Saturday, August 24, 2013

You're Next (2011)

After screenings at the Toronto International Film Festival and Fantastic Fest in 2011, director Adam Wingard’s latest horror film, You’re Next, arrived in US cineplexes this weekend.  And while it's better than some of the other genre offerings over the past few years, a weak second half opts to substitute a series of bloody fight scenes for any sense of horror or dread.

The story involves a family gathering in a secluded mansion.  Once the siblings, and their partners, arrive for their parent's anniversary celebration, family dynamics lead to a heated argument over dinner.  But a trio of killer, dressed in black paramilitary garb and white animal masks, interrupt the bickering siblings with a well-planned attack against the family.  But despite their meticulous preparations, the killers didn’t plan on a guest with the skills to make their siege much more complicated. 

Sorry, not giving away any spoilers in the photos either

It’s a simple story, but Simon Barrett’s script is very tight.  A veteran of the horror genre  (having worked on Dead Birds, A Horrible Way to Die and segments for The ABCs of Death and V/H/S), he injects a healthy dose of black humor into the script.  Character revelations are reveled during the story, without an over-reliance on expository scenes that would stop the action.  And his script is carful to include actions by certain characters earlier in the film that give future plot twists credibility.  

Director Wingard (A Horrible Way to DieThe ABCs of Death and V/H/S) delivers some intense moments during the siege.  The violence is intense, realistic (with one exception late in the film) and quite graphic.  Though the film contains several predictable jump scares, and the killers have moments of precognition that would rival Jason, the film never gets so ludicrous that the audience’s suspension of disbelief is shattered.  And, to be fair, the jump scares are well filmed and downright creepy at times. 

The only distraction to Wingard’s work is his tendency to move the camera during most of the film, ranging from subtle bobbing to rather rapid shaking.  The movement is intended to unnerve the audience and never turns into the frantic motion associated with found footage film.  But the appearance of the killers is creepy enough when they emerge from hiding, and the technique feels excessive, unnecessary and rather annoying.  You might wonder if he was sleeping during classes on the use of a tripod.

Stop moving the camera, you're making ME sick!

The cast, which includes horror veteran Barbara Crampton and director/writer Ti West, is also quite good.  Even when a character break the basic rules of surviving a horror movie, the cast sells the moments well, aided by a script that makes their actions feel like something anyone would do in similar circumstances. 

But though all the elements for a spectacular horror film are present, You're Next just doesn’t gel.  The problem is the script revels the motivation for the attack, and a major plot twist, too early and drains any sense of suspense and terror out of the film.  Instead, the filmmakers begin to rely on a series of brutal fight scenes to keep the momentum going.  Such a tactic can work in a horror film, as movies like Inside prove.  But, for such scenes to work, the film needs to maintain a sense of horror and dread.  Wingard and Barrett forgot that one ingredient and focus on the bloody action alone.  Once the atmosphere developed earlier is lost, the film's protagonist became little more than an action hero trading blows with a series of villains, not the survivor of a horror film.  

No, that's not your cat in the window!

And that's too bad, as You’re Next started strong.  But once the filmmakers lost focus on the horror of their tale, the film devolves into a series of action scenes that might be bloody and brutal, but aren't very scary.

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