Director: Adam Wingard
I know that the backlash against hypersensitivity to spoilers is in full swing and that those who complain about overly revealing film reviews are generally presented as culturally bereft nerds but the Adam Wingard movie You’re Next really was a film that was spoiled for the viewer with ANY prior knowledge. Look, and call me crazy if you like because what I’m about to say might blow your minds, but I would go so far as to say that even its title gave away too much. Wingard’s speciality is genre fusion. He’s like Howard Moon, he spans the genres. You’re Next is a high-concept genre collision, where a domestic, dark, upper class family comedy meets a slasher movie. Unfortunately, it didn’t really succeed as either. By setting the film almost entirely in a remote family getaway, the first third of the film, the dark comedy-drama segment, is completely overwhelmed by the pending horror sequence. By naming it You’re Next (a more obvious slasher title I cannot imagine) and by promoting and marketing the film as a horror picture, the audience’s expectations are inevitably skewed. And then there’s the fact that the upper class comedy-drama and the cabin in the woods style slasher have more in common than you might expect – they’re generally focused on a socially dysfunctional and largely dislikable group of people in claustrophobic surroundings – which means that they kind of just blend into one another. By the time that it becomes apparent that Wingard is setting up a satire of an upper class family (if indeed it ever does) the film has already entered its full blown horror phase. So it just winds up playing out as a fairly humdrum slasher movie. In fact, so subtle is the distinction between the two generic cornerstones of this picture that I would wager that a large proportion of those who saw it were completely oblivious to the genre experimentation at play. If you’re interested, a much more effective horror genre experiment of this type is Red White & Blue which combines a revenge/torture porn movie with a multi-layered, Iñárritu style drama.
A Horrible Way to Die, an earlier Wingard effort, is, in my view, a more interesting experiment in genre fusion than You’re Next. It has two narrative a strands – with a low-key indie romance between 2 recovering alcoholics running parallel with an escaped serial killer plot. It contains a pretty nifty twist too, that ties up both sections.
The Guest is his best movie of this type though. It combines the familiar Shadow of a Doubt premise – a seemingly benevolent (though obviously sinister) guest arrives to stay with a family – with a Bourne movie (the mysterious guest is a psychopathic super soldier). It’s definitely his best generic combination. But it has other cool elements too. Its climactic sequence is an amazing, expressionist 80s horror pastiche. The film is set in that 80s inflected contemporary world popularised by Drive and has a really brilliant synth soundtrack. The central performance by Dan Stevens is very reminiscent of Gosling in Drive and it’s hard not to read the film on some level as a reimagining of Drive but where the protagonist is also a psychopath. However, possibly the most interesting thing about it is its treatment of its sociopathic (I’m using the terms interchangeably as I don’t really know the difference) subject. In general, there is something thrilling about the psychopath causing chaos in a small town subgenre. Jim Thompson’s novel The Killer Inside Me (but NOT Michael Winterbottom’s big screen adaptation) would be a good example of this odd strand of fiction. But in The Guest, the way that it plays out suggests that, but for circumstance, the crazy visitor might have been of great help to the family. His intentions do seem true. It’s an original take on a (relatively) familiar premise. And for that reason it gets the MLEST seal of approval.