The very best thing a horror movie can do is get you so invested in the characters that it's the very idea that they are in danger that troubles you. Not the frequency of gore or the creepiness of the killers at large. And for a while, there, that's what You're Next seems to be up to: really immersing you in the family Davison. An uneven clan of resentful, emotionally distant WASPs, there is just as much tension before the killings begin during their countryside weekend getaway as there is midway through the bloodbath. The defining difference: the earlier stuff is a bit more fun.
Middle-aged married couple Paul (Rob Moran) and Aubrey (Barbara Crampton) retreat to their gigantic vacation home in the middle of nowhere, gathering each of their grown children (and their respective significant others) together for a moreover unpleasant dinner. The occasion is ambiguous, although it is suggested that the family is trying to mend some long-tattered fences with this reunion. As such, the meal proceeds with spiteful comments, passive-aggressive comebacks, and a general feeling of discomfort for the only sane one in the room: Erin (Sharni Vinson), second son Crispian's (AJ Bowen) Australian girlfriend and former student. And then, murders.
Lots and lots of murders. For no discernible reason, the family finds itself the victim of a team of eerily masked home invaders packing machetes and crossbows, bent on slaying each and every one of the dumbfounded Davisons. Naturally, as the characters fall, the stakes rise. But we lose more than bodies with each killing — we lose the fun. The fun in hearing adult siblings argue about which one of them is the fastest and as such most capable of running to get help. The fun in brothers bickering pettily about life choices while one has an arrow lodged in his upper back (that's Joe Swanberg, far and away the funniest player in the movie). Once the stars begin to get picked off with greater speed, there are fewer opportunities for these family squabbles.
The cat and mouse game to follow, however, is one a few notches above that of a normal horror flick, thanks entirely to the charms, quirks, and skills of guest Erin. Still, what we have from the second act on is a horror movie — a fun one, but nothing more. As You're Next seems to paint itself with the inventive countenance of something like Cabin in the Woods, you might be entering the game with expectations set high. Lower them just a bit, not too much. What you'll have in store is not a colorless slasher picture — it's a fun, funny, occasionally startling, and temporarily interesting. But rest assured, it's nothing too far outside the box, either.
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No matter how popular she becomes, how many movies she stars in, how many raves she receives for her work, I'll always want more from Anna Faris. I'm greedy like that.
Ever since her debut in Scary Movie, I've had an affection for Faris' brand of no-holds-bar comedy—a style few women have dared to even attempt. But if being hit in the face with an array of objects was her only talent, Faris would be the comedic tour-de-force that she's evolving into. She also has a hell of a lot of charm, as evidenced in her latest movie What's Your Number?, which hit Blu-ray this week.
I had a chance to chat it up with Faris, to discuss her constantly- evolving career, the state of female-driven comedies, working with her equally-lovable husband Chris Pratt and what's next for the rising star:
Not only were you the lead actress in this movie, but you also acted as a producer? When did you step into the project and how did your role evolve?
Anna Faris: Well, the script was already there, and had been around for a little bit. And then the producers that we had, Beau Flynn and Tripp Vinson, brought the script to me. I think post-House Bunny. And then we sort of shopped it around to different studios. And as we shopped it around, I came on as executive producer. Which I think…[laughs] I’m still confused about what it means.
You did something that helped the movie get made.
AF: Yeah! [Laughs]
Did the movie change at all?
AF: No. I loved the characters so much. Some of the cameos were tweaked a little bit as the actors wanted to sort of play with them. Which is great. What did change is, they wrote in a basketball sequence, which I was thrilled about. Terrified.
Why were you scared?
AF: If you knew me for, like, more than a week, you’d realize that anything round confuses me. My coordination skills are just beyond atrocious. And then also being in my underwear with Chris [Pratt] there. [Laughs] I was like, ‘Oh no.’
You give a lot over to this movie. All of your movies, really.
AF: [Laughs] Thanks! Early on, with Scary Movies and some other projects, I used to feel like, ‘I’m the girl who will take the roles that other girls don’t want.’
But do you enjoy that? Doing the physical stuff, and putting yourself in a place where most people probably wouldn’t go?
AF: Yeah, I do. But I remember early on, after doing the first or second Scary Movie, reading some review that says something like, ‘Is she really as dumb as she plays?’ And I started to get a little self-conscious.
AF: [Laughs] I know. But I also learned to never read reviews or Google yourself. I do like playing a variety of characters. But I don’t mind…I’m comfortable in the ‘dumb blonde’ idea.
Sure. I love a lot of your movies—especially, Smiley Face, Observe and Report. Some of these even wackier costarring roles. Is it important for you to bounce between the lead role and costarring stuff just for variety? Or is that necessity?
AF: I think it’s both. I definitely love playing roles that are different from the last role that I played. And sometimes it’s really fun to be kind of awful, like my characters in Observe and Report and Just Friends. That was really fun. What’s Your Number? was the first romantic comedy lead that I’ve had, and the most well-rounded character that I’ve played in a long time. And there’s a lot of pressure to be charming, I think. That was a whole new sort of talent.
Getting people to like you is not easy
AF: Yeah! Guys don’t quite have those same pressures to force an audience to fall in love with [them]. I don’t know. It’s interesting.
You were talking about all of the male co-stars that you have in this movie. Were involved with wrangling these guys, getting these guys on board. I’m sure your husband being in the film wasn’t a difficult get for you. I don’t know.
AF: [Laughs] Actually, that was a role he really wanted to play. I was psyched. Because I wanted him to be a part of it, and I was like, ‘Honey, would you please do the movie?' And he was drawn to Disgusting Donald. But I was friends with Joel McHale and Andy Samberg before. So that was so thrilling that they came on to do it. And all the guys! It was just like a huge compliment. They were taking the time out to play a cameo in my movie. It was really flattering and exciting. And I think it’s sort of indicative of the kind of tone right now in Hollywood in terms of comedy. It feels like there’s a lot of support.
Does working with people you know allow you to be more comfortable and play more on set? It’s always a race on a movie set. I’m curious if you had the time to toy with the material.
AF: Yeah. We had a really great cast in all regards. Everyone got along. And I think that comes from our director and producers as well. Because we didn’t have anybody who was high-maintenance. We couldn’t afford to have anybody who was high-maintenance. We did laugh, and we did improv. But also, I do remember being worried about, like, ‘Are we going to make the day? Guys, shut up and start acting please!’
Is there a lot of pressure for you in that way? I don’t know if we hear a lot about that from actors. Pressure either to get it right or just to get it in the can.
AF: I felt, because we had a limited…we just needed to make our days. And I was very conscious of that because it felt like I had the most invested in the project. Other people tried to protect me from that, but my personality is a little—
Are you snapping your fingers on set, telling people what to do?
AF: [Laughs] A little—well, no, not really…It was always in the back of my mind. Let’s put it that way.
I know these days you're taking a very big step to help create and produce your own material. You know how the Hollywood machine works. Can you talk a little about your upcoming projects and how your career is evolving and changing?
AF: There’s a couple project that we’ve got in development. One is sort of a psycho roommate idea. There’s another one that we’re working on with Happy Madison; that’s a ‘gold diggers’ idea. But then there’s a couple independents that I feel really passionate about. One is with Bill Hader, and the other one is with Paul Rudd. We’re working on getting those. But what has changed for me is that I think I’ve had to develop or work on that side of things out of necessity. Because I was getting too…I think most women in comedy feel, probably, that the scripts just aren’t out there. So how do you find work?
You make it!
AF: [Laughs] Yeah. Turns out you have to work!
Is it a lot of jumping through hurdles?
Do you feel that movies like help you get the clout to step into a room and say, ‘This is what I want to do now.’ 's>
AF: It’s so hard to make a movie, and you don’t realize that when you’re first starting out. I would get cast, and then two weeks later, we’d be shooting. I didn’t realize that there was two years of development before. I think understanding the timeline…and projects sort of falling apart and coming together…it always feels like a small miracle.
We were talking about your husband Chris—you guys have done two movies now together, What's Your Number and Take Me Home Tonight. Do you think you’ll do another movie at some point?
AF: We’d love to. I love working with him. I think he’s so amazing at improv. We would love to. I don’t know if Hollywood sort of allows that. I don’t know the rules about that. I feel confused. But I do have The Dictator coming out in May. So that will be a whole different journey, I suppose.
You play opposite Sacha Baron Cohen in that movie. What kind of role is that for you?
AF: I play a sort of Brooklyn hipster. Actually, I wouldn’t call her a hipster. Maybe a hippie. But she runs a vegan grocery store and an organic farm in Brooklyn. It’s a whole different look for me. I wear a short brown wig, and pretty unflattering clothes—which I love! And I grew out my armpit [hair]…oh, I’m probably not supposed to talk about that.
No, that’s amazing.
AF: I feel like the studio is going to get mad at me if I start talking about it right now. [Laughs] But I did. I was very proud of myself. But it was really fun and really crazy. I haven’t seen it yet. So, I’m curious to see [how it] ended up.
Stop us if you think you’ve heard this one before: Alex Stillman (Bret Harrison) is a college kid who shows a real talent for poker. He is discovered by legendary player Tommy Vinson (Burt Reynolds) who at the insistence of his wife (Maria Mason) retired from the game 20 years earlier but sees a younger version of himself in Alex and offers to train him for some major tournaments. Although their meeting of minds seems initially promising the whole thing falls apart when Alex starts a brief fling with a girl (Shannon Elizabeth) he later finds out is a prostitute Tommy paid off to keep the kid happy. The two are eventually reunited in a different way when Tommy decides to make a comeback on his own and ends up competing against his protégée in a televised tournament worth $8 million to the eventual winner. Although Reynolds has top billing on the end credits marketing materials list Bret Harrison in first position above Burt in the hope that the bland TV star (Reaper Grounded For Life etc.) can draw his young fans. NO one is likely to turn out for this mis-guided Color of Money wannabe. That 1986 film had a different game (pool) and an identical plotline but it also had Tom Cruise Paul Newman in an Oscar winning role and direction by Martin Scorsese. Here you have Reynolds and Harrison sleepwalking through the banal dialogue and pedestrian situations. Reynolds’ toupee shows more interest than he does! And Harrison is thoroughly unconvincing as a guy we are meant to believe can jump right from college to the very top of the poker world in no time flat. Elizabeth actually makes the strongest impression in the film but she has an underwritten part and three scenes. Mason has the thankless role of Reynolds’ long-suffering wife while Charles Durning and Jennifer Tilly can probably find most of their almost non-existent roles on a cutting room floor somewhere. Director Gil Cates Jr. does no favors for his own screenplay (co-written with Mark Weinstock) with static unimaginative shots and coverage of the numerous poker games so sloppy that he makes Lucky You look like a masterpiece. The performances all clearly suffer from his by-the-numbers direction as well. To be fair it is extremely difficult to make card games compelling to watch on screen but most of his shots look like he just set the camera up in one position called ‘Action’ and went out for a smoke. He should have rented Steve McQueen’s 1965 poker classic The Cincinnati Kid to see how a real director (Norman Jewison) could make this stuff visually interesting. Cates is the son of the veteran producer who runs the Oscar show. On the basis of Deal at least Cates Sr. won’t have to worry about finding seats for his son at next year’s ceremony.