By Laurie Coker
You’re Next – Rating: A
Cheap Thrills – Rating: B
Lords of Salem – Rating: F-
SXSW Film Festival 2013 came to a close for me at 2 AM Sunday the 17th of March. Whew! I took in one more film at midnight at the Alamo Ritz downtown – a screening of the festival Midnighter’s favorite Cheap Thrills. It was not, however, a festival favorite for me. While I took in only three of the midnight films, I can say, without a doubt that the best of the three, the one that entertained me most, is You’re Next and my least favorite is Lord’s of Salem a film by director Rob Zombie, starring his wife, and I can say unequivocally that it is also my least favorite of the festival overall. Ironically, these three films run cold, warm and entertainingly hot for me!
I debated with which to begin for my break into midnight screening (I’ve avoided them for six previous years) and at the insistence of our college critic and because of interview opportunities, I opted for Lord’s of Salem. Worst choice ever! I hated it with a passion. I can’t think of one nice thing to say about this film. Certainly, I am not the target demographic. Still, I can only think that hardcore Zombie fan will be, so at best, Zombie’s audience will be limited to those who appreciate his porn/horror take on things. I dislike horror that is gross for gross sake and think porn is disgusting, so the film had little chance from the onset. I don’t pretend to be a prude nor do avoid all horror films, but I do draw the line at stupid, disgusting and nasty for nasty sake, and I mean the clothes off, parts showing, nasty stuff and actors ranging in age from thirty to seventy with varying body sizes. Regardless, of my personal tastes, the film has no real plot to speak of and is more a vehicle for Zombie to show off (complete with nudity) his wife than anything else. It is meant to be about witches returning to exact revenge, but so much offends that I cared less. The sound track assaults the ears, the acting is subpar and the entire thing is an utter waste of film and time. I opted out of the interviews and give the film an F-.
Now I come to Cheap Thrills which I saw on the last night of the festival. Again, I attended with our super enthusiastic college critic, and she enjoyed this one far more than I. A game for money proposed my a wealthy couple pits two broke friends against each other in this bizarre film starring Pat Healey, Sara Paxton, Ethan Embry and David Koechner. While I enjoyed Cheap Thrills better, far better than Lords of Salem, I can’t say I loved it. I would not have picked it as the midnighter winner, but others did. Still, it is a taut tale of desperation and the length people will go for money. More than that it demonstrates what boredom fueled by a disgusting amount of money can buy and the result, disturbing or not, is interesting and surprising enough to warrant a decent rating. If I needed to pick one single word to describe it, I’d choose disconcerting.
Gruesomeness in the storyline and the desperation of the two friends freaked me out. I appreciate how director E.L. Katz and writers David Chirchirillo and Trent Hagga developed their characters and keep the story tight and intense, but I can’t like such corrupt desperate behavior. On moviemaking merit alone, I give Cheap Thrills a B, but I’d never see it again and there are many I cannot recommend it to.
Finally, I get to my favorite of the midnight films and one of my favorites of the festival – You’re Next. Breaking all my owns rules when picking favorites, like Cabin in the Woods did last year, by all accounts I should hate You’re Next, but even with its gratuitous bloodletting, insane amounts of violence and campy storyline, it engaged me from start to finish and I didn’t even cover my eyes – not once. It’s complete madness and masterful mayhem, and star Sharni Vinson makes a viciously wild romp!
In the film a family gathers in a remote home in the woods to celebrate their parent’s 35th wedding anniversary, when they become victims of what first appears to be a home invasion, but things are not always what they seem. Little feels unique at first about You’re Next, but Vinson (half action hero, half trophy girlfriend) makes every moment, every death and every bit of blood worth the ride. From the hilarious family bickering to cases of “Oh my god, don’t do that!” the audience is wholly invested and engaged. Gasps, laughter and OMG moments abound and boy, it is fantastically fun! On sheer entertainment value, You’re Next earns an A from me.