Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with a review from TIFF! Well, kind of. I’m not at TIFF, never been, but I always salivate at their line-up from afar, especially the Midnight Madness films.
This year I had the opportunity to catch one of the films in advance of the fest and look at me now, getting to feel like I’m participating in one of the greatest film festivals in the world!
The movie in question is called You’re Next and it’s a home invasion flick from Adam Wingard and much of the team that brought horror fans A Horrible Way To Die.
Now, I was a big fan of A Horrible Way To Die, but the technique of the movie did get in the way of the great story being told. If you haven’t had the chance to catch that one do seek it out. On the small screen the low-budget mumblecore reframing/shaky cam stuff won’t be as offensive as it is on the big screen and you’ll be able to focus on the fascinating story and great performances.
Thankfully I don’t need to put any such warning on my recommendation of You’re Next. It’s all that was good about A Horrible Way To Die and shot like a real movie to boot. I don’t mean to sound like a traditionalist snob, but I’m not the biggest fan of that kind of filmmaking technique. A lot of time the reframing stuff is used as a legitimate creative storytelling device, but more often than not it just feels like the filmmakers being lazy.
As I mentioned above You’re Next is a home invasion flick, a particular favorite subgenre of mine. From Straw Dogs to the more recent The Strangers there’s just something about the concept of being terrorized in your own home, a place that is supposed to be safe, that makes for fascinating viewing. Maybe I have a personal space phobia or something, but when these kinds of movies really work for me, man do they work.
And You’re Next works. Big time. The set up is simple. There’s a family gathering in an isolated country home and men with masks show up to ruin what is already a tense family gathering. It’s how Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett tell that simple set-up that makes it work.
Like the best home invasion thrillers, Wingard really puts you in that house, which is a character unto itself. I love when a filmmaker really takes the time to establish a location. It makes all the difference in the world in a film like this. You know the geography of the house, so in a weird way it starts to feel familiar enough to you that when the shit hits the fan it’s almost as if it’s your own house.
Yes, the movie is hardcore with the violence, but it never loses its sense of humor. There’s a particular running gag with an arrow that made me laugh. These movies can become a bit of a bummer if there’s no fun to be had. You gotta have some release.
So, the location, approach and tone are solid, but the real success of the film is how they handled the family and their tormentors. The character dynamics are really smart. It’s always a big plus when a genre movie avoids cliché. There are a few in here (masked stalkers is the big one), but Wingard and Barrett smartly play with convention. They know you know these kinds of movies, that there’s almost always that moment where the characters have to do really stupid shit in order for the movie to keep going, and they make sure to play with your expectation.
The whole cast is strong, which is another big help. Sharni Vinson and A Horrible Way To Die’s AJ Bowen lead the cast as two of the victims in the house. It’s Bowen’s family they are visiting and there’s a few familiar faces there as well, including Mumblecore Jesus Joe Swanberg and Barbara Crampton… Yes, Barbara “Re-Animator/From Beyond” Crampton. Also popping up in the house is director Ti West who doesn’t have a very good time, I’m sorry to say.
I’d love to go on about how great AJ Bowen is in this movie (he’s even better in A Horrible Way To Die), but ever since meeting him after seeing The Signal at Sundance we’ve become good friends, so I’m afraid you’ll just think I’m biased. Let me just say that Bowen brings the goods as usual.
Vinson is also really strong and that’s good because if she wasn’t the movie wouldn’t work. At a certain point she takes charge of the survival of the poor bastards in the house and if that turn isn’t believable coming from this petite, beautiful girl then it just would have been ridiculous.
I could go through the cast list and single everybody out, but that’ll make this review stupid and long, but everybody pulls their weight here. In particular, Swanberg is really strong.
Surprising, tense, graphic, shocking, entertaining, fun. You’re Next is all these things with the final two being the most crucial to me. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a horror movie that is both entertaining and unrestrained. Typically the more graphic horror stuff these days comes across as brutally serious. I could think of a lot of words to describe the Saw sequels, but “fun” isn’t one of them. Then you have the side of the spectrum, the Final Destinations, which are super fun, but light as cotton candy.
You’re Next feels a bit more old school while avoiding the old school formula.
This whole review is a lot of words basically saying that You’re Next is smart. It takes smarts to make a home invasion movie that doesn’t just tread water without being pedantic, that knows when to be fun and when to be scary, that can feel like it’s taking the subject seriously, but not too seriously.
That horror sweet-spot isn’t hit very often anymore. Genre films thrive in that dead zone between being overly serious and overly exploitational and that’s exactly the bullseye that You’re Next hit.
Don’t know what the distribution plans are, but I’m positive you’ll be seeing this one coming soon, most likely on the big screen. I mean, if The Strangers can catch on with audiences than this one’s a shoe-in. If there’s any word on this, I’ll let you folks know.
And that concludes my Toronto coverage! Wow, TIFF is easy. I didn’t even have to leave my comfy, comfy home! Why doesn’t everybody just do it like this?