Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage of the Melbourne International Film Festival. For more information on MIFF visit http://miff.com.au/and follow the festival on Twitter at @MIFFofficial.
It has been a while since I was giddy with joy, while at the same time shaking in my boots, at the end of a really great horror film. Something that moves me to pure joy from seeing something fresh, enjoyable and most importantly scary is rare. For me, Wes Craven is usually the responsible party for such a reaction with New Nightmare and Scream. Only two years apart, yet light years ahead of the competition (the late 80s/early 90s were dire for the horror genre), those two self aware, meta exercises in terror brought a new level to the genre with an eye for pop culture and intellectualism. Craven (and Kevin Williamson) pumped much needed life into a sagging genre.
Barrett’s script doesn’t dig for emotional resonance like The Exorcist, make a comment on our violent society like Hostel, nor does it try to reinvent the wheel. No, this is a lean, stripped back - but smart - visceral horror film; the kind of terrifying experience that the Evil Dead remake tried, and failed, to deliver.
Recently, Detention and Cabin in the Woods used the Scream template, mixing humour and horror, which for me were good but unremarkable. Their self-awareness and gags cut into their ability to scare. Now we have You’re Next, an unapologetic hurricane of thrills and laughs, whose makers have a clear affection for the genre, and a sense that it might be time to try something a little more straightforward. By no means a game changer - about the only thing missing from this home invasion film is the dreadful “based on a true story” tagline (The Strangers beat them to that punch) - it sticks close to the “rules”, but rises far above them, treating them as something to work creatively with, not be restricted by. For every time characters unironically split up amidst the carnage, there is a pitch perfect scare that will leave you trembling, a gag that will have you howling or a twist that will have you gasping. Horror films rarely come as much of a hoot as this one.
The set up is simple - the Davison family head out to their holiday home to celebrate 35 glorious years of marriage between Aubrey (Barbara Crampton) and Paul (Rob Moran). The couple, their adult children and their partners are blissfully unaware that their only neighbour was violently murdered by a masked intruder the night before and that they are next on the kill list. Unaware, that is, until the first attack in the middle of dinner. But soon to be Davison in-law, sweet as pie Erin (Sharni Vinson) has a few survival tricks up her sleeve.
You’re Next is one of those rare occasions in which everything clicked - from the quality of the film and confidence of the film makers to the response of the enthusiastic, blood thirsty audience, who laughed and jumped in all the right places. With a firm commitment to making this fun for its target audience, scriptwriter Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard are also deadly serious. These villains mean business. People will get hurt. There will be blood. This is not for the squeamish. A sense of humour of humour evident, but You’re Next is not winking at and nudging its audience in a self aware way.
Barrett’s script doesn’t dig for emotional resonance like The Exorcist, make a comment on our violent society like Hostel, nor does it try to reinvent the wheel. No, this is a lean, stripped back - but smart - visceral horror film; the kind of terrifying experience that the Evil Dead remake tried, and failed, to deliver. The characters are introduced, there is banter and some tension - enough to gain our sympathy and empathy - before they are bumped off in horrifying ways in no particular order. But they are grounded enough in reality that even stupid decisions made are understandable in the confusion and chaos of the attacks. It is that grounding but also Wingard’s meticulously structured scares that make this a scary, peek from between your fingers ride. The prologue to each kill is reminiscent of John Carpenter’s Halloween - Wingard, too, treats the build up with as much importance as the gory punch line for maximum, nail biting tension.
Vinson is a revelation as the resourceful Erin. Her long stint on Aussie evening soap opera Home and Away and a handful of subsequent one-off appearances on American TV crime shows didn’t inspire much career hope for the former dancer (nor did Step Up 3D), but this role fits her like a glove and she continuously surprises. There is no soul searching and she is no wallflower trying to act tough (like Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs), but the transition from soft, loving girlfriend to fighter is believable - a key element. It is refreshing to see a female character with her head squarely on her shoulders. Vinson also convincingly pulls off the physicality demanded of the role, quite a feat considering her worryingly slim frame.
You’re Next is one of those rare occasions in which everything clicked - from the quality of the film and confidence of the film makers to the response of the enthusiastic, blood thirsty audience, who laughed and jumped in all the right places.
Faltering only slightly in the final stages of its third act, You’re Next doesn’t quite know when to quit. Despite a brisk 96 minutes, Wingard and Barrett forget that too much of a good thing can sometimes be overkill. And the final stinger, while keeping in tone with what has preceded, ends the fun on an amusing but strange note. But this is what horror is supposed to be about - scary but fun. You’re Next might not boast script meta intelligence, however the end result is just as powerful and enjoyable. And when it elicits applause form the audience, you know it has does its job right.
[notification type=”star”]90/100 ~ AMAZING. You’re Next is a lean, stripped back - but smart - visceral horror film; the kind of terrifying experience that the Evil Dead remake tried, and failed, to deliver. [/notification]