Mark Reviews Movies

You're Next


3 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Adam Wingard

Cast: Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn, AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Rob Moran, Barbara Crampton, Sarah Myers, Amy Seimetz, Ti West, L.C. Holt, Simon Barrett, Lane Hughes

MPAA Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, language and some sexuality/nudity)

Running Time: 1:34

Release Date: 8/23/13

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Review by Mark Dujsik | August 22, 2013

One of the most obnoxious things a horror movie can do is give us stupid characters: the ones who split up when a killer is in the house, the ones who plod around in dark areas—usually unarmed—for no discernible reason, the ones who call out into the darkness to see if there's anyone nearby and are then surprised when the killer shows up to dispatch them. You know the ones. They're the ones, basically, about whom we don't really care one way or the other how they fare in the situation at hand. If they live, we assume it's only because of dumb luck, and if they die, well, they were pretty dumb anyway.

You're Next eschews the annoyance of brainless characters with a vengeance. Most modern horror movies merely encourage us to be passive observers to the carnage. We may sympathize with the potential—and, often, inevitable—victims, but deep down, we know it's really only a matter of time before they fall one by one to whatever threat is lurking in the shadows.

Here, the screenplay by Simon Barrett gives us good reason to emerge from the reflexive cocoon of waiting for the scares and the bloody results of the killers and become active spectators—worrying about how these people are going to get out of each situation, trying to figure out what method they'll use to counteract the onslaught, and actually rooting for them to succeed. The good reason has a name, and it's Erin (Sharni Vinson).

In Erin, Barrett has given us a most memorable and effective horror-movie heroine. The role is typically a thankless one—the sole survivor or last person standing who makes it as far as she does because she hides well, runs fast, and/or decides to take a stand in the climax. Erin is not one of those impulsive types who only react to a given situation. She acts in intelligent, forward-thinking, and, at times, surprisingly brutal ways. Most characters in her position receive the title "heroine" by default. She earns it.

The film starts in a fairly normal fashion for the genre. A random couple in a house in the middle of nowhere has sex and is killed off one person after the other.

It's a regular, old tease of a scene, but it firmly establishes director Adam Wingard's method. The scene sets up a few motifs, primarily a subjective point-of-view from the killer's perspective that uses a glass door as a flimsy barrier to his victim and the eponymous phrase scrawled in blood.

More importantly, it displays Wingard's affinity for tension over violence (Similarly, the score by Mads Heldtberg avoids cheap musical stings, creating a subtle, ambient synthesizer score that heightens the tension instead of distracting from it). Of the two murders here, one occurs off-screen and the other is cut short. The focus is on the buildup and the aftermath—a bloody corpse and the other person's response to seeing it (both of those essentially being a buildup to the next, shorter phase of the scene)—and how those put us on edge for what's to come. The rest of the film follows this pattern of execution.

The story shifts to a family reunion in celebration of the wedding anniversary of Paul (Rob Moran) and Aubrey (Barbara Crampton) at their palatial summer home in the same area of the house in the prologue. Their son Crispian (AJ Bowen) and his girlfriend Erin arrive soon after Aubrey hears something upstairs and Paul goes to investigate. The camera lingers around after Paul and Crispian leave to note a closet door opening.

The rest of the family arrives with their significant others the next day. Middle son Drake (Joe Swanberg), who constantly teases Crispian, is with his wife Kelly (Sarah Myers). Youngest son Felix (Nicholas Tucci), who has had problems with the law, is with his girlfriend Zee (Wendy Glenn). Daughter Aimee (Amy Seimetz), who is the apple of her father's eye, is with her boyfriend Tariq (Ti West). We only briefly get to know these characters before their dinner is interrupted by an attack by a group of men wearing creepy animal masks who have surrounded and infiltrated the house, but it's enough to understand their relationships to each other.

Our first glimpse that Barrett will be toying with our expectations comes almost immediately after the assault begins. While everyone else predictably and understandably panics, Erin begins shouting orders, telling them to get away from windows. When she realizes they're trapped in the dining room, she comes up with ingenious plan to grab chairs and use them as shields to move to safer ground. When one tries to surprise her through a kitchen window, she not only grabs a knife but also begins searching for another weapon—her previous one currently occupied in the hand of her attacker.

The setup is familiar, but the presence of Erin—played with quiet determination by Vinson, whose petite frame hides her capacity for uncompromising aggression—ensures that we are constantly thrown off-guard as she keeps up with and, eventually, ahead of the attackers. There's a gradual shift in power as the body count rises (No one, it should be noted, does anything exceptionally dumb to end up in that number). The killers have come prepared (A bloody gag involving a taut wire, for example, is a real shock), and there's a certain amount of joy in watching how Erin, whose back story arrives late in the film to explain how she's so adept in a life-or-death situation, fights back and rallies her new acquaintances.

The tone of the film shifts along with the transition. While You're Next starts off as a well-crafted horror exercise, it begins to border on satire as the dynamic of who is threatening whom readjusts. Most of the humor comes from anticipating Erin's next moves (and waiting for the sword-of-Damocles contraption involving an axe and a door, which Barrett keeps teasing us with, to come into play), but there's also a bit with a villain who talks too much at the wrong moment (played entirely for laughs) and a gruesome bit with a kitchen appliance. This is smart, frightening, and funny material that's an invigorating kick in the genre's ass.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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