Wednesday, 25 June 2014

You're Next


American made horror seems to be in the middle of a gang war, West Side Story style. The Sharks, finger snapping and sashaying their way down the street are lead by James Wan and Leigh Whannel accompanied by their usual cast of boring faces and tired clichés. On the opposing side, propped up against a fence and combing their hair are The Jets; Joe Swanberg, Ti West and their crew of V/H/S clutching retro hipsters. 
You're Next is The Jets having a crack at a home invasion film with a predictably mumbly and down to earth approach. Crispian (A. J. Bowen) is taking his girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson) to meet his parents for a family meal at their new house, a dusty old mini mansion out in the countryside, miles from anywhere (conveniently for the plot). They are slowly joined by an ever growing number of family members and their other halves until the main event in which they all shout at each other across a huge dinner table. 

So just as family relations seem to hit an all time low Crispain younger sister's (Amy Seimetz) boyfriend (Ti West) goes and gets himself shot between the eyes with an arrow. From here on in the family are pursued, tortured and killed by a gang of boiler suit and animal mask wearing murderers, for no apparent reason than the fun of the kill. Trapped in the house with mobile phone reception blocked, Erin manages to put her Australian outback survival training to use to start fighting back and protect the ever dwindling number of people left to carry on her boyfriend's family name.

You're Next could so easily be one self satisfactory circle-jerk of modern horror directors willing to star in one of their buddies' films. Instead however it is over flowing with action, suspense and a brilliant wit that really lifts it above the majority of modern horror movies. Surprisingly, writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard's last full length offering was A Horrible Way to Die, a film I really didn't enjoy. They have seriously raised their game and proved they can create a film with scares and relentless tension that steers clear of so many easily perpetrated clichés. 

I am really impressed that I was made to jump out my skin at least twice. These weren't cheap jump scares either, they were actions that had consequences and really drove the plot. So many films resort to the trend that is set out by the likes of the Friday the 13th franchise, where jump scares are merely a throw away moment that points and laughs at the stupid gullible audience. The execution here though is perfect, you aren't settled back in to catch your breathe after the jump and as pace goes, the action kicks off pretty damn quickly and rarely stops for very long. 

Sharni Vinson plays a genuinely strong, bad-ass female lead and it is a credit to her, Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard that her role never feels crowbarred in. She is powered by ingenuity, experience, adrenaline and brute force and is by far the most enjoyable person on screen for the whole film. Joe Swanberg is also admirably annoying as the dick head older brother and A. J. Bowen possesses an on screen charisma he was sorely lacking in A Horrible Way to Die. 

Map... Therefore Aliens.
There are a few slightly annoying plot holes, but the story for the most part holds together really well. Exposition is left to a minimum but does get laid on pretty heavy when it arrives. Also a couple of the characters are annoyingly stereotypical, the grungey goth girl for example is pretty one-dimensional, although she does get one of the best lines of the film, which I won't ruin here. Also it feels like the house could have been slightly better utilised. One of the important elements of a home invasion film is the claustrophobic atmosphere which is always helped by giving the audience enough information to build a mental map of the building. True, the house in this case was pretty expansive but The Shining stands as testament that it's not the size that counts (or so I've been told). The audiences familiarity with the layout can be created subtly and creatively, even if the layout portrayed in the film has no bearing on real life (I'm talking to you Room 237 conspiracists). 

These are very minor criticisms though and for the most part there can be nothing but credit to all the film makers for creating something visceral, believable and enjoyable that shocks without resorting to unnecessary gore. It feels like a film made by people who would sit watching a film getting pissed off at the fact someone who has just had his foot blown off is managing to tap dance their way to freedom in the next shot. The injuries are lasting and meaningful and the deaths have consequences and emotional depth. Yet, amazingly, there is a perfectly balanced sense of humour piercing through the heart of the whole film.

Plie, 2, 3, 4 and Stab, 2, 3, 4
I really loved this film and look forward to Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett's future work. They are obviously film makers whose ability is on the rise, hopefully this upwards trend will continue and their next will be something truly spectacular. So, when the american directors are next plie-ing their way towards another knife fight, I'm going to find myself slicking my hair back, pulling out my flick knife and prancing around with The Jets.


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