Wednesday, August 21, 2013

You're Next Is One Twisted Laugh Riot

Last night I was fortunate enough to snag a pair of last-minute passes to an advance screening of You're Next, the latest effort from Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett. I have to say, I went in with the expectation of watching The Purge again, but with less sociopolitical commentary and more gore. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself watching a deliciously tongue-in-cheek, fucked up black comedy that went far beyond any plot twist hinted at by the trailers. Having premiered at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, this little gem is finally seeing a well-deserved wide theatrical release on Friday.

You're Next sets a pretty dark tone from the get-go, with the opening sequence showing the graphic deaths of two neighbors, a middle-aged rich guy and his young trophy wife. Soon after, the Davisons pull up to the door of their country home, next door to the two corpses, and begin preparations for what will naturally be a very tense reunion of their four children and their partners. As the family members arrive one by one, their every move is watched by anonymous villains hiding in the trees. But the Davisons, squabbling over trivial things and rehashing old family arguments, remain oblivious to the eyes on them. Only the sister's boyfriend, independent filmmaker Tariq (played by Ti West in an amusing cameo), notices the movement in the woods outside, and when he approaches the window to get a better look, he gets an arrow to the head.

The next twenty minutes of the film play out much like a standard home invasion thriller, with the family hysterical and running around in circles, making the worst possible decisions about their own survival. After a couple more deaths, we meet the Davisons' anonymous assailants - the men in animal masks so prominent in the film's marketing campaign. The violence escalates gradually, as the Animals come after them with crossbows, machetes, razor wire, and more. But what The Animals didn't bargain for is Aussie hottie Erin (Sharni Vinson), girlfriend of brother Crispian Davison, whose survivalist upbringing make her the perfect final girl for this unconventional slasher tale. Erin is the voice of reason, keeping the family members away from windows, contacting the police right away, and setting gruesome traps for the Animals. The second half of the film consists largely of Erin kicking ass and owning the Animals in a hilarious gorefest. That, and, of course, the answer to the film's big question: who are the Animals, and why are they doing this to the seemingly innocent Davisons? You'll have to buy a ticket and go check out the film for that one.

This is a film with a huge amount of atmosphere, having been shot entirely on the premises of one large, remote old house. From the Davisons' perspective, we see out the house's many windows into the dark of night in a heavily wooded area, where anything could easily hide. Every so often, the camera changes hands, and we see into the house as the Animals, tracking the Davisons from room to room as they move in the lighted windows. The film makes great use of some slasher film tropes and traditional jump scares, because as much as the avid horror fan may seem them coming, it just wouldn't be as fun without the face under the bed, or hiding behind that open door.

I found one scene in particular to be especially gorgeous and well-executed. Erin, hiding in the basement and unsure of who might be left alive upstairs, springs a trap for one of the animals who has pursued her downstairs. She sets up a camera to illuminate her assailant, shocking him into blindness as he crosses the room. The camera flash repeats at intervals, breaking the darkness into quick shots of light. Not only was it a clever device for our crafty heroine to utilize, but the visual effect was unique and stunning.

The entire cast gives great performances as a family with a lot of skeletons in their closet. There is a genuine quality to the familial interactions - the competitive siblings, doting parents, and nervous significant others come across perfectly. Joe Swanberg shines as the most irritating and condescending of the brothers, and he is gifted with some of the film's most hilarious lines of dialogue. A.J. Bowen, on the other hand, gives an endearing performance as the academic black sheep of the family, whose professional failures are irresistible to his brothers and father. Barbara Crampton plays the drug-addled and somewhat tragic matriarch in a very classic style.

You're Next really does have something for every horror fan. Lovers of everything from The Purge back to John Carpenter's Halloween will find something to enjoy, as will fans of the Evil Dead films and Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror. Without revealing too much and spoiling the juicy twists and turns of a really solid film, I absolutely urge you to check this out when it opens Friday. Support horror releases from major studios like Lionsgate, and we'll continue to see quality work like this make it to the big screen.

On a side note, the final installment of Edgar Wright's Blood and Ice Cream trilogy, The World's End, also opens this weekend. Check out my review here.

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