THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Let me set the stage here. Two years ago, colleagues of mine who were covering Fantastic Fest were universally raving about a movie called You're Next. It was the kind of raving that, when you hear it, makes you think, I've got to see this movie as soon as possible! Lionsgate picked up the rights to distribute the film, which screened at various other festivals. In 2012, presumably due to the fact that they already had a full schedule, the company announced it would wait another entire year to release it. Given how eager I was to see You're Next, this was extremely frustrating. You can imagine, then, how psyched I was to walk into a theater today and finally see the movie. And you know what? It was worth the two-year wait.
You're Next is simultaneously a home invasion horror movie and a commentary on home invasion horror movies. That it does both equally well is a real achievement. AJ Bowen plays Crispian Davison, a young man bringing his girlfriend Erin (Step Up 3D's Sharni Vinson) home to meet his family. The Davison parents (played by Rob Moran and horror icon Barbara Crampton) are glad to have the kids and their significant others all together. But just as Crispian is starting to bicker with brother Drake (Joe Swanberg), a group of intruders wearing animal masks launch an attack on the family. The words “You're next” end up scrawled in blood on a bedroom wall as a warning of what is to come. Erin turns out to be a leader, organizing an effort to fight back. I'll stop there. You're Next has a doozy of a plot twist halfway through that I wouldn't dream of spoiling.
Written by Simon Barrett and directed by Adam Wingard (V/H/S), You're Next is notable because it's a legitimately smart horror flick. You know how sometimes you watch a horror movie and practically want to scream at the characters because they're all so dumb? That doesn't happen here. The movie is tightly structured, and what the family does to fend off the attackers is logical. This makes everything more suspenseful. Wingard also stages things so that you are often genuinely surprised when someone gets killed. Sometimes you expect one of the masked weirdos to pop out, but they don't; other times, they emerge when/where you least expect them. Those strange animal masks also add to the unsettling vibe, giving the killers an extra bit of eeriness.
While there are plenty of shocks and jolts, the movie also has moments of pitch black humor. You're Next doesn't really spoof the conventions of home invasion movies, but it does have some self-aware fun with them. As a non-specific example, there is a moment in which a character goes in for the kill with one of the bad guys, only to have it fall well short of its intended effect. An inappropriately-timed spat also provides a laugh, as does the use of an everyday object as a rather gruesome killing weapon. Of course, not everyone finds such things funny. Here's the deal, though: You're Next nestles into that tiny fantasy zone in your mind, the place between what you know is wrong and what you know is unreal. You aren't laughing at death and destruction, you're laughing at the audacity with which the movie tweaks elements you've seen in other home invasion pictures. It's a fine line, for sure, but Wingard and company walk it.
The performances are several notches above what you get in most horror movies, too. Barbara Crampton (star of two of my genre favorites, Re-Animator and From Beyond) gives You're Next much-needed gravity in the early scenes, as the family realizes what's happening. When her character sees one of her children meet a particularly nasty fate, it packs a wallop because her grief seems so real. The other standout is Sharni Vinson, who makes a seriously kick-ass heroine. She's got a Jamie Lee Curtis-in-Halloween vibe going on, making Erin a resilient fighter who is nobody's victim.
Horror is on an upswing lately. Within the last 18 months, we've had extremely well-made films like The Cabin in the Woods, Evil Dead and The Conjuring. You're Next continues the trend. Freaky and funny, it's a must-see for folks with a healthy taste for the macabre.
( 1/2 out of four)
You're Next is rated R for strong bloody violence, language and some sexuality/nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 34 minutes.
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