Sunday, November 10, 2013
YOU'RE NEXT Restores My Faith in Home Invasion
Director: Adam Wingard
Rating: 8 / 10
Seen via: Raleigh, NC Dollar Theater
No sooner have I finished bemoaning the limited possibilities of home invasion films than along comes You're Next to change my mind. Here's a film that gets it - a film that understands that we don't want to empathize with weepy rich people and allows us to be shocked and sort of thrilled at watching the mannered upper class having their boundaries violated. And just to be fair, it occasionally forces us to acknowledge that we're getting our kicks from some genuinely horrible stuff before we go back to the fun.
You know how this sort of thing starts. Young lovers Crispian (played by the ubiquitous A.J. Bowen) and Erin (Sharni Vinson) journey to the lavish country home of Crispian's family for a reunion of sorts. It's quickly revealed that the rest of the family are a bunch of twits, each one with his or her own grating personality flaws, from arrogant brother Drake (Joe Swanberg) to creepy brother Felix (Nicholas Tucci) and his brooding girlfriend Zee (Wendy Glenn). Why are they such jerks? Don't worry, there's a good reason. Mom and Dad are drab and despondent, as all their wealth is powerless to solve the problem of Mom's depression. We know from the film's prologue that there are murderous criminals in the neighborhood. Can this stately house and this crumbling family survive the assault?
What's most surprising about You're Next is how the characters act against conventional expectations once the invasion begins. There's relatively little at stake initially since we're not terribly predisposed to like these people, but everyone transforms under pressure as they're forced to confront their attackers. Some become more loathsome, some sympathetic, and some downright evil by the end. A hero eventually emerges, but it's not necessarily one you might expect. While the scenario and the setup are familiar tropes, the varied way in which everyone responds goes far beyond the run/scream/hide/plead tactics typically employed by most home-invasion victims.
Adding to the film's effectiveness is its superb craft. I was initially skeptical about this film, having had mixed feelings about Adam Wingard's contributions to the V/H/S anthologies. Here he shows a surprising amount of skill behind the camera and a subtlety I hadn't seen in his previous work. Wingard constantly keeps us guessing as to what lurks in the negative space in his shots. Jump-scares are made more effective by creeping tracking shots that fizzle out and reveal nothing. These tense moments are interrupted with adrenaline bursts of action, the key moments of which are frequently dragged out in slow-motion to draw out the suspense and give you a clear view of the chaos. One of the best sequences involves a character searching a dark basement for one of the assailants with nothing but a camera flash for illumination. Little things like this count for a lot, especially when many films these days are content to furiously shake the camera around in an attempt to be scary. Layered underneath it all is a great soundtrack that throbs and pulses with vintage-style synths.
What struck me most about You're Next was how much fun it is. It's a film that isn't afraid to go off the rails occasionally. Sometimes it throws us a little bit more violence than we're expecting, other times it playfully holds back. There's a gleeful absurdity to the film as this family gradually self-destructs, which culminates in a reckless display of unconventional kitchen appliance use. It was in that moment that I remembered how nice it is to be surprised by a film like this, and how nice it is to have a director who's willing to pay attention to the details. Check it out.