Monday, 10 March 2014

You're Next (2013)


Home invasion films are a dime a dozen. It's one of the quintessential fears of middle-class America it seems, and that fills seats and sells DVDs. With so much competition it's an effort to stand out. You want to aim less for The Purge which was universally panned, The Strangers which got mixed reviews (some of it was brilliant, personally speaking) and go more for something of the same quality as Funny Games.

 Horror as a genre tries to tap into something primal in your brain, and I'm convinced fear of a home invasion is somewhere in there. Even the toughest person's been home alone at night and heard something thud or creak somewhere in the house and felt that small gut punch of anxiety. Nearly every time it's nothing. It was probably just a pipe creaking or the damn cat, but no matter how many times you rationalise that, you still have to have a careful look around each room before you go off to bed and "forget" to turn the lamp off.

You're Next pulls off what I think The Strangers did so well. Building a sense of fear and dread is something that's common to every horror picture. It's the promise that a film-maker makes for the rest of the film. Sometimes they make a big promise and can't deliver. Director Adam Wingard makes a few we've heard before in the setup: a girl goes to a gathering of her new boyfriends family in a big house in the middle of an area where you have to drive to your next-door neighbour's house. It has a couple of false scares towards the start ("Oh it's just you!"), but once things start to get heated the sense of fear goes full throttle. These people are scared, they don't know what's happening to them or why, and neither do you. Some brilliantly voyeuristic cinematography breeds an atmosphere of paranoia and impending doom.

Some quick and clever editing leaves you guessing a lot of the film. It's a struggle to keep track of how many attackers there are, with their uniform of black tactical clothing and those standard issue horror movie animal masks. If you're paying attention you'll be able to figure it out quickly, but good luck with that when the shit is truly hitting the fan in from all directions.

At a key point we're given an inkling or partial clue as to why it's all happening, and that's when the promise ends and the delivery has to step up. Where The Strangers failed to deliver, You're Next makes a smart move and shifts the tone of the film, if only slightly. Many will disagree, but it takes on an air of dark humour towards the second and third act and it's like an unexpected Christmas gift: you didn't get what you were expecting exactly but you're still smiling.

It's no Cabin in the Woods or Shaun of the Dead in terms of comedy. If you're a fan of horror you'll be clued in enough to get some laughs out of it, and if not you can just sit back, grip the arm of the sofa and strap in, 'cos you're in for one hell of a blood soaked ride.

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