Sunday, August 25, 2013

Review: "You're Next"

Director: Adam Wingard
Runtime: 94 minutes

Next to a January release date, being kept on the shelf is one of the most obvious signs that a movie is a dud. So it's rather baffling that You're Next, Adam Wingard's home invasion horror-thriller, managed to stay in the dark for almost two years. After being acquired for US distribution during the 2011 Toronto Film Festival, Wingard's film never quite managed to secure a solid release date. Thankfully, the studio finally realized what a hugely enjoyable ride they had on their hands. Following in the footsteps of The Conjuring, You're Next ensures that 2013 will go down as the year that horror, not superheroes, truly ruled the summer. 

As is common of the home-invasion story, it's not the story that matters, so much as the specifics of the execution. Working from Simon Barrett's script, Wingard wastes no time dispensing with the feeling of safety. From the moment that parents Paul (Rob Moran) and Aubrey (Barbara Crampton) open up their sprawling mansion, it feels as though bloody mayhem is ready to break out in an instant. It doesn't take much longer for that promise to be fulfilled. Once the cast of expendable characters arrives and settles in for dinner, a group of masked strangers starts firing crossbow bolts through the windows. 

Rather than drag out the inevitable, You're Next happily dispenses with a large chunk of its ensemble in rapid succession. By immediately trimming the cast down to fewer players, the film opens itself up to less cluttered character interactions. Better yet is Barrett's sense of humor, which helps break up the flashes of blood and terror. Even in the midst of total chaos, Barrett tosses in a stray line of black comedy that never detracts from the overall sense of tension. Are these characters (and some of their conflicts) cliched? Absolutely. The difference is that You're Next executes and subverts those cliches in a manner that is a never less than enjoyable.

The secret weapon of the film, however, is Sharni Vinson's Erin. The girlfriend of Paul and Aubrey's son Crispian (AJ Bowen), she also has a (perfectly loopy) background that has given her a talent for fighting back. As one of the few characters to constantly keep a cool head, Vinson is the glue holding all of You're Next's winking cliches together. Vinson may not do anything extraordinary with the role, but she's more than convincing as a closet-badass. As the mansion's residents are picked off, Erin moves closer and closer to center stage. Paralleling this shift is the film's transition from standard slasher horror to domestic thriller. The film's last half hour, in an inspired decision, jettisons much of the horror, and transforms into the grisliest Home Alone movie ever made. 

Throughout the entire endeavor, Wingard's direction is to-the-point and unfussy. The violence and teases of violence (there are some great shots involving reflections) is never exploitative, despite the amount of fun that Wingard has with the staging. Whether it's a stabbing or simply a lingering shot on a creaking door, the atmosphere is consistent and engaging. The ominous score, which could have easily been a distraction, only adds to the malevolent overtones, without becoming overbearing. Like the movie around it, the music gets the point across, without ever stretching beyond its tidy ambitions. 

When compared to The Conjuring, You're Next offers up less in the way of obvious craft. However, it makes up for this by being a much snappier and more entertaining bloody thrill ride. With its off-kilter sense of humor, satisfying horror jolts, and badass heroine, Wingard's film proves to have been well worth the two year delay. And even though the film as a whole likely won't give you any nightmares, there's a good chance you'll hesitate to stare out of an open window, lest one of those simple-yet-menacing white animal masks pops up. 

Grade: B

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