Saturday, May 3, 2014

Movie Reviews: You're Next, Danger Word

You're Next
directed by Adam Winguard
Much like Cabin in the Woods, You're Next is a horror movie which shows that you can still have intelligent premises and writing in horror films without sacrificing scare or gore. 

This film does have gore and plenty of it, let's be clear about that, but it's very rarely what I would call gratuitous. This movie also features legendary scream queen actress Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator) which is probably why I was willing to give it a look see. 
Time has been very kind to Crampton though her role here is of course nothing like her spot in the 80s classic Re-Animator. She's now the graceful older woman instead of the bouncy co-ed menaced by the dirty old professor. Speaking of Re-Animator, much like that film, You're Next is that uncommon find of a movie that was cheaply made but doesn't really look all that cheaply made. That's quite a talent. I think this will also be a cult film some day in the very near future.

Sometimes those things can plague relatively low budget movies but they're absent here. This is an inexpensive well-crafted film that did not immediately, automatically and unnecessarily insult the viewer's intelligence. Some filmmakers with larger budgets and bigger names would do well to check out this movie. Like many good horror movies this film features a wealthy family gathering at a large estate. I know there are some readers who would probably stop right there but bear with me just a little longer won't you.

It's the parents' anniversary. All of their children are coming to visit, along with their spouses and significant others. The four siblings (three brothers and a sister) and their family dynamics will be familiar to anyone with large or close families.

The parents are very well off. The family patriarch, Paul Davison (Rob Moran) is owner/CEO of a successful defense contracting company.

As he moves into retirement age (neither he nor Crampton look quite old enough to have the kids they do) he and his loving wife Aubrey Davison (Crampton) have purchased a large isolated mansion. They intend to refurbish it. They want to make it the future center for family celebrations and a fun place for grandchildren yet to come to remember fondly. 

They love all their kids though there are some tensions between and among the family members. I won't mention all of the siblings as some of them are not that important but a younger son Crispian Davison (A.J. Bowen), a stereotypical bumbling beta professor, is the first to arrive along with his perky and head over heels in love girlfriend (and former student) Erin (Sharni Vinson), an Australian with a broad accent. 

Shortly after that irritating and argumentative big brother/alpha male Drake Davison (Joe Swanberg) and his snooty wife Kelly (Margaret Laney) show up. Another brother and his goth girlfriend appear. And finally cute little sis and her wannabe filmmaker beau come to join the fun. But during dinner someone from the outside shoots the filmmaker right in the head with a crossbow bolt. That will ruin your evening.

This film is violent. More importantly it's scary. Right up until the very end all of the deaths and violence are emotionally involving. 

You care about what happens to all, well most, of these people. Nobody, (well only a few people, this is a horror movie after all), does remarkably stupid things just to keep the story moving. 

This is a witty film but its occasional forays into black humor once the bodies pile up don't work. There is some toplessness. Like The Purge, Funny Games, The Strangers and other home invasion films this movie will make you think about the exits and entrances to your home, who you really trust and the number of readily available self-defense implements you have laying around. This is a great movie to watch late at night, just after dark. It both confirms and upends horror movie tropes.

Danger Word
directed by Luchina Fisher
I can't really disinterestedly review this horror short as I contributed to its crowdfunding. It was written by the authors Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due. It is based on one of their young adult novels. I am very happy to finally see it. The novel it's based on, Devil's Wake, has been optioned for adaptation by the filmmaker and producer Tonya Lewis Lee, who among other things happens to be Spike Lee's wife. I've always liked the actor Frankie Faison, in part because he reminds me a bit of my own father. So it was fun to see him here. I wonder why zombies have become so important in the American mindset. Some people think it's about consumerist fears; others might point to immigration or sublimated class conflict but I doubt anyone really knows. Sometimes things just catch people's interest. I'm waiting for werewolves to come back into horror fashion.

Anyway self-financed independent movies like this are a reminder that no matter what you do or who you are it's often more productive to light a candle instead of cursing the darkness. If you don't think that Hollywood or the literary world or even the humble blog-o-sphere has a perspective that you can respect or relate to then by all means get off your rump-o-potamus and start shaking your tailfeathers so that everyone can see what you have to offer. After all you wouldn't have the talent that you have if you weren't meant to share it with someone. Check out the short film (20 minutes) below.

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