Friday, January 17, 2014


With so many remakes of slasher/splatter films hitting our screens in recent years, it's encouraging when someone actually tries to make a new one. Adam Wingard's You're Next has the look and feel of a '70s "cut 'em up," and aims for the nightmarish, chaotic style of films like I Spit on Your Grave, and Last House on The Left. The difference between '70s and '80s gore films was that the earlier style was more manic and angry, while the '80s style was goofier, designed more for a younger shopping mall audience, not the unemployed creeps who frequented 1970s grindhouses.

The movie takes place at the Davison family reunion, up in a secluded mansion in the same wooded area where all of these movies seem to take place (this one was filmed in Columbia, Missouri). There isn't much good cheer at the reunion, just a lot of not so thinly veiled insults. The brothers, in particular, don't get along. Within moments of the family sitting down to dinner, arrows from high powered bows crash through the windows; the Davisons are suddenly under siege by masked maniacs armed with crossbows, axes, and other pointy things.   Family members are quickly picked off, throats are cut, and people are gutted. The ones who aren't killed do a lot of screaming. Finally, the girlfriend (Sharni Vinson) of one of the brothers  goes into action. She's handy with weapons herself, having been raised in her dad's survivalist camp, and starts killing the bad guys. More blood flows. Not only is she good with knives, she also finds an interesting use for a blender. You get the idea.

You're Next isn't going to make a place for itself in the pantheon of great horror films, but it has some good qualities. The film's musical score has the thick, plodding electronic sound of 80s slash films, and hearing those somber chords made me realize how much much I miss those  horror movie soundtracks. I like how a nearby neighbor has been murdered, but his CD player remains on and keeps playing the same song over and over (the song, an excellent choice, is 'Looking for the Magic' by that old 80s pop-rocker, Dwight Twilley). Every time someone from the family runs  to his house for help, they see the dead body and hear the music. Good stuff. Sure, there are  some twists that you can probably see coming. So what? In a romantic movie, you know the guy and the girl will get together in the end, so what does it matter if a horror film, too, is a bit predictable? 

Wingard had fun making this film, and I felt his enthusiasm. The Davisons are a nasty, stupid bunch of people, and I enjoyed watching them come to nasty ends. Of course, a few innocent bystanders get whacked, too, but an arrow in the forehead is probably less painful than an evening with the Davisons.

I think we all know the story of Carrie White, the poor, bullied girl who develops telekinetic powers and eventually levels her high school and everyone in it. By now, Carrie is a part of modern mythology, along the lines of the hunchback of Notre Dame or King Kong. Kimberly Peirce's Carrie is a watchable, competent redo of Brian De Palma's 1976 classic, but there are some distinct differences in tone. The original, which was based on a Stephen King novel, seemed more vicious. The girls in the original were outright bitches. Peirce softens them up. The girls in the new cast also look like high school kids, whereas in the original they all looked like extras from Three's Company.  However, Peirce's effort to make the girls  more realistic has an adverse effect: Now they're smaller than life.  When they're all killed during Carrie's prom night ramapage, we can't tell one from the other; there's no catharsis.

As for Carrie (Chloe Grace Moretz), she seems a little more sure of herself this time, not as scared of her blossoming powers. In one scene she sits dreamily on her bed, mentally floating her books around the room, a look on her face of almost orgasmic bliss.  She also uses her hands to guide her subjects through the air, as if she were playing a Theramin. This is Carrie by way of the X-Men. On the flipside, Carrie's mother (Julianne Moore) is more batshit crazy in the new version, banging her head against walls and cutting herself. But even though mom's crazy, she's too pathetic to be threatening. Carrie's powers are so strong, and she seems so in control of them, that we don't really fear mom, not the way we once feared Piper Laurie.

By the end, we get the familiar  Armageddon at the prom, but it, too,  lacks the impact of the original.  Carrie waves her hands around like a maestro, people are trampled and thrown through glass in all sorts of ways, but it's not creepy or scary. There was something enthralling about Sissy Spacek standing perfectly still as everything exploded all around her. Of course, it's not fair to match Chloe Grace Moretz against Spacek, but comparisons are inevitable. As Carrie, Spacek seemed feral, almost subterranean. You believed she lived in a sheltered environment with her warped mother, and that the outside world frightened her. Moretz works hard to play shy and awkward, but she still seems like a modern girl, poised and pretty. Still, Moretz is a good actress and has some fine moments. She earns our sympathy.  She just doesn't scare us.

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