Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Cinema File #246: "You're Next" Review

Every once in a while, a horror movie comes along that completely redefines the genre, breathing new life into an arena of film making almost defined by its propensity to become stale and repetitive. From the shocking twist on formula in Psycho to the twisted amorality of The Exorcist, the raw authenticity of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the self referential camp of Scream, what these movies all have in common is that they don't just do what they do well or better than what has come before, but they always bring something new and different to the table. For better or for worse, even The Paranormal Activity movies, cementing the found footage format first seen in films like The Last Broadcast and The Blair Witch Project, were in their own way revolutionary, even if the revolution they spawned became old hat by the second movie. Since premiering on the festival circuit back in 2011, the home invasion thriller You're Next has been hyped as the next big thing in horror, and while one cannot fault a film for its marketing, this presumptuous promise infuses the film itself as if demanding that you acknowledge its novelty, which only makes it more disappointing when the whole thing turns out to be more of the same.

You're Next follows a wealthy family on vacation in a secluded summer home under assault by a group of masked killers, forced to survive and fight back as they try to unravel the mystery of why they've been targeted. I must admit a bit of bias going into this movie, not being a particularly big fan of the home invasion sub-genre, which has always come across to me as a bit lazy. That being said, my expectations for this film were if anything artificially inflated, with more than one source comparing it to The Cabin In The Woods, one of my favorite films of 2012, and at least one trusted friend sharing my distaste for home invasion movies coming away with a mostly positive opinion.  Always trying to keep an open mind, I walked into You're Next fully prepared to afford it every opportunity to knock my socks off with its supposed ingenuity and charm. Perhaps in attempting to avoid one bias I instead fell victim to another, expecting too much from a film that promised more than it could possibly deliver, but regardless of where I started out in the expectations game, I left with my socks thoroughly in place.

Don't get me wrong, You're Next is a perfectly okay movie, and a fine example of this type of movie. If you like home invasion thrillers, you'll certainly have a lot of fun with it. It is technically well made, effectively gorey without going over the top, and displays a clear love for the genre on the part of its producers. The problem is, it doesn't really do anything new, which ordinarily I wouldn't hold against a movie as long as it did what it set out to do well enough, but here I think I higher standard is appropriate. Even if the hype surrounding this movie's supposed originality were not so massively overblown, the fact is that home invasion movies as a whole have become so repetitive that it is simply not enough to do it right. You have to come with something new, or not come at all. In many ways, You're Next felt a lot like the recent haunted house film The Conjuring, technically proficient and even notably stylish in many respects, with an obvious understanding of all the requisite tropes, but ultimately failing to transcend the canon of much better films of its type that preceded it.

You're Next has gotten a lot of credit for bringing a new level of humor to the home invasion horror movie, a selling point that no doubt invited the Cabin In The Woods comparison, but it wasn't nearly as pervasive as I expected or hoped for. It would be unfair to compare any horror comedy to one written by Joss Whedon, who does that better than anyone, but even on its own, the few brief moments of levity don't seem like nearly enough to merit so much attention and praise. It has more intentional comedy than the last mainstream home invasion movie I saw, The Purge, but the one clearly funny moment in that film was better than anything here. On the one hand, it doesn't go over the top or undercut the tension like Cabin In The Woods had a tendency to do, but it seems strange to take this approach at all if they were going to do so little with it. If it were more of a satirical deconstruction, I might have appreciated it more, but as it is it just feels out of place.

Again, I can't fault You're Next for what it is, only for what it could have been. By the standards of home invasion thrillers it is perfectly good and even exceptional in spots, almost certain to impress die hard fans who aren't yet sick of the same old same old. And yet, there's enough talent and gumption on display here that I can't help but think the people behind this movie could have done a lot more even with what I assume was a fairly meager budget. My biggest complaint about The Cabin In The Woods was that it went too far in the direction of satire that it didn't quite work as a horror movie, despite the fact that it clearly wanted to be both. You're Next seems to have the opposite problem. It spends so much time trying to get the basics of the home invasion thriller right, but when it tries to be more than it is, it doesn't go quite far enough. At the time I said that I would always prefer a well done genre movie over a well done genre satire, but when its a genre as overdone as this one, in such desperate need for something new and different to hold my interest, there's no contest.

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