Film Review Horror

Heed this Film Review: You're Next

August 28, 2013Ben MK

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The best John Carpenter movie never made

I like to imagine that the filmmakers behind You're Next were inspired (at least in naming their film) by Edgar Wright's fake Grindhouse trailer, Don't (you know, "Don't scream for help! Don't move either! Don't even breathe! Don't! Don't! Don't!") -- because its title is so fantastically succinct and descriptive that I can't believe no one has thought of it before. After premiering at the 2011 edition of TIFF Midnight Madness, this acclaimed horror film has at long last received a wide release, and it's a bloody good time.

A scene from "When Animals Attack"
After a brief prologue showing the killers and their modus operandi (wearing Fox, Lamb and Tiger masks and scrawling "You're Next" in blood to taunt their victims), we're introduced to Erin (Sharni Vinson), a Grad student accompanying her boyfriend Crispian (AJ Bowen) to a secluded family retreat for the weekend, to celebrate his parents' 35th wedding anniversary. They're joined by his three siblings, Drake (Joe Swanberg), Felix (Nicholas Tucci) and Aimee (Amy Seimetz), and their significant others. But while it's warm and cozy inside, outside lurk three mysterious, masked killers, waiting to pounce. Ten people. Ten ways to die. There's no doubt that the masked men have every intention to kill everyone in the house. Armed with crossbows, axes and knives, they begin their siege on the house. And so begins the family's struggle to survive, even as one by one they are brutally struck down.

Just as Drew Goddard's Cabin in the Woods was a love letter to the horror genre, Director Adam Wingard's (V/H/SV/H/S/2) film is an homage to the slasher sub-genre and films of the 80's. It even has a synthy score, à la John Carpenter. Though it's chockablock with jump scares, twists and classic horror movie clichés (like assuming that no one is in the house even when finding the front door unlocked, or choosing to wander around alone even when there are killers on the loose), the film doesn't fall victim to horror movie tropes. Instead, it revels in them. The killers, clad in black with their distinctive white animal masks, echo the iconic images of Halloween's Michael Myers and Friday the 13th's Jason Voorhees. But unlike Scream, the last slasher film to truly breathe new life into the genre, You're Next isn't out to deconstruct things and turn them on their heads. Its goal is to celebrate the genre and to bring a dose of reality and dark humor to the proceedings.

Frankly, calling this a pure slasher pic is oversimplifying it a bit. Right from the opening frames, the film is all about taking the audience's expectations and shattering them. During the first part of the film, we're clearly in typical slasher territory, as the family is stalked by unknown killers with unknown motives. But as these killers are (figuratively and literally) unmasked, the audience's reason to fear them changes, and the film morphs into something else, pulling in elements from cult classics like I Spit On Your Grave and High Tension. Erin, the heroine of the piece, isn't just reminiscent of Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween. She's tough -- like Ellen Ripley tough -- and Vinson plays her with note-perfect believability. The rest of the cast is made up of relatively unknown faces, although keen-eyed audience members may recognize a few -- like Amy Seimetz (from Upstream Color and the third season of AMC's The Killing), Reanimator's Barbara Crampton, veteran actor (and "that guy") Rob Moran and director Ti West (House of the DevilThe Innkeepers). Everyone plays their part as they should, and everyone sheds their gallon of blood.

The violence in the film is fairly intense, and though it doesn't reach the same heights as this year's reboot of Evil Dead, it's the next best thing. Just don't go in expecting every single kill to be an inventive one. Arrows and axes to the head, blunt force trauma and arterial slashing are what it amounts to here, but there's plenty of it -- although, there are a few unique kills (such as one involving a blender) that are sure to elicit cheers (or maybe gasps) from audiences. And that's where the film's dark sense of humor comes into play, even ending things on a cheeky note.

The Bottom Line

You're Next is a true homage to horror and slasher films. Though it isn't "the scariest film of the year", as the marketing proclaims, it does have its moments and makes for a fun ride -- which is why we, as moviegoers, gravitate toward slasher films. Don't be fooled by the lackluster trailer either. This film is more intelligent, twisted and funny than it looks. And if you're a gore hound and haven't been to the cinema since this year's Evil Dead -- well, it's time to go again. [★★★★]

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