Before Fantastic Fest even began, word was starting to spread about Adam Wingard’s You’re Next: early word out of the Toronto International Film Festival had the film pegged as a “must-see”, and—just hours into Fantastic Fest 2011—the film became even more buzzworthy when Lionsgate announced that they’d purchased the film for distribution in 2012. All this added up to what might have been the most sought-after, talked-about screening at Fantastic Fest thus far (yes, even moreso than The Human Centipede 2), and—miracle of miracles—I managed to score a ticket to tonight’s midnight screening of the film. Was it worth all that buzz? Prepare yourself for a glowing descent into hyperbole, after the jump.
All day long, people have been asking each other, “You get into You’re Next tonight?” Adam Wingard’s film—a home-invasion horror flick that some were comparing to the vastly-inferior The Strangers prior to seeing it for themselves—was the hot ticket at Fantastic Fest 2011 tonight, mainly because Lionsgate decided to cut the film’s two screenings down to one: apparently, purchasing a film for distribution means limiting the number of people who might see (and rave about) your film. That logic doesn’t sit well with me, but whatta I know? I’m but a simple film critic/yutz with a keyboard. I leave the big decisions to the marketing geniuses in Hollywood.
It’s a real shame, though. Before tonight’s screening (which I had to fight tooth and nail to get into, but it turned out to be worth every email, called-in favor, and handski), they told us that we were very likely the “only American audience who’d see the film before its 2012 release”. If I were Lionsgate, and if I heard the reaction of the crowd inside the Alamo Drafthouse tonight, I’d add another two screenings for the Fantastic Fest crowd: if they wanna promote their movie, these are the people that’re gonna do it.
Like my Human Centipede 2 writeup, this review’s gonna be lengthy. I took a little guff for rambling on for a couple thousand words during that review, so allow me to offer a Cliff’s Notes version for those in the audience that might not have the attention span (or interest) in combing through another epic: You’re Next is just as good as you’ve heard it is, and offers up some truly amazing performances, genuine scares, a shocking number of laughs, and a few good plot twists. The audience I saw the film with sat on the edge of their seats throughout, and the film’s two standout performances—from A.J. Bowen and Sharni Vinson—earned the most applause when the credits rolled. It won’t hit theaters for a long while, but you should see You’re Next as soon as humanly possible once it does.
There. That’s the short version.
Here’s the long one: You’re Next isn’t just the best film that I’ve seen at Fantastic Fest this year, but it’s also one of the best films I’ve seen this year. Yes, it’s a genre flick, and yeah, it’s another take on the “home-invasion” subgenre of horror films. Yeah, it’s true that Ti West and Joe Swanberg (two directors-slash-actors who’ve alienated a certain segment of the film geek population with their films) both appear onscreen here, and it’s also true that the film bears a passing resemblance to the Liv Tyler vehicle The Strangers. But You’re Next manages to do so much right, all these quibbles—which you may or may not have with the film—won’t even cross your mind once the flick kicks into high gear.
Here’s the setup: a dysfunctional family is meeting at a big-ass country house somewhere out in the middle of nowhere. We meet Crispin (Bowen) and Erin (Vinson) as they drive to the house, and we meet Crispin’s mother (Barbara Crampton), father (Rob Moran), brothers Drake (Swanberg) and Felix (Nicolas Tucci), and sister (Margaret Laney). Each of the siblings arrives with a boyfriend or girlfriend, and each seems to have a grudge to bear against the other: Crispin and Drake are rivals, Felix seems bitter about his family’s station in life, and so on. On their first night in the house, Crispin tells Erin that the family hasn’t gathered together in awhile, and that the results “should be interesting”.
What Crispin, Erin, and everyone else don’t know is that—right up the road—the family’s only neighbors have just been brutally murdered by a group of masked killers. A young lady is murdered, and when her lover exits the shower, he discovers her body, the words “You’re next” scrawled on a window in blood, and an axe that suddenly appears in his forehead.
Once the entire family has sat down to dinner, it only takes moments before the same group of masked killers we met in the film’s opening descend upon them: crossbow bolts fly through windows, arms wielding knives come crashing through doorways, booby traps are set all around the house. The family is under attack…but by whom? And why? And why does one of the house guests seem to be so damn good at fighting these attackers?
Finding out the answers to these questions is an absolute delight. About half an hour into the film, I turned to my lady-friend and risked being booted for violating the Drafthouse’s strict “No Talking” policy by whispering, “This is so f-cking awesome”. I know the rules at the Drafthouse, of course, but You’re Next is so damn good, I couldn’t help but flaunt them. Director Adam Wingard ratchets up the suspense from the very first frame, but what really sold me on the film was the clever, oft-hilarious dialogue that unfolds between the family members in the film’s opening scenes: the interplay between Bowen and Swanberg, in particular, is laugh-out-loud funny.
Speaking of Bowen, allow me to stop here for a second to single this dude out. I’ve been a fan of Bowen’s since seeing him wreck shop in the little-seen The Signal (which you can catch on Netflix Instant), and just a few days ago I picked up a copy of A Horrible Way To Die, where Bowen plays the film’s lead villain. After watching Bowen’s performance in Horrible, I remarked to the person watching the film with me, “It’s kinda hard to believe that this guy isn’t a bigger star”. He’s got charisma by the bucketload, has the movie-star good looks (by the way, I ran into Bowen while smoking a cigarette outside the Drafthouse today, and he’s just as charming, handsome, and friendly as a dude with a man-crush could ever want him to be), and can pull off the high-wire act of balancing “menacing” and “charming” without breaking a sweat, sometimes in the space of a single line of dialogue. If there’s any justice in the world, You’re Next will make AJ Bowen the star he deserves to be.
Anyway, Bowen’s not the only great actor at work here. Sharni Vinson’s Erin is a compelling character, and Vinson herself is very easy on the eyes, but she also proves herself a more than capable actress, pulling off intense physical stunts and complex emotional material throughout the film. Swanberg seems to have developed a reputation amongst film geeks as a bit of a toolbag (I’m still not clear on why that is, but I’ve heard it repeated enough times to mention the sentiment here), but I thought he was one of the funniest people in the film. Also worth singling out: Rob Moran, who also makes a strong impression in his scenes here.
If I’ve got a complaint about the film (and please be aware that—again—You’re Next is one of my favorite films of the year, so remember that this is a small complaint), it’s that the big reveals sometimes feel a little…obvious. I wanted some of the mysteries to have more unique resolutions, to be a little less “seen that beat before”. But even when You’re Next is delivering plot points we’ve seen in other films (and films that are very similar to You’re Next), it makes those reveals compelling. It’s a testament to the writing, the direction, and the ability of the actors onscreen that these somewhat-stale reveals don’t feel somewhat-stale in the moment.
I’m going to wrap this up before I’m compelled to run my mouth any further. You’re Next has a great number of surprises in store for viewers, and you should walk into the film knowing as little as possible to fully appreciate it. If someone from Lionsgate happens to be reading this, allow me to add the following: you’re not doing Wingard or his film any favors by restricting You’re Next to one screening at Fantastic Fest. If this crowd really is the only group that’ll see the film before its release next year, I’d humbly recommend that you add at least one more screening for this week’s “Gathering of The Geeks” in Austin—it’ll only add to the tremendous word-of-mouth that this film’s sure to continue building.
My grade? A-
And if you missed it, here’s Matt’s review from TIFF