Thursday, September 12, 2013

Little Stabs at Happiness: The World's End & You're Next

Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Eddie Marsan star in Edgar Wright's The World's End

The first weeks of September are a dozy, uninspiring time for moviegoers. Summer’s over, but fall’s not quite here yet; for serious movie geeks, most of the excitement is generated by the news from high-profile festivals (Telluride, Toronto); in the real world, something like Don’t Tell a Soul or The Exorcism of Emily Rose suddenly has a reasonably good chance to be one of the top box-office draws of its opening weekend. Given the kind of summer it’s been at the movies, it’s perfectly appropriate that a couple of the better popcorn movies still lingering around certain multiplexes in these post-dog days offer the charm of small-scale, ironic apocalypses. 

Simon Pegg has a plan
The World’s End is the third collaboration between the director-writer Edgar Wright, the writer-star Simon Pegg, and Pegg’s co-star, Nick Frost. Pegg plays Gary King, a middle-aged, alcoholic burnout who seemed like a charismatic wild man in his teens, for the same reason that he’s now a self-destructive loser and, as the movie’s love interest, Rosamund Pike, gently puts it, “not boyfriend material.” After graduating, King and his four buddiesplayed by Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, and Eddie Marsanembarked on an ambitious liquid walking tour of their shitty little home town, intending to hit every one of a dozen pubs. They didn’t make it all the way to the end, but it remains the best night of King’s life. At the end of his rope and desperate to feel good again, he tracks down his friends and cajoles, wheedles, and guilt trips them all into taking a weekend break from their orderly, grown-up lives and join him in reliving that fateful, blotto night. 

The World’s End seems as if it’s going to be content to be a hangout movie with a hangover for almost half its running time, until Wright and Pegg pull off their big plot twist, a riff on Invasion of the Body Snatchers. By now it’s nice to see a movie apocalypse that’s a metaphor for something internal, and when King realizes that the residents of his old home town aren’t really what they seem, part of him is elated: he’d been upset because nobody seemed to remember the great hell-raiser Gary King, but now he’s confirmed in his suspicion that it’s them, not him. Meanwhile, as they burrow deeper into trouble, his friends, who have quickly reached the point of being unable to tolerate him, warn up to him a little. That may have something to do with their rekindling their youth through a shared dangerous adventure, but it’s probably just that, by the end, they’re all thoroughly pickled.

Like the previous Wright-Pegg movies (as well as Wright’s Scott Pilgrim movie), The World’s End is meant to be a rollercoaster ride and a debauch for geeks of all kinds, with whom Wright and Pegg are supposed to share some intense, personal wavelength. I can’t say that I found myself laughing as much as I’d have liked; the movie may almost be too well thought out, so that I spent much of the time appreciating its steadily escalating cleverness than actually responding to its jokes. (The funniest performance comes from Martin Freeman, who is body-snatched midway through, though his friends are too swacked to notice the difference.) But unlike most big-studio epics, the movie does follow its dark logic all the way to its inevitable, black-comedy conclusion. It has a true geek’s integrity. 

Sharni Vinson in You're Next
Adam Wingard’s horror movie You’re Next has a much simpler set-up: a pudgy rich boy (A. J. Bowen) brings his girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson) home for a family weekend, and when all the guests have arrived, a trio of killers in animal masks start picking them off with crossbows and whatever else is at hand. It, too, turns out to be more clever than it first appears, though it’s not always clear whether the audience is ahead of the movie on some of the plot twists, or if the director just allows us to think we are, in order to pull the rug out from under us later. Oh, who I am kidding? It’s probably the latter, because Wingard definitely misses some of his chalk marks as the action escalates and things start to spin out of control. But it has a good spirit for the kind of movie it isi.e., the kind that ends with a credit roll accompanied by shots of most of the cast members with their inner organs hanging out. The cast includes Joe Swanberg, Ti West, and Larry Fessenden, all alumni of a school of contemporary low-budget horror movies that have mostly yielded a lot of movies that are more fun to read about than watch. But Wingard also honors his elders in casting, as the rich boy’s mother, Barbara Crampton, midnight movie royalty for her role in Stuart Gordon’s unrated classic, Re-Animator. For that, and for guiding Sharni Vinson through the gauntlet on to scream queen glory, my head’s off to him.

– Phil Dyess-Nugent is a freelance writer living in Texas. He regularly writes about TV and books for The A. V. Club.

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