Damn. That is the only word I can think to start this write up with, having wrestled with various other combinations of colorful descriptive and expletives but ultimately deciding any I concocted didn’t cut the proverbial mustard. So, damn it is.
The next thing I think is important to note from the start is that I would not dream of spoiling anything major in a film like this, no way. Outside of the basic plot framework (home invasion/slasher) and performances etc, going in with as little data as you can is absolutely the way to do it. No only is the plot twisty and turny at points but any visual cues that I could mention that you might look for could lessen the overall impact and fun. And oh man is it ever fun – but I’ll get to that in a bit.
I seem to be having an Adam Wingard-centric SXSW this year, having done V/H/S/2 Friday (directed/starred on one segment) and getting in to see this one Sunday night. Wingard is also the director of the brilliant, Simon Barrett written ‘A Horrible Way To Die’ (who also wrote You’re Next) which I absolutely love so I figure I came in with a slight bias to liking his work. But considering some of the reviews and such leading up to actually seeing You’re Next, I probably wasn’t the only one with some kind of a predetermined notion that I might dig it prior to walking into the theatre.
The story focuses on a family reuniting at a retreat home (purchased as a renovation project for the father, played by Rob Moran) to celebrate his and his wife’s (played by the awesome Barbara Crampton) wedding anniversary. Their children, the slightly dickish Drake (Joe Swanberg), earnest but put-upon Crispian (AJ Bowen), seeming black sheep Felix (Nicholas Tucci) and the doted on daughter Aimee (Amy Seimetz). Each bring their significant others including the jet-black crop haired, hardass looking Zee (Wendy Glenn) with Felix, the independent filmmaker Tariq (Ti West) with Aimee, lovely and professional looking but clearly on edge Kelly (Margaret Laney) with Drake and the even tempered, at-ease Erin (Sharni Vinson) with Crispian.
Right from the start of the film we’re introduced to the masked menace that decorates the film’s striking poster via an opening sequence involving two ‘lovebirds’ (unrelated to the main family) in a nearby home the night before. This introduction is great because it shows that whatever it is we’re dealing with means business, and, there may be no real rhyme or reason to what will follow. The threat is real and the threat is coming.
Soon after we shift to the primary story: the parents and their arrival at the home and the arrivals of the children. We’re given a little more with Bowen and Vinson in the car ride there which includes a little lighthearted humor to ease the intro. I think this was wise because, with the jarring threat just established nearby and the countdown already starting in our heads, we need a bit to invest us in this family and light humor in that car ride scene does that well.
Once everyone is assembled and seated for dinner, uncomfortable (and very funny) conversation percolates between Swanberg and West’s characters and old family baloney starts to then quickly creep up between brothers, stress on the parents side bubbles up and tired, standby family roles try to force their will in the situation. This scene is so well done, so smart (and amusing), because it gives is the score for this family – people who love or loved each other but are just as much stuck with each other whether they like it or not. This less-than-ideal family dinner is interrupted by a sudden shot of violence from an unseen aggressor and we’re off and running.
And once it starts, it does not let up one bit. At all.
It is just one turn against another, another threat popping up seemingly out of nowhere which immediately panics everyone and sends them into varying levels of stress reaction. This was (yet) another smart move on the part of Wingard, the chaos of what is starting to happen to them rips them apart to their very cores, their base level instincts if you will. But, this breakdown still carries over some of the vitriolic family BS which feels natural and what normal people would do. We as the audience don’t know what the best thing to do next is and these people sure as hell don’t. Well, for the most part. You would hope there would be someone who would stay calm and evaluate the situation. One contingent of the family tries initially and fails terribly so we’re left without a pilot for a moment. Until another person steps up, cautiously at first and then full-board.
Beyond that, I ain’t sayin’ nothing. Watching the character in question take the turn from somewhat unknown to unrelenting badass is breathtaking and fun and excellent beyond all reason. This character just kills it, not only in ‘cheer for’ moxie and inventiveness but in selling the backstory and how it permeates into the situation now. For a less skilled person in the role, and for a less well written backstory, this would seem somewhat lame and/or contrived.
For me? Not the case. I bought in hook, line and various metal instrument. I was cheering and clapping and hooting along with the rest of the audience as we went along for the ride, the fight back against this unknown and seriously violent threat. To see the fight, to see the unyielding violence against violence is the mark of what this type of film should really be about. Unrelenting and steady in the face of this horror.
A quick word about how the masked menace is handled – I cannot think of a way to let the air out of a thriller/slasher more than to diminish the threat they pose. Wingard makes his villain a supremely scary and near unstoppable force that you’re intimidated right along with the family. The intense, slow motion entry sequence early on is a thing of beauty. Just totally unnerving.
I realize now that the more I go on, the more chance there is that I’ll spill the beans about something I don’t want to – so I’ll wrap this up. I absolutely loved this film start to finish. It was bloody and very violent, it was funny and charming, it was excellently filmed and composed and written, it sported a strong inspired musical score, it was well acted by a grand ensemble cast and it was, above all else, just 10lbs of bad-assedness in a 5lb bucket.
Cannot recommend enough. Sincerely, my hat is off to Wingard and his crew. Cannot wait to see it again.