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You're Next (2013)

Spinning a Yawn

Your enjoyment of You're Next may hinge on factors that have nothing to do with the quality of the film itself. If you answer "no" to the following questions, this hyped-up home-invasion movie may be as "thrilling" and "inventive" as the large-quote posters and commercials would have you believe it is. Otherwise, the only thing to see here is an ugly, self-satisfied waste of time that comes across as having been really clever to the un-clever people who made it.

Shall we begin?

1. Do you know who Barbara Crampton is, and do you care? The filmic muse of Stuart Gordon's cult-horror classics Re-Animator and From Beyond stars as a wealthy matriarch named Aubrey. She and husband Paul (Rob Moran) host a rare gathering of their wildly dysfunctional grown kids and their kids' kooky significant others. The awkward dinner chit-chat quickly devolves into a night of terror as they're stalked by mysterious killers wearing plastic animal masks.

Crampton was great in the movies that made her famous, but she doesn't come off that well here. Sixty percent of the blame goes to director Adam Wingard, thirty percent to writer Simon Barrett, and ten percent to Crampton. As an audience, we're given multiple close-ups of Aubrey's concerned face, and the knowing looks she shares with Paul ahead of the family's arrival. But there's no time for a payoff or an explanation. Was the family dinner really just an excuse to catch up? Or was there going to be big news about mom's cancer coming back? Were the parents getting divorced? Like the ungrateful brood who shows up for free eats, the filmmakers don't seem to care about whatever is making the old people act weird.

From a writing standpoint, Aubrey is just the catalyst for poorly conceived suspense scenes. Why on Earth does Paul send Aubrey outside in the dark when he hears someone walking around upstairs? Why not go with her and call the police? Oh, that's right: this is a horror movie. Sorry, guys; that's bad storytelling in no matter what genre you're slumming.

As for Crampton's performance, if you have no sense of her iconic status in certain circles, you may walk away unimpressed. Like many of the actors in You're Next, she's given little to do but convulse in out-of-her-mind hysterics while screaming lines in ways that call into question her acting chops. I was happy to see Crampton back on the big screen, but much like her five-second laundromat cameo in The Lords of Salem, neither she nor the film get an ounce of credit for shaking a can of geek catnip.

2. Have you seen The Strangers, Funny Games, The Last House on the Left, The Collector, Panic Room, Straw Dogs, High TensionThe Purge, or A Nightmare on Elm Street? Recently, someone posited that, in terms of horror sub-genres, Home-Invasion is the new Found Footage. That's sort of true, but with the exception of The Purge, we haven't seen a lot of these movies in the last couple years--which explains why You're Next has such a pulled-from-the-shelf feel to it. Wingard's film may have been a zeitgeist-chasing exercise when it first emerged on the festival circuit two years ago, but today the story behind the Little Indie that Could is much more interesting than the actual movie.

Objectively, You're Next plays like a Greatest Hits collection of better (and worse) films of its kind. Its only claim to uniqueness is a "dark humor" streak that boils down to ill-conceived, sub-Scream snark that erects several dams in an otherwise passable narrative flow.

3. Are you an asshole? It's fitting that You're Next was put together from the same crew who gave us the least watchable segments from V/H/S parts one and two. Wingard and Barrett specialize in creating extremely unlikable characters who find themselves caught up in horrific situations due to hubris and stupidity. That will only carry you so far, even in a horror movie.

We're introduced to so many characters in the first fifteen minutes that it's impossible to get a feel for who they are or why we should be entertained by their being nasty to one another and/or displaying traits of clinical airheadedness. They're simply older, better-dressed versions of the body-count-movie victim archetype. And when a hero emerges from the group (the smokin' hot outsider, played by Sharni Vinson, whose dad just happened to train her in the art of lethal booby-trap construction--naturally), there's no sense of triumph; only a sinking feeling of Final Girl inevitability that barely carries the "story" through its tedious, requisite revenge setups.

Then again, maybe I'm just old-fashioned and believe there should be some personality to these movies. You're Next narrowly skirts a "torture-porn" critique, with its prolonged shots of people crawling through shattered glass while mortally wounded, and begging for their lives before being graphically bludgeoned into what might generously be called "pulp". A cheeky movie like this has no right to wander into the grown-up territory of High Tension, but that doesn't keep the filmmakers from trying. Wingard, Barrett, and the rest may be happy to know that, during my screening--as one of the masked assailants was getting whacked repeatedly by a meat tenderizer--a lady in the audience leaned forward and yelled, "Hit him! Yeah! Hit him again! Kill that motherfucker! Do it again!"

You may think it unfair of me to devote so much of this review to the hype machine that pushed You're Next into the multiplex. Honestly, if the movie had been an off-brand Redbox rental (as it very well should have been), my write-up would've been about two paragraphs long. By all rights, it should appeal to no one: far too graphic and depressing for non-horror audiences, and so jam-packed with clichés, terrible dialogue, and lame kills to raise the pulse of any genre die-hard worth their salt, You're Next is a pure marketing fabrication that has as much chance of standing the test of time as the similarly tasteless and bad-for-you Dorito-shell taco.

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