Thursday, August 22, 2013

Violence of the Lambs: A Review of You're Next

SPOILER ALERT:  It’s virtually impossible to review this flick without giving away one major surprise.  It’s not a surprise in the plot.  You know me, that’s not how I roll.  It’s actually a spoiler as to the nature of the film itself.  Other reviews have spoiled that surprise already, but I think it’s only fair to let you know ahead of time.  It probably wouldn’t effect your enjoyment of the flick, but if you want to go in completely blind you may want to hold off on reading this review until after you see the movie.  There.  Now you know.  I don’t wanna hear anyone bitching later.

When I first saw the trailer for You’re Next, featuring the masterful musical choice of Lou Reed’s song Perfect Day, I thought I knew what the flick was going to be.  I was expecting just another entry in the recently very popular home invasion subgenre.  A different, hopefully better, take on The Strangers’ formula.  Little did I know that the film’s promotion had pulled a fast one on me.  I was expecting gritty violence.  What I got was gritty violence and… laughs.  Lots of them.  You’re Next, a movie I expected to be a run of the mill survival horror flick, turned out to be the best horror comedy so far this year.
Synopsis: When a gang of masked, ax-wielding murderers descend upon the Davison family reunion, the hapless victims seem trapped...until an unlikely guest of the family proves to be the most talented killer of all.
All too often with horror comedies, the delicate balance between the two elements is mishandled.  You’re Next walks that line well.  The audience at the screening I attended roared with laughter, but the jumpier members of the crowd shrieked a few times too.  The scares and laughs are placed perfectly, setting each other up with expert timing.  As far as the comedy goes, it’s superb.  Writer Simon Barrett has crafted one hell of a screenplay.  It’s not so much poking fun at the genre as it is telling a serious story with funny characters.  The dialogue is great, particularly the interplay between the family members.  If only the bickering at my family reunions could be this entertaining.  While we’re talking about the screenplay, I like that Barrett plays most of his hand early, trotting out the big reveal early and letting it play out slowly.  That was smart.  There are still a couple of twists left (that the astute horror fan will see coming a mile away), but giving away the main one before the audience gets the chance to call it was a good move.
Of course, that screenplay wouldn’t mean a thing without actors who could do it justice.  The cast definitely does well with the material.  AJ Bowden is one of my favorite current genre actors.  Mark my words, one day he will be a cult favorite and will be charging stupid amounts of money for his autograph at conventions. He’s excellent in this flick, but I feel like he was underutilized.  I think he should have played Nicholas Tucci’s role and vice versa.  They’re both very good, but I think that casting switch could have played a little more to both of their strengths.  Rob Moran and horror stalwart Barbara Crampton are splendid (I told you I would bring that word back) as the parents.  The true standout is Joe Swanberg.  I don’t know if he’s a giant bag of douche in real life as certain members of the press have asserted, but he certainly portrays one convincingly.  He gets most of the best lines, and his delivery is on point.  Sharni Vinson also shines but, at this point, the less said about her role the better.
On the horror side of things, we’ve got some well-executed jump scares.  A couple of the particularly enjoyable ones play off of the background/foreground model a-la Halloween.  There’s also some commendable gore.  The best part; it all appeared to be practical in the close ups.  In fact, there’s a refreshing overall lack of obvious CGI in You’re Next.  Other reviewers have lauded the film’s suspense, but I didn’t find that to be the case.  Then again, a movie really has to operate well outside of normal horror tropes to keep me guessing.  From the reaction of the crowd, it appeared that those less jaded than I spent at least some of the movie on the edge of their seats.
There is one huge, glaring problem with You’re Next, though.  I HATED the way it was shot.  Outside of found footage movies, where shaky cam makes sense, this is the most spastically jerky movie I’ve seen in years.  I already hate shaky cam action sequences, but this goes above and beyond.  The camera can’t even hold still when nothing is happening.  There is absolutely no excuse for the camera to be bobbing and swaying during a scene of a couple lying in bed talking.  In the “dinner attack” scene, the camera is jumping so spastically that it’s sometimes impossible to even tell which character you’re looking at.   Director Adam Wingard has been criticized before for his excessive use of the “cameraman with Parkinson’s” technique.  It’s a damn shame too, because there are a handful of sustained shots and slow motion sequences that look fantastic.  I weep for the movie this could have been if it was shot well.  If you’re susceptible to motion sickness, you might have issues with this one.  I don’t have that problem.  I’m just nauseated by crappy filmmaking.
Random Thought #1: One of the creepy animal masks the killers wear is very similar to one worn by a WWE wrestler that debuted recently.  I lost count of the times I heard the name “Wyatt family” spoken in the audience.  Brilliant marketing.  Well-played Vince.
Random Thought #2: I expect to see a lot of lamb masks this Halloween.
Random Thought #3: There are times when an amazing synth score straight out of the 80’s kicks in.  It is truly beautiful.  Retro done right.
Random Thought #4: If I do another edition of The Horror Movie Darwin Awards, there’s one in this flick.
You’re Next was a pleasant surprise.  Usually I complain about misleading advertising, but I like being thrown a curveball now and then.  I laughed the whole way through, either at the wit of the flick or the screams in the audience.  It’s well acted, well written, and well paced.  The only problem is the terrible camera work.  If nonstop shaky cam doesn’t bother you, then disregard that part of the review.  It seriously hampered my enjoyment of the movie.  It certainly didn’t ruin it, however.  You’re Next was a damn good time.  Plus, they get points for using the right form of “you’re.”  A surprisingly fun flick that delivers a lot of chuckles and a few jolts.  7 “creepy sheep” out of 10.  Nathan says check it out.


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