Directed by Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion.
Starring Lulu Wilson, Joel McHale, Kevin James, Amanda Brugel, Robert Maillet, and Ryan McDonald.
A teenager’s weekend at a lake house with her father takes a turn for the worse when a group of convicts wreaks havoc on their lives.
Filmmaker duo Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion (Cooties, Bushwick) return with their third and most assured effort to date, a stylishly-forged, convincingly acted riff on familiar material which boasts just enough personality and technical nous to stand apart.
Becky (Lulu Wilson) is a 13-year-old girl who is whisked away by her father Jeff (Joel McHale) for a weekend retreat at their lakeside cabin – the catch being that Jeff’s new partner Kayla (Amanda Brugel) and her young son Ty (Isaiah Rockcliffe) are also along for the trip.
But the real catch ends up being the sudden arrival of Dominick (Kevin James), a neo-Nazi convict who escapes from prison with a band of his cronies, and enters the house in search of a prized key hidden inside. Naturally, Becky has this very key in her possession, kick-starting a brutal game of cat-and-mouse as she tries to keep herself and her family safe while evading Dominick’s gang.
On paper this is a plainly conventional story, no question, whiffing somewhat of a mid-90s, mid-rent Bruce Willis thriller you might catch on TV every so often. Yet reconfigured as Becky is through the piercing eyes of its eponymous character, this version of that story actually feels relatively fresh.
Admittedly, the screenplay piles rather typical family drama upon itself early – of course, Becky has an obligatory dead mother – which largely seems like an attempt to bloat out the first act ahead of the invaders’ arrival. It arguably informs Becky’s character to a point, but mostly ceases to be relevant once the central conflict kicks off.
Despite this, there are some low-key bursts of smart plotting – Dominick deduces Becky’s position by realising her kiddie walkie talkie has a limited range – even if the movie’s prime attraction will undeniably be the riveting central two-hander between Wilson and James.
Wilson, who has had a number of memorable roles in the likes of Ouija: Origin of Evil, Annabelle: Creation, and Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House, delivers a remarkable lead performance, asked to go to some extremely tricky emotional places for an actor of her age, not to ignore the spry physicality commanded of her in the film’s final reel.
For many, though, this will be all about Kevin James, given the funnyman’s massively against-type performance here as a bearded, bald-headed racist with a massive swastika tattooed on the back of said head.
It is, even in the film’s more limited moments, an effortlessly menacing performance, with James clearly relishing the opportunity to methodically chew through some chilling monologues. The film’s not quite at the level as to be his Brawl in Cell Block 99 moment, but it’s nevertheless a minor breakthrough worth celebrating, and hopefully an avenue James will continue to pursue in the future.
The main cast proves incredibly low in number, but Joel McHale makes for an amusingly bizarre casting choice as Becky’s father, not only looking like he just walked off the Community set but also bearing the very same moniker, Jeff. More diverting is former WWE superstar Robert Maillet, who appears as Dominick’s gigantic lackey Apex. Though his arc throughout the film is never less than predictable, it’s certainly one of Maillet’s more nuanced and variety-filled roles to date, so good for him.
If Milott and Murnion spend the second act effectively building suspense, the third reel will undeniably be the highlight for Becky’s target audience, as it devolves into a relentlessly R-rated riff on Home Alone, with our resourceful protagonist forced to improvise weapons and set gnarly traps for her pursuers. While hardly high on creativity, the result is still effective in all of its brutality, most of which appears to have been achieved with practical, sinewy gore effects.
However, here are certainly moments where the film’s tone starts to veer off-kilter; a mutilation scene in particular flirts with pure slapstick, and as such you might be left wondering exactly what you’re supposed to feel. Personally, I laughed and winced, which perhaps speaks to the filmmakers achieving an appealing synthesis of grimly funny, backed up by other funny-awkward moments which emerge despite the general solemnity of the set-up. If nothing, it helps distinguish Becky from its competition, even if some may find the mood a tad too unwieldy.
The technical package is meanwhile unexpectedly strong; Alan Canant’s crisp editing is especially noteworthy, with some gorgeous early match cuts juxtaposing Becky’s school and Dominick’s prison life exceptionally well. A few precisely abrupt cuts from cacophonous sound to total silence are also prickly effective, while dynamic camerawork keeps the action beats from ever feeling too stock.
Rising composer Nima Fakhrara meanwhile serves up a boldly ominous musical score, packed with terrifically moody booming synths, and even occasionally integrating various characters’ screams into the soundscape in a hauntingly evocative way.
While hardly a revelation for a well-trod genre, Becky is a stylishly crafted and tenaciously acted thriller which should leave gorehounds plenty satisfied. With a more considered script, there’s no doubt this filmmaking team could deliver something truly special in the future, so keep your eyes peeled.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.