets lumped into the "mumblecore" playbook, but You're Next doesn't feel improvised. Once the movie really gets rolling, it's clear that Wingard and Barrett have a plan for every scene and how things are going to play out, which is the antithesis of "mumblecore." So is "mumblegore" a real thing? I don't know, but I'm going to go ahead and declare that if it is, You're Next shouldn't be part of that subgenre. It's a straight-ahead home invasion movie with some slasher influences, and what it does, it does very well.

 You're Next is the kind of movie I would have liked to have seen with a crowd. I'm strongly considering breaking the rule of what plays at Summer Fest so I don't have to wait until Horror Fest in October to show everybody the movie. I would have loved to have seen it at Nevermore, because it plays right into what the crowds there love, but that was not to be. The good news is that You're Next is finally out there, and while it doesn't rewrite horror (and I don't think it was even trying to), it's a hell of a fun movie to watch. Check it out.

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