Tuesday, August 20, 2013

You're Next (review)

             Home Alone is a subjectively terrible slapstick comedy that represents the last gasp of success from writer John Hughes.  It also sparked countless playground discussions about the physics of the Rube-Goldbergian booby traps MacCauley Culkin sets for the bumbling burglars.  The best horror film of the year puts a stop to those debates with an axe to the face.
            Adam Wingard’s You’re Next is not just scary, but offers a boldly comic approach to its hyperviolent content.
            A retired weapons manufacturer celebrates his anniversary with his wife (horror icon Barbara Crampton) and his grown children in a remote mansion.  Each child has brought along a significant other, only adding to the awkward family tension.  All of this comes to a head during a dinner shortly before an arrow goes through an actual head, shot by an unknown assailant.  Soon the family is under siege by heavily armed, masked invaders.  Unbeknownst to the killers, however, one of the guests (Sharni Vinson, approaching the Ripley role with vigor) has expert, homegrown training in self-defense tactics.
            The sub-genre of home invasion thrillers has had a successful box office comeback with recent hits like The Purge.  Even Joel Schumacher got in the game, though wholly unsuccessfully, with the loathesome Nicolas Cage-starring Tresspass.  So it’s high time You’re Next get a large theatrical release after working the festival circuit for the past two years, most recently playing Montreal’s Fantasia Fest earlier this month.   
            But unlike many horror films of the new millennium, Next’s invaders have a good, old-fashioned motive.  Old-fashioned, but not well-worn, as even the motive has a refreshingly ironic twist.  Without spoiling too much, it’s important to remember the family’s patriarch is a weapons mogul.  The film’s second half twists into a tale of blood money for blood money, without ever getting on its soap box or becoming heavy handed.
            The aforementioned dinner scene grows increasingly funny with the help of mumblecore staple and actor Joe Swanberg, who improvises a long, insulting rant aimed toward a pretentious documentary filmmaker (fellow horror director Ti West, in a cameo).  Swanberg is a standout, chewing scenery as the blowhard of the family. 
            It might not feel like anything particularly new or groundbreaking on the horror scene, but what it lacks in originality, it more than compensates with in tightly directed set pieces.  It’s less a re-invention of the genre than a mild, albeit impressive, adjustment.  All the laughs and scares work impressively well in tandem, leading toward a perfectly nihilistic conclusion.

            You’re Next opens in theatres Friday, August 23rd.

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