Adam Wingard’s You’re Next begins with the obligatory “let’s show some boobs than kill some people who won’t really figure into the plot” scene and follows that up with the usual gathering of the victims before the slaughter begins, but the movie plays with these moments in a way that shows it has more on its mind than parading new and interesting ways to maul the human body.
For starters, the opening scene sets up a running gag that manages to work its way to the closing credits. It’s one of those earworms that you won’t be able to get out of your brain for at least a few hours after seeing the movie.
But it’s the dinner party where the movie really shows what it’s up to. You’re Next is about a family getting together to celebrate the 35th wedding anniversary of the parents. It’s a large mansion in the woods, and just about every room has some sort of floor-to-ceiling window, making it ideal for the sort of attack that’s about to take place.
Just before arrows begin flying through the windows and wire is strategically stretched outside of one of the doors, the family sits at dinner and we discover one of the guests (a boyfriend of the daughter) is a documentarian. At first, the other members of the family are impressed that a filmmaker is at their table. But then everyone begins to lose interest once they realize that his movies have only been shown at a couple of underground film festivals (one of them even asks if an “underground festival” actually takes place underground.)
And then the arguing begins. Family secrets begins to emerge and old wounds are reopened. But it’s the style of hostile discourse on display that’s interesting; this isn’t the type of dialogue we usually hear in movies like this. And the energy of the movie begins to change; we’re expecting a horror movie and all of a sudden, a comedy of manners breaks out. It’s almost as if we’ve stepped into a Noah Baumbach movie.
But then people start to die and blood begins to flow and You’re Next becomes the home invasion horror fest we’ve been promised. And while it references other horror movies and retains a knowing and intelligent sense of humor about itself, it never becomes as self-referential as the Scream movies, nor does it go full meta like The Cabin in the Woods.
Wingard not only delivers some unexpected laughs, but he also delivers a couple of really good scares. Because he is so obviously playing with certain horror-genre tropes, you never quite know where he’s going to take them, or how he’s going to present them. This is not like The Conjuring, where director James Wan, while very well executed, gave you the exact type of horror movie moments you’ve seen over and over again without any creative embellishment; if you’ve seen more than a few horror movies, you could almost count out the beats just before the boo! moments in The Conjuring, which greatly reduced the impact of the thrills.
And if you’re a gore hound (like yours truly), You’re Next doesn’t disappoint. There are a couple of horrific gags that are just so gruesomely wonderful. One of the characters gets it with an appliance in a way I’ve never seen before and just thinking about it still brings an evil smile to my face.
You’re Next is an unexpectedly entertaining horror movie. In terms of recent movies in a similar vein, it’s not quite as memorable as the hardcore, stripped-down home invasion classic from 2008, The Strangers. And it’s not as ambitious as The Cabin in the Woods. But it’s a good time at the movies, and funnier than many of the “comedies” released this summer. Go have a couple of sick laughs, and watch out for that front door.Follow @filmbyfelix
The concept behind The Purge, written and directed by DeMonaco, is both unsettling and fantastic. It sparks real conversation before you even go see the movie. Questions about security and race and class. How much would YOU indulge in an annual, government-sanctioned twelve hour “cleansing” of your more dangerously anti-social impulses? And who does this purge actually benefit? What about those who may not want to participate in something so barbaric yet lack the resources to protect themselves from the onslaught? And how quickly does it take for society to get back to normal after twelve hours of murder and mayhem? You don’t have to go back to work the very next day, do you? Are there any good “You’ve Survived the Purge” sales at Kohls?
The problem with the movie is that it’s either afraid to confront all of the provocative issues it raises, or it’s just not all that interested in them. The movie finds a way of sidestepping all the potential land mines by having the villains be people who wouldn’t stir feelings of ambiguity in the audience.
The villains are people that EVERYBODY despises: rich ivy-league types (led by Rhys Wakefield, prep school jacket included) who don’t seem like they’re venting off steam, but are just using it as an excuse to exercise some sort of latent sociopathic rage against everyone they believe they are “better” than and clothing it in pop-Nietzschean philosophy. And in this case, they’re hunting down a homeless man (Edwin Hodge) who had the unmitigated GALL to defend himself against this psycho preppy posse; he didn’t lie down and take his termination like the “dredge of society” they deem him to be.
He finds sanctuary in the “secured” home of the Sandin family (Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder and Adalaide Kane), whose house is already breached before the “purge” even begins, but I won’t get into that now. Needless to say, the home comes under siege and the family, whose husband sells the security system protecting the house, by the way, discovers how flimsy the notion of security is when you’re under attack by people more determined than you.
What surprised me about The Purge, in the midst of all these conflicting notions, is its lack of ambiguity. That’s not to say the characters don’t have less-than-admirable, knee jerk reactions at certain moments done in the name of self-preservation, but eventually they fall into the roles of conventional “good guy” and “bad guy.”
What surprised me even more is how lacking in suspense the movie is. The Purge turns into a conventional home invasion movie, and not a very good one. If DeMonaco wanted to make a home invasion movie that plays with the ideas it raises, it could’ve taken the route Michael Haneke did with Funny Games (either the German original or his English language remake.)
But The Purge isn’t that ambitious, it just wants to give the audience a thrill or two. A better home invasion movie is 2008’s The Strangers by writer-director Bryan Bertino. That movie had no ideas whatsoever. In fact, its very lack of a governing idea is what makes it terrifying; it latches onto a greater sense of existential dread by giving us a couple being tormented not as a punishment for what they did or didn’t do, but because they just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.
The best way to experience The Purge is to read everything you can about it, get some friends together, have a few drinks, than just talk. Be open and honest. But you don’t have to see the movie; it could’ve worked harder to be more worthy of the debate it inspires.