At The Picture Show
Home invasion, shaky cam-style
Inept direction undermines the twisted comedy of 'You're Next'
Director: Adam Wingard
Screenplay: Simon Barrett
Starring: Sharni Vinson, AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Rob Moran, Amy Seimetz, Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn and Barbara Crampton
Rated R / 1 hour, 34 minutes
August 23, 2013
(out of four)
You're Next is a terrific comedy of manners and personal tensions - or at least it would be if it weren't constantly stifled and overwhelmed by what amounts to a mostly mediocre horror movie. Sharply observant of human behavior and at the same time deeply absurd, the script veers toward comic impulses time and again, only to see those impulses stomped on by a director who doesn't allow the comedy to breathe.
There's a nasty streak running through the film, but it doesn't come from the gore or from the home invasion at the center of the story. The nastiness is in its characters, a gathering of brothers and sisters and significant others who either know each other all too well or don't care to get to know each other at all. They're all gathered at the family's vacation home for an anniversary celebration for their parents (Rob Moran and Barbara Crampton), who are as pleased as can be to have all their children together at home again - at least, that is, until the kids start sniping at each other over the dinner table.
There's Crispian (AJ Bowen), joined by his new, younger girlfriend (and former student) Erin (Sharni Vinson); his passive-aggressive older brother Drake (Joe Swanberg) and his wife Kelly; the youngest brother, Felix (Nicholas Tucci), whose sullen girlfriend Zee (Wendy Glenn) shows no interest in social niceties; and finally the boys' sister, Aimee (Amy Seimetz), who has brought along her hipstery, underground filmmaker boyfriend Tariq (Ti West).
The film's richest material is in the character dynamics. Every bit of behavior - every gesture, every tendency - is just fodder for someone else's resentment, a confirmation of long-recognized patterns. Eye-rolling amongst the siblings is at a premium. There is a barely concealed sense of contempt between them all, and you get the feeling that this bit of theatre has played out over and over again in the past, and that with each glass of wine it's only going to get uglier.
But once the horror elements come into focus, director Adam Wingard seems to lose his balance, proving unable to fully capitalize on the inherent comedy that remains at play even as the family is being terrorized. Once the arrows start flying through the windows - first taking down poor Tariq, who gets one right through the head - Wingard shifts into chaos mode, resorting to the kind of close-up, handheld camerawork that lazy filmmakers use as a crutch when they have no other stylistic ideas.
The sense of chaos in the visuals and editing disrupt a handful of scenes that could have been great if only they'd been allowed to develop and breathe. My favorite and my least-favorite scene of the movie are one and the same: At one point, those who haven't been shot through the head determine that someone is going to have to make a run for it, right through the front door. It's the only way out, and they figure to catch their oppressors by surprise. But the decision devolves into a hilarious argument between the brothers about which one can run fastest, which then leads to an even more hilarious moment in which little sister Aimee screams that she never gets any credit for how fast she can run. It's a brilliantly conceived, well-acted and poorly directed and edited sequence that perfectly crystallizes the sense of humor permeating the entire movie, and the sense of frustration I had while watching it.
The inept camerawork is there to stay for the rest of the movie, with Wingard choosing to emphasize the chaotic horror elements, which happen to be his weakest area. It's all the more disappointing considering the film's genuinely chilling moments, which show a finely calibrated sense of composition and build-up (particularly the unsettling repeated use of Dwight Twilley's "Looking for the Magic"), and the kind of patience sorely lacking during the more action-oriented scenes.
That being said, Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett deserve credit for the way things ratchet up in the third act, once the mayhem has whittled the story down to one principal character, and the absurdity of the ultraviolence finally starts to pay off in increasingly horrific and playful fashion. But by that point, there had already been far too many missed opportunities.
There is a template to a home-invasion movie, and You're Next follows it pretty faithfully. But it never fully realizes what makes this particular home invasion scenario unique. It's the humor, stupid. This is a black comedy, pure and simple, trying way too hard to prove its horror bona fides.
Read more by Chris Bellamy