Next of Kin, by David Bax
When directors Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett introduced You’re Next at the Los Angeles Film Festival, they stated that they wanted to claim horror films back from the bleak and depressing and make something that the audience could really enjoy. During the first act or so, I wasn’t sure they’d succeeded. Certainly, the film I was watching was very well-made but the brutality I was witnessing on screen wasn’t what I would call fun. Then I realized that Wingard and Barrett had just been setting the table, getting me into a mental space where I could feel the full impact when the protagonist – and, therefore, the film – started to really kick ass.
A wealthy couple has invited their four grown children and each of their significant others (that’s ten potential victims, if you’re counting) to their expansive, secluded mountain vacation home to celebrate their 35th anniversary. Then, in the middle of a nice dinner, dudes in creepy masks show up and start firing freaking crossbows at them through the window. And it goes on from there.
One thing about You’re Next that immediately stands out is its sense of humor. The jokes in horror movies, when they even exist, tend to either be cheesy (Chucky’s one-liners) or overpower the scares (arguably, Scream). But Wingard belongs to a new crop of witty filmmakers who are also interested in delivering old-school scares and shocks. Ti West, who appears in the cast of this film, can also be counted among these ranks; his The Innkeepers is one of the scariest films of the decade so far and also possesses the hilarious, laid-back banter of a sly and subtle workplace comedy. Most of the humor in You’re Next comes from a few key actors. Barbara Crampton is the high-strung mother who just wants everyone to have a good time. AJ Bowen is the college professor son whose bearded gentleness and soft plaid barely mask an ineffectual rage. And Wendy Glenn is the self-consciously “alterna” girlfriend of the clan’s youngest son, smoking her cigarettes and rolling her eyes with a hilariously practiced disaffectedness. But it’s filmmaker Joe Swanberg as the smarmy son who isn’t happy unless his siblings are miserable who steals the show. Even with an arrow protruding from his shoulder and large amounts of blood pooling around him, he finds the vitriol to continue hilariously insulting his kin.
Laughs are only a fraction of the responses you’ll hear if you see this with an audience, which I suggest you do. Applause, gasps, cheers, whatever sound people make when they are grossed out; not a scene goes by without a hearty reaction from the crowd.
That goes back to what Wingard and Barrett said before the screening. By creating a horror film that not only gives the viewer a multitude of thrills but that also refrains from ever insulting the viewer’s intelligence (you won’t once find yourself thinking, “Don’t go in there!”), they truly did keep the audience in mind. Go see You’re Next and take all of your friends. These guys deserve it.