Something strange happened to me the other night.
I was sitting in a Barns and Noble coffee shop, finishing up a presentation that I had to have done for work in the morning. I shut down my laptop and slung my backpack over my shoulder, heading out to the parking lot. I was tired, slightly depressed and jittery from too much caffeine. As I considered and ultimately decided against buying cigarettes, I heard sirens in the distance. More sirens than one normally hears at Barns and Noble in Long Island on a Monday night. Completely without warning, something that I had thought died a long time ago awakened inside of me, desperate and hungry: a desire to go to the movies. I think I nearly fainted.
Why, I ask you, after this summer of D.O.A. franchise flicks (Man of Steel, Star Trek Into Darkness) and “original” films that managed to be more stale than the sequels and reboots (Pacific Rim, Pacific Rim, Pacific Rim) would I want to see a movie? That’s like going back to the ATM you were robbed at to clean out your wallet. That’s like taking bite of a burrito, realizing it’s full of medical waste and then finishing it anyway. That’s like being a Mets fan on any day that ends in Y and starts with any letter and exists. It’s completely fucking nonsensical, which is why I nearly fainted all over again when I found myself at the box office window politely requesting a ticket for You’re Next.
Resigned to the fact that I’d never really figure out why I had suddenly developed an urge to throw Hollywood another 11 dollars of my money, I began to try to work out exactly why You’re Next was the movie that drew me. The most obvious answer is to say that I’d heard good things. Many of the podcasts I regularly listen to, like Operation Kino and Nerd of Mouth had given it rave reviews. But then it was also a podcast that sent me to Pacific Rim with a twinkle in my eye. So maybe it was the small budget, or the fact that I hadn’t seen any ads for it, or the whisperings I’d heard that horror may be a new bastion for quality-genre filmaking now that action is overrun by overly-formulaic garbage. (Supposedly The Conjuring is great.) Maybe it was something else. I never worked it out.
But god damnit, I’m glad I went to the movies that night, because You’re Next is a fucking blast. It blows my other picks for summer 2013’s “best” (read, “least likely to make me drive full speed into a chemical fire”) summer movie out of the water, and it reminded me of what these sorts of movies are supposed to do: be clever and unexpected and entertaining! I don’t have to embrace a turd (PACIFIC RIM PACIFIC RIM PACIFIC RIM) just because it’s slightly less turdy than the other turds they’ve been turding out. Great movies exist.
Whoah. Wait. Got excited there. You’re Next may not be a “great film” by everyone’s standards, but it is a great horror movie and a damn good film from a technical perspective with a fantastic story and a few relatively three dimensional characters to boot. (Relative to say, Pacific Rim which instead has ethnic stereotypes with legs that Del Toro managed to teach a few simple sentences using Rosetta Stone.)
Based on its synopsis, you wouldn’t think that this was anything to write home about. A family gathers for a reunion dinner in a cabin in the woods only to find themselves in the crosshairs of a cell of masked psychopaths armed with crossbows and machetes. When the fam’s contact with the outside world is cut off completely, they find themselves at the mercy of the mysterious killers. To anyone who has seen a few horror movies this sounds just formulaic enough to be boring, and it would be if the whole thing weren’t done so damn well. The family’s anxiety about being back together is palpable, and it plays well with the sense of impending doom that permeates once arrows and axes start flying. The first twist, (deliberate and well done, not forced and flashy) come at the very second that the movie runs out of things to do within the confines of formulaic horror. This is the most interesting portion of the movie, so naturally I’m going to spoil it into the seventh circle of hell.
One of the You’re Next’s “victims,” (and the character that horror aficionados would refer to as the “final girl,” the last girl standing after the killers slaughter the rest of the party/frat house/platoon of space marines on a bug-hunt) is a doomsday prepper. As the killers quickly learn, she’s really, really good at not dying. The hunters become the hunted, the tables turn, and You’re Next morphs from a pretty good rendition of Friday the 13th to an action movie in the tradition of Die Hard, with beats lovingly lifted from Kill Bill Volume II, Home Alone and Night of the Living Dead. Sharni Vinson is incredible playing triple duty as the lead, the final girl and John McClane. The direction is great and the villains manage to be menacing even when they’re bumbling and despite the fact that they look like the ANBU agents from Naruto.
The lights went up. I sat in the mostly empty theater for a while, thinking. Had a horror movie ever given me chills before? I could barely believe that I had just witnessed the redemption of summer 2013.
Oh, wait, You’re Next was filmed in 2011. Never mind. Everything still sucks. Damn good flick though. That running start decapitation. Brr.