Judge Patrick Bromley is number 737.
The animals will hunt you.
2013 was a good year for horror. In addition to the large number of small independent films receiving either limited release or going straight to DVD (The Battery and Grabbers), there was Rob Zombie's The Lords of Salem, the super-successful The Purge, and not one but two offerings from James Wan—Insidious: Chapter 2 and the new classic The Conjuring. Standing above all of them was Adam Wingard's You're Next, released after sitting on the shelf for two years and begging the question: What took so long??
Facts of the Case
A wealthy family gets together at a remote home for what appears to be the first time in a while. There's Dad (Rob Moran, There's Something About Mary) and Mom (Barbara Crampton of From Beyond, making a welcome return), who is prone to panic attacks and requires medicating. There's Prodigal Son Drake (Joe Swanberg, A Horrible Way to Die) and his slightly annoyed wife Kelly (Margaret Laney). There's beloved daughter Aimee (Amy Siemetz, Upstream Color) and her new boyfriend, a filmmaker named Tariq (director Ti West). There's youngest son Felix (Nicholas Tucci, Chilling Visions: 5 Senses of Fear) and his new goth girlfriend Zee (Wendy Glenn, 11-11-11). And finally, there's Crispian (AJ Bowen, The Signal), the son who turned away from his family's wealth and became a college professor, and his girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson, Step Up 3), the biggest outsider to the group. Everything is going fine: there's some conversation, some awkward tension between siblings—regular family stuff—but then something comes crashing through the window. Before you know it, there are men outside the house wearing only animal masks, armed and intent on breaking in to kill everyone.
You're Next isn't just my favorite horror in a long time; it's one of my favorite movies of the year in any genre.
Unlike some of my other favorite horror movies of recent years, You're Next isn't about a whole lot more than it's about. It has none of the political implications of The Woman and isn't interested in the meta deconstructionism of The Cabin in the Woods. This is not to say it contains no subtext; director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett are clearly interested in blowing up some genre conventions and tweaking the traditional role of the Final Girl. But that stuff is secondary. More than anything, it's a movie that's incredibly good at being scary, suspenseful, funny, entertaining, and FUN; a testament to having solid foundations—good writing, good direction, good cast. It doesn't reinvent the wheel, it just rolls it really well.
There's a case to be made that You're Next is secretly about relationships—the things we do and do not tell our partners, and the ways in which revealing those details can impact what we previously thought was a happy union. I know none of that sounds very scary, so please don't think the movie is some Kate Hudson romantic comedy passing itself off as a horror film. The horror here works; Wingard knows how to set up and pay off tension for maximum effect, and You're Next doesn't pull any punches with its intensity. But what makes the film special is that it isn't only about scares and intensity. It's very, very funny and a whole lot of fun.
I have little patience for the home invasion movie, whether it's Funny Games, or The Strangers, or The Purge, or Funny Games (2008), or whatever. This may be because I find them too horrifying; life is terrible enough without feeling like people in masks are going to break into my house and kill my family. The argument could be made that I avoid these movies because they work, which is what good horror movies are supposed to do. With You're Next, it's as if Wingard and Barrett sensed my unease (the world is all about me) and came up with a solution. What that solution is I won't say, but the pair managed to take a genre I typically avoid and spin it into one of my favorite movies of the year.
Anyone who has been waiting for Adam Wingard to blow up should hopefully see it happen after this. There was a ton of good stuff in A Horrible Way to Die—a horror movie told as sensitive indie drama, and one I like more every time I see it—but some of the directing choices got in the way of the otherwise strong emotional connections. His contributions to recent horror anthologies like V/H/S, V/H/S/2, and The ABCs of Death have been mixed, with some good ideas and a solid streak of humor (in the latter two), but I hadn't yet seen Wingard firing on every cylinder. That would be You're Next, a movie that understands how to build a scare, how to create sympathetic characters in a short amount of time and, most importantly, gets the tone just right. It's a home invasion/slasher movie that doesn't feel mean spirited. For once, we're not supposed to be rooting for the killers. We like these characters—even the ones who are introduced as douchebags—and we want them to survive. That's a testament to the performances of the cast, many of them indie film veterans and directors themselves, all creating memorable characters that are more than just pencil outlines. Pay attention to the ways in which everyone behaves when the bad things start—who does and who does not try to help, who is brave and who isn't. It goes against our initial impressions, and is just one more example of how clever the movie is.
Lionsgate's You're Next (Blu-ray) does a good job with very deliberate cinematography. The 2.40:1/1080p HD transfer retains the film's graininess and muted color scheme; it's not nearly as polished as some other, bigger budget releases, but that's never what the filmmakers intended. The lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track keeps the dialogue audible while doing its best to enhance the scares with solid ambient presence and strong low end. Wingard and Barrett appear on not one but two commentary tracks. On the first, they're joined by stars Sharni Vinson and Barbara Crampton for a fun and relaxed behind-the-scenes chat; on the second (which they admit they opted to record because they left so much out of the first talk) they get more into production details but never lose their sense of humor. If you've heard a commentary from Wingard and Barrett before, you know how loose and entertaining they can be. The commentaries on You're Next continue that tradition. The only other bonus features—besides the excellent (if a bit misleading) trailer and standard DVD copy—is a short featurette that's absolutely loaded with spoilers. Watch it only after if you've seen the movie.
There are so many clever touches to You're Next that only really become clear once you've seen the whole thing play out. None of the characters are what we first believe them to be (for better and for worse), and the movie subverts all our expectations in small ways, even though it's not about being subversive. It's about delivering, and You're Next delivers.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Other Reviews You Might Enjoy
Scales of Justice
Review content copyright © 2014 Patrick Bromley; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.