Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Evil. Dead, Too!

You're Next: Written by Simon Barrett; directed by Adam Wingard; starring Sharni Vinson (Erin), Nicholas Tucci (Felix), Wendy Glenn (Zee), AJ Bowen (Crispian) and Joe Swanberg (Drake) (2011): The extremely well-off Davison family gathers at their parents' new country house to celebrate their mother and father's wedding anniversary. They really don't get along. And someone is watching them.

In an old-school sense, I guess this is the reliable Ten Little Indians set-up: characters will be picked off, one by one or in groups, with the major mystery throughout being the question of who and why this is happening. But the whole thing is made and acted with a fairly high level of skill. The gore, when it comes, often shocks; the characterization, when it comes, also shocks at a couple of key moments.

A lot rests on the likeability of Sharni Vinson as Erin, the girlfriend who's a guest of one of the Davison children. And she is quite likeable as an English literature M.A. student from Australia with a surprising skill set. The other actors do what they can with the cinematic shorthand required to quickly set up and then knock down a pretty large cast of victims and murderers.

The movie itself homages the first couple of Evil Dead movies as much as it does films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, not in terms of including the supernatural but in terms of staging some fairly punishment-heavy battles between antagonists and protagonists. By the end, at least one character has moved pretty firmly into the Never-Say-Die territory occupied by Bruce Campbell's Ash in the Evil Dead movies. One bad guy gets fatally lobotomized by a blender. Another falls to a meat-tenderizing mallet. A third is lured to his doom by what seems to be a camera-flash homage to Rear Window. Need I say more?

There are flaws -- a bit more character development at the beginning would have more firmly set the stakes for the audience, and a couple of the deaths could use more finesse at both the writing and directorial ends. But most of the film works beautifully, including an increasingly ominous Chekov's Gun introduced about two-thirds of the way through the movie that generates a surprising amount of partially comic dread as one waits for it to go off. Recommended.

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