Thursday 29 August 2013

Bloodlines: "You're Next"

The writer-director partnership of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett first came to this viewer's attention with the 2010 DTV release A Horrible Way To Die, a strikingly fresh take on the serial killer movie that proved more moody character study than grabby exploitationer, and - crucially - was at least as interested in the victims as it was in the murderer. Their follow-up You're Next preserves that mumblecore-derived interest in character, even as its central family reunion is revealed as the premise for a home invasion movie that, among other minor triumphs, shows up the recent hit The Purge for the generic, ideas-free screenfiller it surely was. 

The isolated woodland mansion at the new film's centre pointedly belongs to a defence contractor, at a stroke establishing both possible motives for the assault, and a seam of social satire at the expense of a landed clan who haven't quite got their heads around the notion of trickledown economics. And you can get a sense of Wingard's slice-and-dice approach to genre by scanning the cast list: Barbara Crampton, the busty heroine of the schlock classic Re-Animator, is returned to (if not wholly reanimated) as the clan matriarch, numbed on depression medication; mumblecore lynchpin Joe Swanberg is eldest son Drake, a vulgarian who lets slip over the dinner table that he prefers TV adverts to actual shows (now, of all times); Ti West (who did the pleasingly retro House of the Devil and The Innkeepers) cameos as the plus-one who first notices the masked gang outside wielding machetes, crossbows and hatchets.

A Horrible Way to Die - as much road movie or smalltown drama as it was a conventional horror flick - made much of its flat, nondescript middle-American exteriors, but You're Next closes in after its initial set-up, retreating within and mining the mansion's well-appointed drawing rooms for thrills and spills, to such an extent that you come to hear the three-man electronic score throbbing in your ears and stomach. It feels more like a budget-straitened debut film than its predecessor - albeit a debut film made by someone who's already logged multiple manhours, and therefore knows how to shoot and cut the hell out of a horror movie. (A UK equivalent might be Paul Andrew Williams' London to Brighton follow-up The Cottage, although Wingard replaces that film's larky splatter with serious squelch.) 

Barrett's contribution is to give his director enough characters - representing a variety of perspectives - to allow the film to develop (and keep surprising us) once the first wave of attack has subsided: there's an underlying tension between the family's newest sweethearts, not least because they're something of a mismatch, as played by the tubby AJ Bowen (the killer in Horrible Way) and perky Step Up alumna Sharni Vinson. Do Wingard and Barrett have a great deal to say with their honed and polished technique? Not really, save the insinuation that power corrupts, and that there are some funny fuckers out there. But big jolts, mad chills, clever narrative switchbacks and horrible, needless, spectacular deaths? Yeah, You're Next has those for days.

You're Next opens in cinemas nationwide tomorrow.

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