Of all the popular movie genres, horror film fans are the most optimistic moviegoers around. Even more than sci-fi fanboys, each new release, be it The Conjuring, The Purge, or even "Freddy and Jason Go Vegan," the fans flock to theaters on opening night hoping for not just a good, or even decent movie, but an experience, one in which the genre is tweaked ever so slightly in a new and original way, allowing them to have the out-of-body catharsis that the best scary movies offer.
The Blair Witch Project did that. So did Paranormal Activity. And now that The Purge has long since disappeared, fans are still taking their friends to see The Conjuring just to watch their reactions to the horrifying events onscreen.
Now that companies like Lionsgate and Screen Gems are cranking product out faster than theaters can book screens, modern horror films, for better or for worse, have a flavor-of-the-month quality about them. Sadly the majority of them leave a bad aftertaste with fans and most certainly critics - the true nemeses of horror auteurs. It's the ones (like The Conjuring, Insidious, the first Saw) that have that Everlasting Gobstopper quality that get the true connoisseurs out to the multiplexes beyond that fateful opening weekend.
This month's offering (as in the burnt variety) is You're Next, a horror-comedy of sorts that has more buzz than your average honeycomb. The film has been advertised as yet-another doomed-occupants- trapped-in-a-very-big-house a la The Strangers replete with eerie mask-wearing goons. The ingenious title tells you everything you need to know - once one character is offed, the person who discovers them is, well, you get the idea.
The occupants in this case are an entertainingly dysfunctional family of means gathering for a weekend in a newly acquired multi-room home of the mother and father (horror vet Barbara Crampton and Farrelly Bros regular Rob Moran, respectively.) Something goes bump in the night, and before the blessing can be finished at the dinner table, arrows are crashing through windows, giving some supporting cast members an early exit.
What happens, um, next is best discovered sight unseen as the movie is both highly predictable at times while not so much at others. There are no Liv Tylers or Ethan Hawkes that you know will be left standing in the last reel and that helps provide a heck of lot of more suspense than this hackneyed sub-genre typically offers.
Savvy moviegoers will sense a BIG TWIST waiting in the wings and they would be correct. The movie is indeed fun although it resembles more of a mild thrill ride rather than a rollercoaster of sheer terror.
Is it scary? Not really. The first twenty minutes has way too may "boo" moments, i.e. somebody out of frame sets their hand on a character's shoulder, giving them and the audience a quickie jolt - sometimes just to offset the genuinely shocking moments, but still, a gimmick is a gimmick.
Director Adam Wingard, best known for his contribution to the much scarier V/H/S, provides some really nice set pieces and an overall eerie mise-en-scene. The scariest part of You're Next though is the genuinely ugly Digital Filmaking 101 cinematography. Not since Spike Lee's Bamboozled has a movie looked so flat and unappealing. To wit, one scene features an older female character whose hair appears gray, in the next it's nearly Hitchcock blonde. Did anyone even bother to color-time this thing?
And don't even get me started on the worst trend in movies, horror or otherwise, that has become as common as high body counts: the dreaded shaky-cam. Cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo's camera shakes with such irritating regularity that one would think they were watching a Wayans Bros send-up.
Most damning however is just how fake the abundant blood in the movie looks. For a movie as enjoyably good (and bad) as this, You're Next looks less like a director's latest movie and more like his first.
Still, any movie that features howler dialogue gems such as "Would you just die already?? This is hard enough for me as it is!" is something that should be on every horror fan's bloody radar.
Reviewed by Ward Porrill