Using the CIA’s real-life Project MKUltra as a jumping-off point, freshman writer/director Blair Erickson explores the fates and legacy of those who volunteered for the controversial mind-control experiments, which ran in secret for about 20 years beginning in the 1950s and often involved LSD.
After a friend disappears from downing a 150-mg dose, an investigative journalist (Katia Winter, TV’s Sleepy Hollow, who doesn’t look like any investigative journalist I went to J-school with) pokes around for answers. Her quest takes her to the doorstep of a gonzo novelist (The Silence of the Lambs‘ tucked-in villain Ted Levine, obviously modeling his performance on Hunter S. Thompson, but with a vocal touch of W.C. Fields) and straight into a hush-hush world of I Ain’t Telling.
I will, however, tell you to fear the static-ridden shortwave broadcast of random numbers read to the kind of music you’d hear from a baby’s crib toy. Bad things follow, which are good for an audience seeking scares. Sound plays a huge part in making Erickson’s ambitious film work; it lives and breathes with a unique visual texture and an overall aura of arty spookhouse chills that’s not merely unexpected, but seemingly new.
You’re Next also feels fresh by putting a welcome spin on material previously explored — in fact, it was the second home-invasion thriller to hit theaters this past summer, following The Purge. As we know, The Purge unfairly made an entire Brink’s truck worth of coin, whereas audiences all but ignored You’re Next. Once again, that’s their loss.
The film by Adam Wingard (a contributor to both V/H/S anthologies and The ABCs of Death) is an exceedingly clever machine of a movie that perfectly marries its creators’ mumblecore background with mainstream flavor — or as mainstream a movie about animal-masked serial killers can be. The only thing more surprising about the lengths to which Wingard and company go is how funny it is.
Yes, I said “funny” and I mean “funny.” That alone may have thrown audience members more than the extreme violence; they simply didn’t know how to react to it. That certainly was the case when I saw it at the multiplex, so now that it awaits its assured cult on Blu-ray and DVD, prepare to school your less-educated friends on its tonal discordance. They deserve it, and Wingard’s film — one of 2013’s best, honest — deserves it even more. It’s something of a macabre masterpiece. — Rod Lott
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