Friday, August 23, 2013

You Want Kick-Ass? THIS Is Kick-Ass: You're Next

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

I first saw You're Next at the San Francisco International Film Festival back in April, and loved it. I knew I wanted to experience it again, to see if it holds up to a second viewing, after knowing ahead of time its twists and turns.

I'm happy to say, it does.

Back in April, the film had, almost two years after it was completed, finally gotten a distributor. It's hard to believe a horror movie this good would have such a struggle getting released, but I suppose one major factor is the lack of big name stars, both in front of and behind the camera. It comes from director Adam Wingard, who has experience in the "mumblecore" film movement as well as in its sub-genre, "mumblegore." (He directed segments in V/H/S and V/H/S/2.)

The premise is pretty simple, and on the surface doesn't look like it will be much different from any number of home-invasion horror movies released of late. Four siblings and their respective significant others gather at their parents' country mansion, (the parents are, thanks to dad's job with a major defense contractor, very rich), for their 35th wedding anniversary. But unbeknownst to them, their closest neighbors were murdered the night before by masked invaders who are still on the loose.

At the center of story is son Crispian, (AJ Bowen), who is bringing home his girlfriend Erin, (Sharni Vinson), to meet his parents for the first time. She's Australian, pretty, and was once his TA. He's an all-around struggling kind of guy: a professor who hasn't published in a long time, and the chubby brother who still gets called fat and picked on by his douchey sibling.

It doesn't take long for night to settle in, the guests to gather around a celebratory dinner table, and all hell to break loose. In true slasher movie fashion, the guests are picked off one-by-one, Ten Little Indians style. And also in true slasher movie fashion, there's one girl who decides to put up a fight.

And this is where the movie distinguishes itself, giving us perhaps the ultimate Final Girl in Erin, played with perfect intensity by Vinson. You want kick-ass? THIS is kick-ass. Vinson's Erin isn't the kind of girl who will stab a villain once, drop the knife, and then run away crying. She will...well, I don't want to give anything away. But let's just say she makes sure the bad guy is really down before moving on. She's a heroine that had audience members yelling "I LOVE YOU!" followed by "WHO DOESN'T!?"

Thankfully, this isn't an overly serious horror. It's not Funny Games. There's wicked humor throughout, and much of the dialogue has an improvised feel (another mumblecore staple). The low-budget helps to make the everything feel a little off-center, adding to the tension. And while there is some annoying shaky-cam cinematography here and there, for the most part, Wingard uses the widescreen well, revealing things in subtle shadows, and utilizing close-ups to build up suspense.

As mentioned before, there aren't any big stars here, and perhaps the most recognizable face is that of mother Aubrey, played by Barbara Crampton, who starred in the classic 1980's horror film Re-Animator. That bit of casting is a big tip off that the filmmakers know and love their horror movies, and there are many more homages and references to horror movies past to be found, including Halloween, Carrie, Night of the Living Dead, The Shining, Rear Window, and Spirits of the Dead.

Ultimately, You're Next is the best horror movie I've seen in years, and has everything you want out of the genre--and then some. The film offers up some twists that, on first viewing, did take me by surprise, which was refreshing. And while I think the ending has the potential to disappoint some viewers, all I can say is, pay close attention to those first ending credits. That ending may not be what you think it is.

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