August 24, 2013 -- A relentless onslaught of blood, violence and death is artfully done in the horror-slasher film “You're Next,” but it is also troubling in the wake of the recent massacres at Sandy Hook, Fort Hood, and tellingly, a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, where this same movie is playing as I write this.
The debate over whether watching violent movies like this, or violent TV shows, or playing violent video games, is a contributing factor leading to actual violent acts has gone on for years. Famous critics like the late Roger Ebert have denied the connection, but the objective evidence is, increasingly, stacked heavily against that view.
Studies by psychiatrists and social scientists have found strong evidence that there is a connection between media violence witnessed and violent acts. Children are especially at risk from being negatively affected by media violence. And let's not kid ourselves. Children do see these R-rated films in multiplexes and on video. The surgeon general, the National Institute of Mental Health, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association, and other professional organizations, all consider exposure to media violence a risk factor for real violence. I have long believed the same.
Anyway, back to the movie. It is about a family reunion in a remote house. The family finds itself under attack by masked assailents, who start killing people in the house one by one. Cinematically, this is very familiar. There are an excessive number of close up shots when people are alone, so you can't see if anyone is lurking around them out of the camera's view. There are a lot of dark corners, curtains, closets, creepy basements and other places where killers can hide. Many scenes are poorly lit, adding to the creepiness.
Most of the people in the movie have no survival skills suited to this situation. These people also tend to wander off by themselves, in the dark, making themselves easy targets. Sound familiar? It should. This is common in these kinds of films. Only one person, I won't say who, so you can discover this yourself should you choose to see the film, seems to have an idea how to survive this terrible situation. At one point, a character, soon to be a victim himself, cries “why would anyone do this?” It turns out there is a good reason for the attack, which is revealed later. There are some interesting revelations in the film along this line, but I won't spoil them.
In one interesting scene, a woman tells her boyfriend that she wants to have sex with him on the same bed where the dead body of the boyfriend's mother is laying, with a big machete still embedded in her skull. The boyfriend refuses and the woman says, “you never want to do anything interesting!” True to form for this genre guns are not used in the attacks. I guess guns don't generate enough horror. Instead, there are knives, machettes, a crossbow, a splitting maul (a kind of heavy axe) and some very inventive uses of some kitchen appliances involved in some very graphic killings.
The film consists mostly of a long, slow, graphic massacre with an impressive body count and gallons of blood. The movie does have a cheap look to it, however. I suspect this is a low-budget movie, like a lot of movies of this genre. There are no major stars, which also indicates a low budget. The director, Adam Wingard, got his start at age 19 directing low-budget horror films. He directed a segment of the inventive horror film “V/H/S” which was released last year.
Given the quality of direction of this film, I'd say Wingard has the talent to make a name for himself in this business. A lot of directors got their start in the movie business by making low-budget horror films. I hope Wingard has the talent, like Sam Raimi, to go on to make something a lot more ambitious than these cheesy, low-budget horror films. The clever screenplay was written by Simon Barrett, who wrote the same “V/H/S” segment that Wingard directed last year.
I'm making a distinction in this film between how well it was made and how much I enjoyed it. This was a film I did not enjoy, rather, I endured it. I recognize, however, this is a genre I have rarely enjoyed since I saw the off-putting killer's point-of-view film “Black Christmas” in 1974. I did like “The Cabin in the Woods” last year and “The Mist” before that, but those were much more ambitious, inventive and creative films, even though they belong to the same genre. So, while I didn't like “You're Next,” I think it was pretty well made and it did what it was supposed to do. It scared me and repulsed me a little. This film rates a B.
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