Saturday, August 31, 2013

Review: You're Next (2013)

So... Labor Day weekend. The slowest weekend of the whole year for the box office. We're getting: a car-chase flick starring Selena Gomez as a street-wise "tough chick", a One Direction concert movie, and a suspense thriller that I've barely seen advertised. Pass. Instead, let's take a look at a really good movie that came out last week and needs some more love from moviegoers...

You're Next (2013)

Makers of The Purge: this is how you do a home invasion film. You're Next is a bloody treat for horror fans. While it's hardly original, and it does admittedly suffer from some dumb characters and poor acting in the supporting cast, I was so engrossed and amazed by the parts it got right that I was easily able to forgive its problems. It's tight and suspenseful, it's violent in ways you don't normally expect for a mainstream horror movie that's not a Saw ripoff, it's got an awesome lead heroine, and its refusal to take itself seriously produces a mountain of sick black comedy. In what's been a pretty good year for mainstream horror (and it's not even October yet!), this film stands out as a high-quality thriller.

What you start out with here is a pretty derivative home invasion/slasher film -- a family reunion is interrupted by a band of masked psychopaths with crossbows, machetes, and the will to use them. However, it diverges from the formula in three key ways that help elevate it above the pack. The first of these is our protagonist Erin, played to perfection by Australian actress Sharni Vinson. Erin is the girlfriend of one of the family members, getting her introduction to her boyfriend's clan. Unbeknownst to them, she was raised in the Outback by a survivalist dad fearful of resource depletion and overpopulation, and when the house comes under attack, she takes only a few minutes to figure out what to do. To put it bluntly, Vinson is utterly badass in the role, coming off as more than a match for the bandits. Even after Erin was shot in the leg, I was arguably more afraid of her than I was of the intruders, especially given the cruel, brutal punishments that she inflicts upon them. The camera and blender kills are bound to be some for the ages. Despite her seemingly normal, unassuming appearance, once shit got real Vinson became a terrifying presence in this film. She easily makes up for whatever weaknesses the rest of the cast held.

The second factor, connected to the first, is this film's fun, pitch dark sense of humor. The trailers for this have done a poor job selling this angle, even though it lies at the heart of the film. From the family continuing its dinnertime argument even after the attack gets underway, to two of the killers contemplating having sex next to a dead body, to one character straight-up refusing to die much to his killer's anger, You're Next is evocative of many classic '80s horror-comedies. An amazing synth soundtrack and a high, bloody body count only drive these comparisons home, making it feel like the sort of film that could've been released at the height of the slasher boom. And once Erin's bloody payback gets underway, her creative use of traps to nail her enemies (both literally and figuratively) makes it feel like the most violent remake of Home Alone ever witnessed. Seriously -- this girl must've been possessed by Kevin McAllister when she came up with some of this stuff. 2x4s with nails in them planted under windows are only the start.

Last, but certainly not least, there is the Hitchcockian twist that occurs halfway through the film that I won't spoil, but which changes the game in some key ways. It's a good thing that they got the big twist out of the way relatively early, as in hindsight it doesn't take much difficulty to see it coming. What it does is throw an extra layer of tension onto the middle portion of the film, as we wait for the surviving protagonists to realize precisely what is really going on. We know who shouldn't be trusted, but they don't, so every scene where they're in the same room has us waiting in anticipation.

Mind you, this film isn't perfect. Perhaps the greatest weakness concerns the supporting cast. While there are some recognizable names here (like '80s scream queen Barbara Crampton and horror filmmaker Ti West), most of them are unknowns, and they come off pretty rough acting-wise. A lot of their performances felt stilted and awkward, and while Vinson was able to pick up the slack for much of the film, it still frequently pulled me out of it, especially in the early parts.

Score: 4 out of 5

A very good homage to the classic horror films of the '80s that isn't anything new, but still flies high with its mix of violence, black comedy, and a stunning lead performance.

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