DIR: Chris Peckover • WRI: Zack Kahn PRO: Sidonie Abbene, Paul Jensen, Brett Thornquest • DOP: Carl Robertson • ED:Julie-Anne De Ruvo • MUS: Brian Cachia • DES: Richard Hobbs • CAST: Patrick Warburton, Virginia Madsen, Dacre Montgomery
Better Watch Out begins with a little girl creating a snowman, only to have it knocked over by a bigger boy. I guess she wasn’t paying enough attention. Next time she’d better watch out.
Things are looking decidedly festive: in snowy suburbia, seventeen-year-old Ashley (Olivia DeJonge) is babysitting for the Lerners, friends of the family, for the final time before she moves to the city. She’s left in charge of twelve-year-old Luke (Levi Miller), whose parents (Patrick Warburton and Virginia Madsen) are off to a Christmas party. Luke is embarrassingly misguided in his understanding of his relationship with Ashley: we first see him reading through skin magazines, looking up tactics on how to impress women. Even his best friend, Garrett (Ed Oxenbould), thinks it’s a lost cause, something which clearly irritates Luke. Still, Luke is not going to pass on what he believes is his final shot to impress his babysitter.
In an attempt to lower her guard, Luke suggests that the two of them watch a horror movie. Ashley, however, is decidedly distracted, fielding calls from her ex-boyfriend Ricky (Aleks Mikic) who is less than happy about her impending move. Luke’s seduction attempts – which include trying to impress her by drinking his parents’ champagne – are put on hold when Ashley starts receiving strange calls followed by signs of someone lurking in the backyard. Things get worse when Ashley’s car tyres are slashed and a brick is hurled through one of the windows. Written on the brick are the words “U Leave and U Die.”
Better Watch Out is an excellent genre film, using both the potentials and limitations of the home invasion narrative to create something rather innovative. There is considerable menace throughout, a lot of which comes from the threat of violence rather than its execution. Part When A Stranger Calls, part Funny Games, the links between Better Watch Out and Home Alone are clearly signposted, with Luke employing some of the same tactics as Kevin MacAllister to deter home invaders. However, director Chris Peckover heightens the links, using a similar visual style in which small details hint at much larger possibilities. It, furthermore, allows the viewer to draw their own conclusions. In the opening scene, for example, the camera lingers just long enough to catch a glimpse of a black car following Ashley down the road.
The cast is uniformly impressive with DeJonge, Oxenbould and Mikic all bringing nuance to their roles. Warburton and Madsen’s interactions add a lot of important detail to the story. Stranger Things 2’s Dacre Montgomery, meanwhile, solidifies his current incarnation of douche-bag, playing Ashley’s new boyfriend, Jeremy. Miller, meanwhile, gives a stand-out performance, demonstrating his considerable range as a Kevin McAlliser for the new generation.
While it’s reasonable to call Better Watch Out it a black comedy, as there certainly are funny moments, following the debacle in which Get Out was nominated for a Golden Globe in the comedy category, it feels as if one should err on the side of caution: most of the comedy is there in order to be undercut by the horror, something which the film succeeds at admirably. In Better Watch Out, Peckover has succeeded in creating a truly chilling horror which, I hope, will generate plenty of talk this Christmas. Who’d have thought 2017 would be the year that the Out movies would kick ass?
16 (See IFCO for details)
Better Watch Out is released 8th December 2017