You’re Next (Adam Wingard, 2013)
I have not been much of a fan of Adam Wingard’s recent work. A Horrible Way to Die showed potential but never realized it, and Wingard’s contribution to V/H/S (the frame story) was the weakest of the bunch. But I keep giving him chances because his first feature, Home Sick, blew my head off in the best of ways. I know it’s a pretty horrible thing to say, but I keep watching Adam Wingard movies because I keep waiting for him to make another Home Sick. And you know what? You’re Next, which as I write this has a very surprising 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (the “I hate everything horror” critics haven’t weighed in yet, I guess), is almost, but not quite, the movie I have been waiting for Adam Wingard to make for the past six years.
Plot: Paul (There’s Something About Mary‘s Rob Moran) and Aubrey (Re-Animator‘s Barbara Crampton in a very welcome return to horror cinema) are celebrating their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary at the new family vacation home out in the middle of nowhere, and they’ve invited all of their children out to celebrate—there’s Crispin (The House of the Devil‘s A. J. Bowen) and his girlfriend Erin (Step Up 3D‘s Sharni Vinson); Drake (V/H/S‘ Joe Swanberg, who recently stepped behind the camera to direct the highly-touted Drinking Buddies, coming out a couple of weeks after I’m writing this review) and his wife Kelly (Spider Man 3‘s Margaret Laney, for some reason credited here as Sarah Myers); Felix (Choose‘s Nicholas Tucci) and his new girlfriend Zee (11-11-11‘s Wendy Glenn); and the prodigal daughter, Amy (Wristcutters: A Love Story‘s Amy Seimetz) and her boyfriend Tariq (Ti West, a director in his own right, but appears in front of the camera on occasion, usually in films by either Wingard or Swanberg). All is going about as well as can be expected given that the siblings all pretty much hate one another, but thanks to the opening sequence, we are all too aware that a trio of masked killers (Home Sick‘s L. C. Holt, A Horrible Way to Die‘s Simon Barrett—who wrote this script, and who was also responsible for one of the best DTV movies of the past decade, 2004’s Deadbirds, and Lane Hughes, who has appeared in every Wingard film since 2007’s Pop Skull) are in the woods, watching and waiting for a chance to strike…
It sounds tired, and if you go into it expecting yet another home invasion movie (though let’s be honest, the bar for those is still pretty high—Funny Games, Ils, The Strangers, etc.), the first thirty minutes of this flick will do nothing to disabuse you of that, though the comedic aspect that made Home Sick such a treat but has been missing from Wingard’s work since is back in full force. But things start getting derailed in the best of ways after that, and before long you realize this is not at all the movie you thought you were paying to see. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a home invasion movie, but it’s as much a comedy as it is a survival thriller; it owes just as much to Peter Jackson as it does to Michael Haneke (especially in one scene that had the sold-out theater in stitches about fifteen minutes from the end of the movie). It’s funny, it’s perfectly-paced, the acting is fantastic, the soundtrack even better (especially in the last half-hour, when composers Max Heldtberg (Excision), Jasper Justice Lee (a longtime collaborator of Wingard’s), and Kyle McKinnon (The Mountain, the River, and the Road) drop the horror movie ambient-music cliché and just start paying homage to Goblin, which understandably brought whoops of joy from the audience I saw it with. In other words, it’s bloody fantastic, a fun, fun thrill ride I can’t recommend highly enough…
…save one problem, and that one problem is more than enough to balance out a lot of the movie’s strong points (though I suspect this will have less of an effect on the small screen). The movie isn’t filmed in shakycam, exactly. Let’s call it unSteadicam, instead. And to put it mildly, I haven’t been this motion-sick in a movie since The Blair Witch Project (and I’ve seen a lot of shakycam stuff on the big screen; Cloverfield, for example, was not a problem for me at all). I couldn’t watch about half of the movie with my eyes open wider than slits for fear of tossing my vastly overpriced popcorn back into its receptacle in a half-digested state. (And for the love of HTML5*, horror directors, can you please stop with the damn blinkies? That repeated-camera-flash scene was an instant headache generator.) If you’re planning on going, and despite the awfulness of the filming method, I do suggest you take this one in, because it does have many strong points, take some Dramamine half an hour before showtime. Or wait for it to show up on Netflix or DVD; translation to the small screen may mitigate the motion-sickness effect. So in short, I’m recommending it as enthusiastically as I can given the reservations in this paragraph; those who are weak of stomach (or who suffer inner-ear disorders) will need to avoid it on the big screen, but everyone else should be okay given girded loins and motion-sickness pills. *** ½
First official trailer. In HD, even!
*For those of you who didn’t get the joke: HTML5 is being marketed, in part, as an alternative to using Flash.