RIALTO DISTRIBUTION / WELL GO USA (2017)
Director: Chris Peckover
Starring: Olivia DeJonge, Levi Miller, Ed Oxenbould, Patrick Warburton, Virginia Madsen, Dacre Montgomery, Aleks Mikic
You know what they say about being on Santa’s naughty list…
A new addition to the Christmas canon, from the mind of Chris Peckover comes Better Watch Out. There’s a warming Yuletide feeling in the air. The snow is falling, the carolers are out in full force, egg nog flows like water and streets are illuminated in festive light – is there a better time of year?
There is if your home isn’t being invaded.
Pre-pubescent, twelve-year-old walking hard-ons, Luke (Miller) and Garrett (Oxenbould), plot ways to get laid whilst playing computer games – standard stuff. Luke has his eyes set on the love of his life, his seventeen-year-old babe-ysitter, Ashley (DeJonge). She’s moving to Pittsburgh imminently, so its last chance saloon for Luke and his naughty intentions when she arrives at the house for the last babysitting shift.
With pizza, champagne and a horror flick on the TV, Luke prepares for his crowning moment – only to be brushed off by the embarrassed Ashley when he dives in for a kiss. She doesn’t have a lot of time to reflect on the awkward lunge as she notices the back door open just as something crashes through the upstairs windows. The footsteps from upstairs are proof that someone is in the house - and it’s not Santa. Hiding for their lives, the intruder pokes around, shotgun in hand – but things don’t pan out like you may think. Still wish it could be Christmas every day?
There’s no point going into the story beats as to do so would give away the movies clever (and stirring) twist. There’s no re-invention of the wheel here, but a subversion of the tired home invasion genre. Recent(ish) additions such as Hush and The Strangers stand above the rest and Better Watch Out is a black-comedy fuelled cousin to them. The movie lacks the scares and (to an extent) ingenuity of those examples, but it makes up for that with entertainment, unpredictability and a few nasty moments. A kooky bastardisation of Home Alone and Funny Games (to name a few), there’s lot to admire here.
The movie is spearheaded by two opposing performances (in tone, not quality). Levi Miller is the smug-looking kid, desperate to impress the beautiful older woman in his life and will go to any lengths to do so – bringing the crazy whilst shouting, creeping, lusting and laughing his way through the movie. It’s an impressive performance from the young actor. Olivia DeJonge carries the movie on her shoulders, however, delivering a nicely-layered performance as the unfortunate babysitter. At times she’s friendly and warm, others she is awkward and stern, then defiant and stoic (whilst fending off a horny boy’s advances) – she becomes the focal point of the movie and handles it with aplomb in one of 2017’s better horror performances. Along with the likes of Katherine Langford, Ashleigh Cummings, Angourice Rice, Alycia Debnam-Carey, Odessa Young, Bella Heathcote and Abbey Lee, DeJonge is another up-and-coming Australian actor to keep tabs on.
The director’s restraint keeps the movie from going too far in its horror elements – the majority of gore or shock moments are kept off-screen at the vital moment, but the impact remains. Riffs on the Home Alone paint can attack and The Dark Knight’s pencil trick provide the horror highlights – unless you have arachnophobia or home invasion-ophobia. The clichés are out in full-force throughout, but how the movie reaches them is the intriguing part. There’s a message in there somewhere about preserving your principles, but it's smothered by the action and events on-screen.
If you’re a fan of the festive period, you’ll adore the look of Better Watch Out. The house the movie is set in (its one location) is lavishly decorated with tinsel, baubles, lights and wreaths. The movie is shot with the warming glow of cinematic holiday landmarks from years before - delivering the idyllic Christmas visuals that we all dream of to the extent that I want to live there myself. The snow is knee-deep and the exterior shots of neighbourhood trees draped in white lights are always beautiful to look at.
In the vein of home invasion movies, and the influencing movies, Better Watch Out, of course, has plenty of inexplicable moments – the back garden traps, the help/assistance that arrives and their usefulness, antagonist being two steps ahead etc. – so there are times when you’ll just have to ignore logic and go with the flow. Whilst restrained in bloody visuals, the movie does veer into OTT territory during a few moments but pulls itself back quickly enough.
Better Watch Out has enough about it in its execution to make it a success and overcome its clichéd drawbacks. Sharp direction, snappy dialogue, clever comedy, high-level performances, tasty looking pizza and a game-changing twist all come together to create a fun, creepy and entertaining holiday horror movie, even if it isn’t as scary as it would like to be.
Santa Clause may just skip Luke’s house this year.
September 12th 2017