Last night I attended a preview screening of Adam Wingard’s You’re Next and before I entered the theater I was talking with a friend who’d just seen the film at this year’s Fantasia Film Festival. I’d heard good things since the film premiered at festivals a few years ago, but I still had to ask him what he thought. His answer was “it’s really fun.” It was not a negative comment, but still something that perplexed me, given the film’s dark-bordering-on-nihilistic advertising.
He was totally right, the movie is fun. It’s also excellent.
Right from the opening sequence the filmmakers suffuse You’re Next in a cloud of black comedy that is completely at odds with the film’s marketing, but so very welcome. Seeing this with a packed Philadelphia audience, I can tell you that this is a movie that plays and plays well.
The story of a large, wealthy family that finds their remote mansion under siege by a pack of crossbow and machete-wielding killers, You’re Next uses its minimal downtime effectively. Before the situation escalates, we get a good sense of the family dynamics and a healthy dose of laughs. Once the killing starts, the tone of course shifts towards the dire, but You’re Next never quite wipes that evil smirk off its face.
You’re Next trades the moral ambiguity of Straw Dogs and the dourness of the more recent The Strangers for crowd-pleasing moments that absolutely kill in a packed theater. This may be the home invasion subgenre at its most accessible, but that is certainly no reason to discredit it. I don’t want to over-emphasize the “fun” of the film, because it still offers scares and gore in spades (with more than one memorable jump scare), but it’s the mixing of tones that makes this film work.
In the most recent issue of Rue Morgue there’s a chart showing how Wingard and company (writer Simon Barrett, Joe Swanberg, etc.) find themselves pulling double and triple duty on each other’s films. I’ve seen most of the films on that chart and while I’ve loved some of them and not others, I have to say that I think You’re Next is the group’s best effort to date. When Larry Fessenden plays one of the first characters we meet and then Ti West pops up ten minutes later, the beginning of the film can start to feel a bit like the It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World of horror directors, but the presence of these familiar faces never feels like anything other than “we’re getting our friends together to help with this movie.” Something that is truly admirable, given how great the final product turns out to be.
The cast all performs commendably, even the members not known for their acting, but the real standouts are Shari Vinson and genre superstar Barbara Crampton. Vinson turns in one of the most memorable “final girl” performances in a long while and it’s great to have Crampton back on screen (hers is a performance with depth, a refreshing change of pace from the way that most genre stars are utilized as stunt-casting). These two performers are marvelous and I hope that this film’s wide distribution means that we’ll be seeing more of them soon.
Talking with a group afterward, it seemed that the film’s third act was also its most divisive aspect. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say that I think everything about the ending is layered in the film’s first half and cohesive with the thematic content at work (chief among them economic entitlement and quarter-life malaise). Basically, people are always going to find narrative threads to pull at, but that doesn’t mean that a film is any less enjoyable for those that don’t feel the need to compulsively nitpick.
With the discussion of “simple vs. smart” taking place recently in fandom with regards to Pacific Rim, You’re Next is a simple film that approaches its premise in an abundantly smart way.
Highly recommended, also highly recommended that you try to see it with an audience.
Bonus, if you’re into seeing people be put down for their poor grammar, someone started a twitter account that retweeted people using the improper form of you’re when talking about the movie. The account seems to have been suspended, but it was funny while it lasted.