Friday, February 21, 2014

Days of You're

I recently watched an independent horror movie released last year, You're Next. It tells the story of a wealthy family uniting to celebrate the parents' 35th wedding anniversary, only to come under siege by a masked group of vigilantes. It's the building blocks of The Strangers, with a dash of The Purge, and other new ideas swirled in.

The film caught my attention for some of the people involved. Oh, they're not people I really know by name, but I am familiar with their work. One of the smaller roles in the movie is played by a man named Ti West, who wrote and directed the surprisingly good horror film The House of the Devil. This movie apparently came from some of his friends, and drew upon much of the same talent pool both in front of and behind the camera. I was very curious to see what else might come from that circle.

The film starts off quite strong. The first hour is wonderful, building a gradual sense of dread and then lighting the fuse in an exciting way. But unfortunately, the film doesn't sustain. That seems to be because the filmmakers had other goals in mind. By the end credits, it has become abundantly clear that You're Next was never meant to be a pure horror movie. Instead, it aspired to be a kind of black comedy. (Very black.) What starts off playing things straight is really going for laughs by the final act.

But the journey isn't as smooth as it should be. The film very slowly stirs in the laughs at first. By about the mid-point, when it reaches a Scream-like level of humor, things still feel fairly natural. The movie has signaled well that it's okay to laugh, without getting too crazy. But the filmmakers wanted to go farther, and they didn't have much movie left to work with. And that's when things get too over the top. Things take on a sudden Home Alone kind of vibe. The dialogue turns preposterous. Even the music suddenly transforms into a ridiculous, low quality synthesizer score. It's clearly all intentional, but it's jarring, and a failed fulfillment on the fun promise of the opening acts.

Still, it's impossible to dismiss the movie entirely, because it is a really well made horror for the first hour. Snarky characters, clever deaths, tense situations... the people here knew what they were doing. I just didn't love everything they wound up doing. All told, I'd give You're Next a B+. Horror fans will almost certainly want to check it out, but this is no genre-hopping must-see for the rest of you.

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