YOU’RE NEXT (2011)
[94 minutes. R. Director: Adam Wingard]
YOU’RE NEXT begins under dubious circumstances, recycling slasher-film clichés with precious little innovation: a schlubby guy (Larry Fessenden) fucks his girlfriend (who wears a distinct look of dissatisfaction) before walking to the kitchen for a snack. It’s not spoiling anything to say that this pre-title sequence goes exactly how you’d expect: the guy winds up dead, with the girl to follow. On the stereo, “Looking for the Magic” plays on repeat (a motif that will recur – with varying degrees of irony – over the course of the film).
But, as will be revealed over the course of the film, even this deceptively frivolous throwaway of a sequence has its place. Working from a clever script by Simon Barrett, director Adam Wingard (THE ABC’S OF DEATH) creates a horrifying experience of relentless tension and nasty surprises.
Like most current genre cinema, it traffics in well-established tropes to invent a notable gloss on the modern slasher. And on those terms, YOU’RE NEXT comes awfully close to an extreme-horror makeover.
Whereas films like HALLOWEEN, THE STRANGERS, and THE PURGE used masked villains as the ultimate representation of anonymity and blood-chilling amorality, the animal facades that adorn the assailants’ faces in YOU’RE NEXT juxtapose a children’s storybook quality against homicidal rage. It’s a contrast that works exceedingly well.
It’s appropriate, then, that the plot centers around adult children gathering at a palatial summer estate to celebrate their parents’ anniversary. To underline the atmosphere of impending doom, the film begins with long shots of desolate dirt roads and sprawling fields in the dead of winter. The interactions between the children hint at unresolved sibling rivalries and psychological wounds that never truly healed in adulthood; the way the parents acknowledge this is through unspoken regret communicated via wincing body language. Like most family functions, Barrett’s dialog shows a keen ear for awkward conversation and how the introduction of non-relations can make such situations even more uncomfortable.
Again, it’s pretty damn clever that the turning point of YOU’RE NEXT occurs during a chaotic dinnertime argument.
While the score brilliantly recalls the collaborations between John Carpenter and Alan Howarth (full of pulsing synths), the film doesn’t come off as a deliberate by-product of any particular filmmaking era. While some plot elements (dad has made out big on his retirement) recollect simple-minded B-movies of the 1950s and ‘60s, the violence is indicative of the gritty, boundary-pushing ‘70s (think LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT cranked up a few decibels), and some understated humor indicates the meta horror-comedies of the 1990s and beyond. That being said, YOU’RE NEXT always feels firmly rooted in the present, and seldom feels like less than its own individualistic beast – indeed, the film is so fast and furious that it rarely pauses to wink at the audience, instead favoring the adrenalin-soaked thrill of the hunt.
The cast retains a fitting authenticity, creating familial relations through a lack of familiar faces (RE-ANIMATOR Barbara Crampton notwithstanding), to the point where their inevitable demises carry an impact both visceral and emotional. Granted, while Barrett’s script puts the more disposable characters through clichéd situations, the “fight-or-flight” mentality driving such actions inspires sympathy instead of bad laughs. And when Final Girl Erin (Aussie beauty Sharni Vinson) is left to her own devices, it’s because she’s a genuinely strong character… not because she’s just had enough dumb luck to stay alive that long.
3.5 out of 5
Jonny Numb (aka Jonathan Weidler) is co-host of THE LAST KNOCK podcast. Find his movie reviews at: http://numbviews.livejournal.com. Twitter: @JonnyNumb.
(Photo from Imp Awards.)