Monday, August 26, 2013

YOU'RE NEXT Is Smart, Shocking Horror-Comedy Fun


- I'm often hesitant to list horror among my favorite movie genres, because, to be honest, a lot of standard-issue horror movies don't do it for me. I don't like gore for gore's sake, and I don't love movies that function solely to move you, roller-coaster-ride-style, from one jump-scare to the next (unless it's done very, very cleverly - a la Paranormal Activity). But what I do love about the best horror movies is how they can push story and characters and action to the absolute extreme, and get away with it. The horror genre can give you the license to get weird, crazy, and to just be totally subversive and insane. And that subversive sense of glee - that anything-can-happen feeling - is exactly what makes YOU'RE NEXT so fun.

Let me first say a couple of things about this movie. One is - READ AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE ABOUT IT beforehand. I'm going to try to be very spoiler-free in this review. This is a movie you want to go into relatively cold. That said ... don't believe the trailers and ads for the movie! For whatever reason, the movie seems to have been marketed as a very straightforward, run-of-the-mill, home-invasion horror flick. But I would say that the movie is anything *but* run-of-the-mill. Here's what you SHOULD know going in: this movie is crazy and insane. It's very satirical and over-the-top. It most definitely falls into the "horror-comedy" genre, somewhere between the self-aware Scream movies and the over-the-top insanity of Evil Dead. Director Adam Wingard doesn't go for overt laughs, per se, but most of the movie is done with a tongue-in-cheek style and a grindhouse sensibility that will leave you alternatively laughing, wincing, and screaming "holy $#%&!"

Yep, YOU'RE NEXT has some of the craziest, most jaw-dropping, most "WTF just happened?" moments of any horror movie in years. Some of that is due to the sheer insanity of some of the movie's events. But a lot of it also stems from a smart, clever script that very cannily throws twist after twist at you. The movie this becomes is most definitely not the movie you originally thought you were getting into. But what's sort of brilliant is how the movie flips the script in a way that feels organic, yet still produces plenty of shocking moments.

Here's the basic premise of the film: a wealthy, middle-aged couple is celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary by inviting their grown children and their respective significant others to stay for the weekend at their isolated summer home. From moment one, there's tension and infighting among the various siblings. But things get *really* bad when a group of animal mask-clad killers descend upon the family's home, seemingly intent on picking off the family members one by one, for reasons that are, initially, unknown.

But rest assured, that's just the beginning.

Like I said though, the script is what really sets this one apart. The characters are all set up in a highly effective manner, and we keep learning new things about them and their relationships with each other as the movie progresses. There's a lot of dark humor in the dialogue, and there are a lot of highly-quotable lines - many of which I think will live in horror movie infamy for a long while. Give credit to writer Simon Barrett for on one hand, grounding the movie with great characters, and on the other hand, taking them to extreme places in memorable fashion.

I've also got to give credit to Wingard for some really inventive direction. The movie's low budget shows, at times, but man ... Wingard makes up for it with sheer go-for-broke craftiness. He also isn't afraid to give the movie a slow build. The movie takes its time establishing the characters, setting a mood, and building up tension for what is to come. And it shows its hands very carefully, doling out information at a deliberate pace. But when the action does ramp up, it explodes in ways that are guaranteed to leave jaws on floors. I've also got to mention the movie's incredibly badass score - Carpenter-style synth that sets the perfect retro-cool tone for the movie.

The cast of mostly unknowns (save for horror icon Barbara Crampton, who plays the family matriarch) is quite good. And the fact that they are not familiar faces adds to the movie's feeling of unpredictability. But I will say this: Sharni Vinson owns this movie. I won't say how, or why, but only that when the movie is over, you'll  likely be a member of her fan club. Vinson and other cast members were, by happenstance, sitting behind me in the theater when I saw the film, and I felt genuinely psyched for them as I watched. She and the rest of the cast kick some serious ass.

YOU'RE NEXT just keeps getting crazier as it goes, culminating in an instant-classic finale that hits like a sledgehammer. When it was over, I walked out of the theater giddily happy and ultra-hyped - I was on a total cinematic high. You'll want to watch this one with friends, or, ideally, with a big audience in a packed theater. This is a movie that elicits major crowd reactions, and that's half the fun. So many horror films go for those same kinds of reactions, but most do so with standard-issue jump scares. But YOU'RE NEXT isn't just about scaring you with loud noises or things popping out at you. It's about creating genuinely-earned moments of real shock, horror, and laugh-out-loud insanity through sheer cleverness and inventiveness and surprise. All of this adds up to one of the most fun and surprising horror movies in a long, long time.

My Grade: A-

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