So everyone knows that I’m not much of an auteur of modern horror. I’ve got my opinions and views on the ‘new age’ of films that have been coming out since the new century began since I’m more attached to the classics of yesteryear. When I first saw the trailer to “You’re Next” I thought to myself, this looks pretty darn good though I’m always a bit leery when it comes to anything modern. Probably it’s because I’ve noticed that this generation’s films rely too much on the CGI and semi-faux effects instead of relying on atmosphere and storyline. Now, every then I will come across a gem like The Strangers or Inside, but that’s been few and far between. A few months ago I sat in front a little independent film called V/H/S that introduced me to a new wave of directors that are leaning toward the old-style of filmmaking including Adam Wingard, who directed this film, and two other directors from that film who actually starred in this one.
Now, I don’t want to go and go scene by scene because I think different people could form different opinions about this one. There are many horror fans who take things at the visceral level: what I see, is what I get. There are other horror fans who go a little deeper: There’s more to this film that what I’m seeing. Then, there are fans like me who were raised old-school:Let’s see if this film rips any others off [or attempts to] and see how well [or how awful] they do it. Because let’s face it, most of these modern film borrow something from previous films, no matter how much or how little. I’m one of those fans that, while paying close attention to the storyline [if it’s got me in its jaws enough], I look around to see if there’s anything I’ve seen before, if there’s any nods to any of the grand classics (The basement scene in The Cabin in the Woods, anyone?), and just how many touches these directors leave in my mind. This one wasn’t an exception whatsoever.
So before I begin, let me give you the honest reasons why I decided to see this film. 1. It’s a slasher film. With most of the films in recent day that have been released have to do with the supernatural aspects of horror, my heart and soul will forever belong to the stalk and slash genre of these films. Get ten or twelve people and have them knocked off one by one and you’ve pretty much got me sold. The formula for me has always been a definite winner in whatever type of form you present it to me (giallo!) even though we all have sat through those films that have left us groaning in agony on how terrible they are (The Prey, Don’t Go In the Woods). 2. Not only was it directed by Adam Wingard, who directed the V/H/S segment “10.31.98”, but it stars Joe Swanberg, who starred in the segment “Second Honeymoon” and directed the segment “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” but it also starred Ti West, who directed the V/H/S segment “Second Honeymoon” and directed two films I love, The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers. 3. I read somewhere in the horror grapevine that it was a homage and total throwback to the heydays of the 80’s slasher. So just with that, you know I was going to be in line. Sadly, I wasn’t able to see it on opening weekend but finally made some time this past Monday to get into the theater and see it.
I really don't want to give much of the plot away (as I sometimes do in these reviews) but the premise revolves around the gathering of the children of the Davison family at their parent's remote Missouri home as they are are celebrating the 35th wedding anniversary of their parents. Little to they know that their neighbors have been brutally murdered. As one by one the siblings arrive, they all come around with their partners and eventually sit around to a nice family dinner to celebrate the occasion. I know that sounds pretty basic, but to my surprise, that was the first forty minutes of the film. Funny as this will sound, the obligatory opening murder sequence didn't take as long as the rest of the film leading up to the dinner. I have to be honest that I was tempted to walk out of the theater as introduction of the rest of the characters took a little more time than I expected. But, since I'd seen the trailer for this several times, I already knew that I had to be patient for the dinner scene is where all the action would begin. The siblings consist of Crispian (A J Bowen), Drake (Joe Swanberg) and Felix (Nicholas Tucci) and their sisters and respective romantic partners whom all are meeting for the first time on this trip. We do get some strong characters, though, in particular Crispian's girlfriend Erin (amazingly played by Sharni Vinson). She's a little bit of a bad-ass which immediately sets her apart from everyone else. So as the family sits down to dinner, the mood is suddenly overturned by big brother Drake's (did I mention Joe Swanson is in this film? Dammit, I love this man!) need to point out to the family that Crispian's girlfriend, Erin, is a former student and suddenly the two of them go at it in such a hilarious manner that it honestly reminded me of my family. Oh, and did I mention that younger sister Aimee's boyfriend Tariq (Ti West) is a filmmaker? (Great tongue in cheek nod there, guys). So Drake lays it on thick sarcastically on both of these guys and as the entire family (predictably) boils over and each starts throwing their own two sense into the now-explosive argument, Tariq stand up and walks toward the window overlooking the driveway as he's seen something (or someone) out in the distance.This is where it all begins.
(Spoiler alert! If you haven't seen the movie and plan to, I don't suggest going any further, as most of what's in the trailer I've pointed out above.)
What ensues during the next few minutes is nothing short of a hot mess of events, each more tragic than the last. And by "hot mess" I mean that in a good way. Tariq is shot with a crossbow arrow in the forehead and Drake is shot in the back with another. Chaos dominates and you immediately are placed in the family's shoes as you try to figure out just what the hell has happened and try to sort everything out with every second that follows. I sat there and watched as more than half of the clan is killed off within the next twenty minutes with only a few of them surviving. So who is stalking them and why are they wearing animal masks? Are they just a bunch of random assailants who chose the family to have some fun and pick them off one by one? How did they know the entire family would be together on this one particular night and place? So this is where Erin comes in and starts organizing the family's defense and starts making a plan to safeguard the house. Let me tell you, she's a feisty little bitch, and I loved every minute she was on-screen (She will later reveal that she grew up in a survivalist compound as a child in Australia). She gets the rest of family to try and be strong and to get themselves together to try and prevent any of the attackers from getting into them. She even takes it upon herself to send a text message to Emergency Services in hopes to get someone to come out to their aid. Crispian then volunteers to go for help, assuring everyone that he can get to his car and go for help. While this is going on, upstairs the matriarch of the family is murdered and dad discovers her dead body in her bed with a machete in her head (nice!). As he breaks down in total sadness, the audience is then shocked to watch him being slain in front of his son Felix and his girlfriend. But here is where the film takes an unforgettable turn! As you watch dad die before you eyes, you notice there there is not one bit of emotion on Felix as his father has just brutally been slaughtered. And just as you're trying to process that and mouthing "what thefuck?", one of the masked killers appears in the hallway. They're next! Or at least, that's what you're expecting. But as the killer stands there before them and you're just waiting for what you think is going to be a fantastic double-slaying, Felix utters the words,Did you have to do that in front of us?
That's when I shot up my seat and burst out into joyous laughter and the same time thinking What the hell just happened? The first thing I immediately thought after that (unexpected) revelation was, Bay of Blood! Inheritance money! Apparently, I was right as we find out that Felix hired a trio of hitmen to off the family in order to get his hands on hundreds of thousands of dollars. I thought it was a nice twist as I wasn't sure how the killers and their motive(s) would be explained.
So now that that out in the open, now we're suddenly concerned about the rest of the family. Those who are left, at least. But wait, where's Crispian? So the next part of the film is Erin fending off the killers without a clue that the bigger dangers are Felix and his girlfriend. While she is off defending the house, Felix and the now lucid Drake (he'd passed out from his wound earlier in the film) go down into the basement to see what kind of weapons they can find to use as an arsenal against the assailants. Since the killers had been unsuccessful in disposing of his brother, Felix takes upon himself to do away with Drake, stabbing him with multiple screwdrivers. He then whispers to him, why won't you die? It's a pretty chilling and very effective scene and is one of the highlights of the film and it's a great lead into the final act. After being attacked upstairs, Erin jumps through a window and impales herself with a shard of glass. Being the scruffy little resilient woman she is, she pulls the piece of glass after finding a safe spot outside and makes it back into the house after being attacked yet again outside. Once inside, she is attacked again and does away with son of a bitch, taking his axe and planting a booby trap with it at the front door. But not before hiding in a part of the house that allows her to overhear a conversation between Felix, Zee and two of the killers that reveals their entire plan. And here is where we finally see that Emergency Services has received Erin's call. Yes! Help is on the way.
Again,Where is Crispian?
And here we begin the final act with Erin attempting to hide in the basement and does something I've never seen before. She uses a digital camera set to automatic flash to distract and confuse one of the killers. The effect is fantastic on screen with flashes lighting up the entire theater every few seconds as she watches him walk around searching for her. When she finally reveals herself and disposes of him, we reach the film's climax with Erin facing off in the kitchen with both Felix and Zee. She manages to kill them both (with a great death-by-blender scene) and as she sits on the floor next to Felix, we are treated to a nice little second twist: The cell phone in his pocket rings...and when she answers it,It's Crispian on the other line! Thinking his brother is on the other end of the line, he says,Is it over? it's then revealed to the audience that he was part of it all the whole time! He begins to apologize to what he thinks is a silent Felix for fleeing the house and never returning. So when he comes back into the house to find Erin holding his brother's cell phone, he begins to explain to her that she was never to have been harmed, that she was supposed to survive to be a witness to the what happened that night so they could inherit the family formula. He starts to promise her the world, that the money could be used to pay off her school debts and that she'd finally be able to study full time as she'd always wanted. Since she's never had any sort of criminal record and her story would be believed by anyone, she was to have been the only survivor of the onslaught. Not falling for his bullshit, she immediately stabs him in the neck and then the eye, completely foiling the entire plan. Now, remember when I mentionedBay of Blood? At that film's ending, the final two survivors think they're getting off scott free walk happily into the proverbial sunset when they are shot to death by their little children, making them the sole inheritors. So I told myself,this film is going to end with a gunshot somewhere. And sure enough! A police officer arrives at the house and discovers Erin hovering over Crispian's dead body and when he sees the carnage that's spread all over the room, he takes his gun out and shoots Erin, knocking her to the floor.Yes! But, that's not the best part. In one of the best endings I've seen in recent horror history, the cop goes out to his patrol car and radios for help, still flabbergasted by what he found inside the house. When he comes back to the scene, you suddenly remember about the axe booby trap Erin set earlier! Despite her warnings to not come through the door, the cop walks in and sets off the trap and we watch the hatchet fly toward his face. With a loud ecstatic and enthusiastic scream coming from yours truly, the film smash cuts to a title card reading "You're Next" written in deep red blood.
Now let me tell you why I enjoyed this movie more than I expected. First of all, the mood that's set is fantastic but only thanks to the house the Davison's had gathered in. From the outside, though a gorgeous piece of property, it screamshorror film in every single way. The colors that were used on the exterior along with the backdrop colors of it's surroundings made it absolutely chilling. The house is mammoth, with so many rooms and closets spread across it that it made the entire film believable. The set pieces and props inside the house were fantastic with antiques and vintage furniture lining every inch of the home. Secondly, themusic! Mads Heldtberg's score was a complete homage to the horror films of the 70's and 80's. I was completely reminded of the impact a lone strategically placed synthesizer and one drum sound can make! In the final act, I was fooled for a few seconds into thinking that I'd been watching an European giallo! I actually got chills and my heart started beating rapidly. The wonderful and clever use of "Looking for the Magic" by the Dwight Twilley band was a highlight of this film. You will never be able to hear that song and not see the image of the stereo display at the neighbor's house going back to 00:00. And lastly, and I know I may get a lot of shit for this, but Sharni Vinson as Erin has got to be one of the BEST final girl performances in recent memory. She seriously rivals Amy Steel's Ginny inFriday the 13th - part 2, which I've always considered the best final girl performance ever. Erin had her shit together - not only did she know what to do, but she knew how to do it. And she did it with such an ease, as if it wasn't her first rodeo (she did grow up a tough gal, though, remember?). She had charisma, she was beautiful, she had panache and she knew how to kick ass. She put the boys to shame, let me tell you. You couldn't resist in cheering her on and rooting for her.That's how you play a final girl.
With some of the crap that's been released theatrically within the last few years and with the more recent horror films being released are either watered-down remakes of classics or having to do with the supernatural, this was a great breath of fresh air and a great and unexpected treat. I will more than likely be watching this one again soon, but will make sure to walk into the theater just as the dinner scene is commencing. Maybe it's because I had the entire theater to myself, but I would have been mad at myself if I'd walked out during this scene like I'd originally planned for I would have robbed myself of a good time. Go see this!