Better Watch Out, 2016.
Directed by Chris Peckover.
Starring Olivia DeJonge, Levi Miller, Ed Oxenbould, Virginia Madsen, and Patrick Warburton.
On a quiet suburban street, a babysitter must defend a twelve-year-old boy from intruders, only to discover it’s far from a normal home invasion.
I’m going to do something that every reviewer advises against, and that is tell you not to read this review. I am reviewing this movie because it is great and want to tell everyone about it, but to even talk about the movie would be to give something away. I will try to avoid writing about more than the first 5 minutes of the movie, but if you’d rather experience Better Watch Out to it’s wicked fullest, just go see it right now. Don’t watch the trailer for it spoils the big surprise at the end of act 1. Just know this movie is really good and I’m giving it 4 out of 5 stars.
Chris Peckover – who also directed the political horror about border crossing, Undocumented – directs this Christmas-horror-comedy that has been described as both “An R-rated Home Alone” and “A John Hughes movie written by Tarantino”. Better Watch Out is that and more. You have seen “home invasion” thrillers before, you have seen Christmas horror movies before. But Chris Peckover and co-writer Zack Kahn (from the animated Mad series) have many a surprise in store.
Despite Patrick Warburton and Virginia Madsen having top-billing as the parents leaving their kid alone with a babysitter, it’s the kids who are the starts of the movie. From Levi Miller playing 12-year-old Luke as your straight, white teenager who feels like the world owes him something. He stumbles during some scenes but is more than up to the task of being the adorable baby-faced kid with malicious intentions. An early scene shows Luke talking to his friend Garrett (Ed Oxenbould) about how horror movies “really makes girls wet.” His goal for the night? Getting some action with his babysitter, Ashley (Olivia DeJonge). DeJonge is the star of the movie. She play’s the 17-year-old babysitter who is just tired of being controlled by her parents, her boyfriend, and the intruders ruining her babysitting job.
Except for a small scene in the beginning of the movie, Better Watch Out takes place inside one location – a house that was entirely built on a sound stage. The house feels lived in, with lots of small details about the plot spread out that will require multiple viewings to really appreciate. Peckover and director of photography Carl Robertson make the house feel like a prison. One thing about the house set. Despite the movie taking place in Anytown, USA, it was filmed in Australia, where apparently the doorknobs are placed really high. This might get a bit distracting because one keeps looking at all the crazy doorknobs!
The long halls and the big living room won’t give you claustrophobia, but will instantly make you feel trapped the horror that the main characters will go through. The story may not give you nightmares, but your blood pressure will go up as soon as Ashley picks up the phone only to hear breathing on the other end of the line.
Better Watch Out knows the best Christmas horror films call for dark humour – bright-red blood on snow, someone tied to a chair with Christmas lights, a Home Alone running gag that will make you rethink everything you thought you knew about the sweet, innocent Kevin McCallister. Miller, Oxenbould and DeJonge have great chemistry (with the latter two having already shown good chemistry in The Visit) and just watching them react to the horrors around them is a lot of fun. The movie’s antagonist is especially delightful, even if their actions are quite disturbing. Even Dacre Montgomery shows up for a pre-Power Rangers and pre-Stranger Things role.
What makes Better Watch Out shine, are the many twists and turns in the story. Just when you feel like you know what’s about to happen, Peckover and Kahn reveal another darker, disturbing layer to the craziness that you’re witnessing – without it ever feeling forced. The cat and mouse game played by the protagonist and antagonist keeps escalating, and one can’t help but smile and stare in awe at how much fun this movie is.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★