Friday, March 14, 2014

You're Next (2011)

I tried to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to promotions for You're Next as much as possible, especially since I've been waiting for 3+ years for its release. This is actually my second stab at watching the movie since Netflix released it a month or so ago. The first time, it was too late and I was too tired, and I ended up falling asleep within the first act (not because its lengthy, by any means). Then, another long-awaited and much-anticipated movie popped into my queue (from the dreaded Saved queue, i.e. Netflix Purgatory), and I decided to send You're Next back so I could get the other movie before it went into the equally dreaded "Very Long Wait" status. Fast-foward. I revived Horror Dose about a week ago, which put new priority on 2014 releases. Ergo, I put this movie back at the top of my queue and reserved an early evening (last night) to watch it in its entirety.

The first thing one should note going into this film is that it is a pretty conventional slasher. There's a prelude where we see the killer make the first kill(s); the introduction of our cast of vulnerable (and perhaps not likeable; but at least believable) characters, one or two of whom are hiding secrets; the long sequence of killing and running and hiding and ultimately trying to figure out who the killer is and why they're doing it; and, finally, a little reversal or twist to top it off (Friday the 13th being, in my mind, the standard-setter here, with perhaps Sleepaway Camp (one of the former's many parodic successors) as a close second). So, if you've seen a handful of slashers, don't expect anything much in terms of plot. Where this movies succeeds, however, is in taking a conventional slasher format and adding in little nods and gimmicks and touches that the cognizant horror fan will certainly appreciate. So, don't be put off by all the reviews I've being seeing, which lambaste the effort on such feeble grounds as "the animal masks are more cheesy than scary" or "the masks are a lame attempt at recreating The Strangers." While I agree with the former statement regarding the masks, I urge you to watch the film for its inventive liberties and understated black humour.

The title shot is given not via superimposed editing but via the film itself, in the form of the chilling declarative smeared on the glass windows in our first victim's blood (or lipstick perhaps?). No opening credits or titles appear otherwise. Really, they could've just put "The new horror filmmaking crew" up on the screen and I would've known to expect the work of Adam Wingard, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, Amy Seimetz, AJ Bowen, Simon Barrett, et al. The title shot is a small token, but I thought it was a nice touch, despite the logical part of my brain asking the questions "Why bother to take the time to write that for a character to read just before s/he dies?" and, after the film, "Why were these first two people killed at all?" (did I miss something?). The end credits are even more creative: A blueprint of the house with a Polaroid of each character's dead body in the location in which they died! And paired with a great pulsing techno score that recalled my perfect experience with French home-invasion slasher Inside, these touches all help to enhance the overall experience of an otherwise blasé slasher.

Joe Swanberg and AJ Bowen are great as brothers. (Really, the interaction between the whole family at the dinner table is a delight.) AJ plays his typical somewhat sheepish, yet sharply aware persona, and this is the second time I've seen Swanberg play a snarky douchebag. In fact, this is the second time I've seen Swanberg denied sexual advances by his wife in a bathroom (the other instance occurs in Ti West's segment from V/H/S, entitled "Second Honeymoon"). From acting grossed out that his wife kissed his brother on the cheek, to picking on Bowen's character for being fat (and especially Bowen's rebutting being fat), the brotherly interaction carries on for a large part of the first act and is natural and entertaining. And speaking of Ti West, though parenthetically, which is just about how his character appears, he makes a hilarious appearance as a pretentious filmmaker. We get some fantastic dialogue around this at the dinner table. Swanberg responds emphatically with, "Wow! I don't know any filmmakers" and "Commercials are my favourite." Thinking about the group of friends and collaborators sitting in and around the camera at that moment perpetuates the charm of You're Next.

There are a handful of creative kills and injuries, the first of which occurs with a tripwire--and, again, the logical part of my mind asked "How did they perfectly place the tripwire to catch right at this character's neck?" But I digress. Plus, the shot of the blood-dripping, wobbling tripwire thereafter was enough to keep me visually dazzled and continue to stifle that pesky inner logician. The movie continues with visually-chilling shots, leading towards the end to a shot of one of the killers carefully stepping into the house, only to step right onto an upturned nail. Immediately my childhood memories of watching Home Alone came back! I was a very impressionable 6-year-old when my parents took me to see that movie. It holds a special place in my mind. Not too long after that nail-in-the-foot incident, we get one of the characters rigging up a sledgehammer above the doorway. At this point, I sat up and rubbed my hands together, thinking they were about to give me the booby-trapped-house ending of a Home Alone movie. Well, they didn't do that, but they did give us an ending that nods at the immortal Night of the Living Dead.

By now you're probably aware that this is another offering from the group of friends that are bringing us such fare as V/H/S, V/H/S 2, The ABCs of Death, and so on. And while there is a certain appeal to watching this familiar crew continue to have fun working together, I realize that won't have much bearing with others who are looking only from the inside of the film. Still, for those who want to see if the slasher genre still has some life in it, without filmmakers resorting to the full-on torture genre antics (elaborate subterranean torture facilities are wearing on my nerves!), I'd say this was a great effort with a handful of characters, a single setting, and adherence to genre guidelines.

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