Collins’ Crypt: Spoiler - YOU’RE NEXT Is Funny

The home invasion horror film's marketing doesn't quite sell how hilarious it is.

So far, I have had the pleasure of seeing You're Next three times in a movie theater. The first time, the deck was a bit stacked - it was at Fantastic Fest, with lots of cast/crew (or friends of them) in attendance, so while it went over terrifically, it was a bit hard to gauge how it would play with a typical audience. However, the second time around, it was at the LA Film Festival, where none of the cast or crew were on hand - sure, there were probably more than the average number of "industry" types in there, but lots of ticket buyers as well. There, it played just as well; there was thunderous applause for each of Sharni Vinson's ass-kicking moments, an audible gasp at the film's final twist (and an equally loud "OH NO!" when Sharni's booby-trap was about to be set off by the wrong person), and plenty of laughter.

Yes, laughter - and not the unintentional kind. While Lionsgate did a great job marketing the film as the scary/violent home invasion film that it is (especially with the masks - you can't beat Michael Fassbender walking onto the Hall H stage wearing one for no reason), the ads largely ignored the fact that the film is actually pretty funny. However, I can't blame them - it's tough to sell character-driven humor even in a two minute trailer, let alone a 30 second TV spot. One or two ads include Sharni's "Well this is kind of a unique situation" line, but that's barely scratching the surface (and could be from any movie - after all, even Inside has a laugh or two).

No, the real humor in the film stems from the character dynamic, something you can't really show off in marketing. I doubt I've laughed harder at anything all year than I did at select lines from the dinner scene ("It's unprofessional..."), but how do you get that across to an audience without spending half of the trailer setting up the characters' dysfunctional relationships? Plus, the humor really takes off only after the first of the film's twists is revealed, and even if they could single out a line or two that would play as funny with minimal context, it would likely come at the cost of spoiling one of the film's surprises.

On that note, I'd like to stress how well the twist is concealed compared to other horror films. A couple of the reviews I've read compared it to Scream, and that's fine with regards to the humor, but second viewings of that 1996 film reveal that you almost have to be blind to miss the fact that Billy and Stu are the killers, considering how many extended knowing looks they give each other throughout the runtime. But with You're Next, I spent part of my third viewing actively looking for such things (there were almost two years between my first and second watch, so the second time I was just enjoying it for what it was all over again), only to turn up with almost none. There's one tiny little bit that could be considered a "giveaway" if you already know what's up, but it could mean anything, and again, you'd have to know what that character might have been thinking about it to really register.

At the same time, there's no "cheat," really; no one acts in a manner that wouldn't make any sense once all the facts are laid out, a frequent problem in twist-driven narratives that also have to function for an engaged audience. The show 24 was TERRIBLE in this regard; a character would save Jack Bauer's life in one episode only to reveal themselves as a mole and try to kill him six episodes later. Simon Barrett's script makes the wise choice of letting us in on (part of) the secret with plenty of the film to go, before things could potentially get plot-holey, and at the same time adds tension as we're now more clued in than the heroine. Again, this poses problems for the film's marketing team, because unlike fellow home-invasion entries The Strangers (which had no motive to risk giving away) or The Purge (where the motive was the actual plot and thus fair game to explain), there's only so much of the film they can use without tipping their hat - pretty much everything in the ads is from Act 2.

My good friend/colleague Brad Miska tweeted something on Sunday that was 100% right - audiences want to have FUN, and thus there are two ironies to the film's less than stellar* opening weekend. One, as explained above, the film is quite fun, but the marketing team had almost no way of getting that across (though they did try in their own way - I liked the "critics are calling it "scary", "scary", and "fucking scary!" spot), so audiences looking for a fun film probably didn't see this as an option. The other is that Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett made the film fun because their last effort, A Horrible Way To Die (which also featured You're Next's AJ Bowen, Amy Seimetz and scene-stealer Joe Swanberg), was so depressing and grim. And that brings me to my third viewing, with only about 1/3 of the seats filled and several of the film's biggest laughs only garnering a few chuckles. It was actually kind of sad to hear such minimal laughter at "Maybe... an engagement?" when you couldn't even make out the next line at my other two screenings because everyone was laughing so hard. Is it because the other folks in the crowd just didn't know it was supposed to be funny?

Luckily, unlike just about any other movie that these actors have appeared in, you aren't out of luck if you missed it on its opening weekend. Studio releases like this are guaranteed two weeks in their chosen multiplexes, so if you opted for The World's End last weekend (and I don't blame you if you did - it's a great film), you can collect a bunch of friends this weekend and check out what that guy in the fox mask is up to. The competition is pretty nil; Getaway might be the dumbest looking movie ever made (when I was describing it to someone, I'm pretty sure he thought I was making it up: "So Ethan Hawke is a racecar driver whose wife gets kidnapped, but then Selena Gomez tries to carjack him..."), and that's the only new wide release for the long holiday weekend besides the 1D movie, where the scariest people will be in the crowd. And now that you know it's funny, you can be assured a good time before all the fall prestige stuff starts to take over. There are only two more wide release horror films this year (Insidious 2 and Carrie), so don't let the only original one of the bunch pass you by.

*Compared to the "tracking", which I find to be a horrible trend. Let's look at it this way: an independent, micro-budgeted horror movie with no big names on either side of the camera made 7 million dollars in a very crowded market, less than three months after a similar-looking film that was largely disliked came and went. Paranormal Activity had the benefit of a platform release and the Halloween season; it makes more sense to compare You're Next to films like The Collector and its sequel - neither of which grossed in total as much as You're Next did in its first four days. I'd qualify that as a success.

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