30 August 2013

Movie Review: You're Next


You're Next
2013, 94mins, 18
Director: Adam Wingard 
Writer: Simon Barrett 
Cast includes: Sharni Vinson, AJ Bowen, Wendy Glenn, Joe Swanberg, Nicholas Tucci
UK Release date: 28th August 2013

Originally premiered back in 2011 and promptly snapped up by LionsGate, “You’re Next” has been the source of substantial pop cultural buzz for a period approaching two years. Fans, bloggers and critics have more or less unanimously rallied around the product, touting it as a modern touchstone in the home invasion niche, and in some more hyperbolic cases, even a future classic of the horror genre. The film is a solidly crafted endeavour with some nifty surprises, but the fact people are proclaiming it as anything more suggests that audiences have too long been starved of respectable scary fare; or indeed that the journalistic contingent of the industry will overstate opinions amidst a qualitative drought. It debatably happened earlier this year with “The Conjuring”, but “You’re Next” evidences the phenomenon at new highs; a capable feature held up as some sort of entertainment deity. It might sound like I’m being harsh on an otherwise credible picture, that’s not my intention, but perhaps after the rapturous praise it’s been receiving a touch of level-headed assessment might be just the antidote required.

Erin (Sharni Vinson) is about to meet her boyfriend Crispian’s (AJ Bowen) extended for the first time, invited for a weekend at their stately rural abode, where Crispian promises relations might get a little fraught. It doesn’t take long for his prediction to come good, sibling relations seem tense and Crispian’s mother (Barbara Crampton) isn’t in perfect health. During their initial dinner, the family are subjected to a brutal siege from external invaders; cloaked in black, adorned with eerie animal masks and a dangerous arsenal of weaponry. It doesn’t take long for the casualties to start mounting, the attackers indicating continued bloodshed as their chief intent, unexpectedly unleashing a dormant survivalist skill-set within Erin. Creating DIY weapons and defensive strategies, it quickly falls upon Erin to keep her privileged hosts alive.

Australian Sharni Vinson hasn’t done much notable work in the past, but her contribution here fits quite wonderfully into the ballsy “final-girl” model. She’s the only true thespian presence in “You’re Next”, complimenting the picture’s viscera with a strong, physical and steely turn. Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett do an accomplished job of establishing Erin as the film’s sole active protagonist, the only character who seems likely to see the nightmarish charade to its end. This does at times come at the expense of weaker supporting figures (although Joe Swanberg is amusing as Crispian’s cocky brother Drake), but then “You’re Next” can essentially be boiled down to a formula; Intruders advance, Erin responds, instance of jeopardy, resolution. A plethora of additional humanity isn’t strictly necessary. However if it weren’t for the courageously gory mutilations depicted or Vinson’s convincing bad-assery, then “You’re Next” would quickly devolve into tedium. Well at least the first two thirds would.

I’m the first to suggest the feature has been given an easy pass by critics, but admittedly the movie does pack at least one terrific shift of gear, channelling the carnage in a different and more intriguing direction. It opens a few extra characters up (slightly) and provides for some blackly giddy moments (a woman trying to seduce her lover beside a corpse is a tasteless highlight), and ensures that the familiarity of the opening 50 minutes doesn't over-burden proceedings. There’s probably a little too much exposure eventually handed to the villains, their motives eking away some suspense, but what separates “You’re Next” from say, 2008’s comparable “The Strangers”, is the deliberately shaky footing placed beneath its heroine’s feet.

The bad guys aren't ever as scary as they might have been, chiefly because throughout the movie they do some pretty stupid things. When stalking victims they frequently suffer from delayed reactions and clumsy personal gestures, lazily providing Wingard with the opportunity to close pivotal splurges of violence on predictable boo moments. The musical score has a quirky nostalgic tweak to it, but at times Wingard’s framing and understanding of classical horror situations lets him down, very few of the films attempted shocks raised my pulse. Characters arrive into spacious vistas Wingard unsubtly provides them with and the music, despite its outdated charm, does aid obviously structured beats thanks to its synth infused rhythms. “You’re Next” is much more satisfactory when it flips into a relentless and visibly graphic mode of chaos. When left to try and cultivate quieter, unforeseen frights the film-makers are generally unable to supply anything enlightening or even semi-innovative.

I can respect that the hardcore horror nuts needed “You’re Next”; it is after all in its most basic form a low-rent crowd-pleaser. Wingard shows lashings of potential, but would also need to sharpen his directorial machete for the next gig, a refusal to so slavishly worship slasher tradition would definitely be to his artistic future’s benefit. In Sharni Vinson the movie has a workable lead and the screenplay resuscitates some duff moments thanks to an expertly applied twist, but is that enough to make “You’re Next” any sort of modern landmark? I’d argue no. 

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013


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