Premise: (from imdb) When the Davison family comes under attack during their wedding anniversary getaway, the gang of mysterious killers soon learns that one of victims harbors a secret talent for fighting back.
About: This film has taken a strange journey. It actually debuted at a film festival over TWO YEARS AGO. Everyone at the festival loved it, getting the indie horror scene all goosed up to see the film. But then it just sat, and sat, and sat. Why? I have no idea. Maybe the producers believed they had something better than what they were being offered. It more recently played at SXSW, repeated the hype there, and Lionsgate finally picked it up. The studio that brought us “Saw” saw another bloody horror opportunity, and released the film this weekend. It didn’t really light up the scene (it had no stars to sell it) bringing in about 7 million bucks, but neither did any of the other opening films (which all made less than 10 mil). And this modestly budgeted (2 million budget I’m guessing?) film will definitely make a nice profit. Director Adam Wingard is best known for directing the “wraparound” storyline for VHS. In an unrelated story, director-actor Joe Swanberg, who starred in the film as “guy who gets arrow stuck in his back,” also released his directing effort, “Drinking Buddies,” this weekend, meaning he had the unfortunate job of competing against himself!
Writer: Simon Barrett
Details: 94 minutes
Let’s have a discussion, shall we?
So a couple of weeks ago, I downloaded this movie on iTunes called “Would You Rather.” It was a contained horror film that (as far as I know) was never released in theaters. It starred Brittany Snow in a story about a young woman, who, in order to save her dying brother, agrees to participate in a contest at a mysterious rich gentleman’s home. That “contest” ends up being a life-or-death game of “Would You Rather.”
How was it? Pretty silly. Not terrible but not good either.
Flash-forward to this weekend, where I went out to see You’re Next, another contained horror film with no stars that takes place in a wealthy person’s home. And here’s where I begin the discussion. How is it, that of these two movies, one gets a wide release on 2000 screens, and the other goes straight to digital? Because to me, you have two very similar films, both with “Fresh” Rotten Tomato scores. So I don’t understand what makes one theater-worthy and the other not.
I ask this question because a movie that plays in theaters will always make more than a movie played digitally. So producers are, obviously, going to look for scripts that they can put up on the big screen. And with horror being such a popular genre, I want to know the answer to that so that you, the writers, can exploit it and get your script on the big screen.
You’re Next follows a family getting together for dinner at their well-off parents’ house located in the middle of nowhere. All three brothers and one sister bring along their significant others. The main couple is Crispian and Erin. Crispian is sort of an uptight young professor type. And Erin is more of a relaxed “go with the flow” kind of gal. Besides them we have Felix (Black Sheep Brother), Drake (Funny Brother) and Aimee (People Pleaser Sister).
The family isn’t any more dysfunctional than any other family of this make-up would be, but there appears to be some animosity between Drake and Crispian, as Drake believes Crispian’s more interested in banging his students (as Erin used to be) than actually doing something with his life. Whatever the case, everyone lives under the shadow of the mother and father, who are wildly successful. This adds a layer of tension to most of the interactions in the script.
So anyway, dinner begins, and after an argument breaks out, an arrow comes flying through the window, hitting and killing poor Aimee’s date. A group freak-out begins, until the family realizes that the arrows are still coming. As others get hit (like Drake, who hilariously walks around with an arrow in his back for half the movie), they’re eventually able to escape to the safety of the master hallway.
What follows is equal parts “what the fuck is going on” and “we’re all gonna die,” but there’s one person who seems impossibly calm during the ordeal – Erin. As we’ll find out later, Erin grew up on a survivalist compound, so she knows a few things about protecting herself. After wrapping Drake’s wound, she gives instructions to everyone on what their best chance for survival is. Pretty soon the family is blocking doors, locking windows and setting traps.
But the hopeful vibes don’t last long. Not only does the killer get in the house, but it turns out another of the killers has been in the house ALREADY. Like, for days. This thing apparently had been planned out extensively. The question is, what is the plan? Why are they doing this? And who’s involved? As the family members die one-by-one, Erin’s killer instincts allow her to put together the pieces, until she realizes the unfathomable truth.
This movie is about as well made as a movie of this type can be. Sure it was cheesy at times. Sure there was some bad on-the-nose dialogue in places (since when does a conversation start: “So your parents are, like, really rich right?”). But it got right what it needed to get right, starting with the main character. Erin was ACTIVE! And I bring this up because it’s the biggest difference between this film and Would You Rather. Brittany Snow, in that film, does just enough to get us into the house (and therefore, the meat of the movie) and then simply disappears on-screen. She doesn’t do a thing except for watch everyone die for the rest of the film! And this is our main character!
You’re Next’s Erin takes charge, gives everyone shit to do, puts together traps, outsmarts the villains, kills the villains – SHE’S A HERO. And I know we’ve discussed this plenty of times before, but the extreme contrast between Erin’s “go-get-em” attitude and Britney’s “sit and stay quiet” approach made a HUGE difference in how much we a) rooted for the hero and b) by association CARED about what happened.
And, in general, You’re Next spent a lot more time setting up its characters before they started getting killed. We see everyone come in, get to know a little about them, about their significant other, about the relationship dynamics between them and the rest of the family members, then the dinner scene comes, AND ONLY THEN does the killing start.
In Would You Rather, we start out getting to know Brittany Snow and her dying brother – so there IS some character setup – but we don’t know ANY of the other characters at the house. Britney shows up, receives a couple of expositional setup lines about each person, then the game starts. Since we didn’t know any of these people, why should we care? That was another huge difference between the two movies. And the craziest thing was that the one person we DID know becomes a virtual mute. So not only do we not know anyone else, but we’re bored by the one person we do know!
Now what does this mean for our original question? What is it that makes one movie a theatrical release and another a homeatrical release? I might be a little biased here being Scriptshadow and all but I’m going to say THE SCRIPT. The script (nice character set up, strong active fun main character, clever twists and turns) is what allowed them to make something more than a typical slasher movie. People loved it at the festivals, which gave a studio the confidence that they could release it theatrically. Would You Rather’s script didn’t have nearly the energy or character development that You’re Next had.
Are there other things involved? Sure, probably. The ease in which one can market masks in a horror film probably helped. And this movie had a lot more MOVEMENT than Would You Rather. We’re jumping around from room to room, experiencing a lot of intense kills. That’s way more theatrical than the static deaths that happened in Would You Rather (most of the film takes place in a single room). But those are script decisions as well.
So in my opinion, as I’ve always contended: write a good script, good things will happen!
[ ] what the hell did I just see?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the price of admission
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: This so so SO reminded me of the importance of an active main character. You don’t realize how important they are until you watch two movies back to back, one without an active character, the other with one. We love people who take charge, who do things, who fight back, who come up with ideas, who cleverly outwit their opponents. These active people always feel like heroes to us. That was Erin here.