Admittedly, I’m a bit of a Scrooge when it comes to the holidays. Irony is, there are so many Christmas movies that I love. So nothing puts me in the holiday spirt like a good, wintery horror movie. Dark Comedy/Horror hybrid Better Watch Out was originally shown back in 2016 at Fantastic Fest under the title ‘Safe Neighborhood‘, but it was praise from Fantasia Fest 2017 and the violent red band trailer that put the film on the map this year. I went in not knowing much other than the synopsis on IMDB:
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 hadn’t seen any marketing, so that’s what I expected to get. But what I ended up with was one my biggest surprises of 2017. Better Watch Out is 89 minutes of pure, holiday-horror magic.
What a fun movie! I never knew I needed a Home Alone/The Strangers mash-up in my life but I’m so glad I got one. Director Chris Peckover is an immense talent, turning Zack Kahn’s script into a delightfully wicked thrill ride. But before really getting into it, there will be SPOILERS in the latter half of the review (Don’t worry, you’ll be warned before I unwrap the secrets of this early Christmas gift). If you want the best experience with Better Watch Out, go in completely blind like I did. I also recommend you avoid the trailer, which shows one of the best scenes of the film and hints at the twist.
Better Watch Out sets the tone immediately as we meet Luke and his parents, played by Patrick Warburton and iconic Scream Queen, Virginia Madsen. It is with them that we get a taste of the tongue-in-cheek dialogue. This film is the perfect blend of dark comedy, which smoothly transitions to something more sinister later.
Luke (Levi Miller) is the typical “boy who is too old for babysitters” and has a big crush on his babysitter Ashley (Olivia DeJonge), who is leaving for college. Add in his annoying best friend Garrett (Ed Oxenbould) and you have your standard babysitter home invasion film.
The first 25 minutes or so are just ‘fine’. We get to know Luke a bit, see his close relationship with Ashley, watch him try to make moves on her, typical stuff. The film then shifts gears when the invasion starts, met with some tense & funny moments of Luke trying to be the ‘man of the house’. Both hold their own, however, because we also see that Ashley is a smart, capable protagonist, defending Luke from the attackers. All of this was enjoyable, but I still felt like I had seen this film before…or so I thought.
*If you haven’t seen the film, I strongly advise you to check it out now. It is currently available streaming on Shudder, and via all major VOD platforms.*
This film is filled with twist after twist. Due to it’s impeccable pacing from this point on, Better Watch Out only gets better and better. Despite leading us to believe an outside force was lurking in the shadows, it turns out the boys staged the invasion all along. Luke’s scheme was to save the day and get Ashley to finally fall for him. Obviously this doesn’t work, so Luke decides if she won’t fall for him…she’ll fall down some stairs. In a matter of 10 minutes, the film shifts from home invasion to hostage situation.
Luke is a stone-cold psychopath. In an instant, he turns from a boring, stereotypical character to one of the best villains of the year. Levi Miller dials his performance up to an 11, as the films becomes a pint-sized version of Funny Games. Luke now holds Ashley hostage, torturing and taunting her for not liking him back. He’s a character that desperately wants to be seen as mature, which is reflected in the ways he attempts to show dominance over her and Garrett, who he’s guilted into being his accomplice.
All the typical characteristics in Luke were just there to throw us off. The little nuances; like his voice cracking during intimidating moments and innocent appearance, were the most impressive. Luke‘s motivations are also clear, as he eventually kills Ashley’s 2 ex-boyfriends (one being a scene-stealing Dacre Montgomery) in a sadistic, Home Alone inspired fashion. The best part is: I didn’t see any of this coming. Not to toot my own horn, but it’s hard to surprise me these days, especially with horror. So kudos to Peckover for pulling one over on me, and hopefully many others.
Let’s talk about violence. It’s hard to depict violence tastefully when the antagonist is 12-years old, but Better Watch Out manages to give you just enough gore to where it’s fun and will satisfy any horror fan, but also doesn’t veer to where it would be unbelievable.
Better Watch Out is an absolute thrill-ride, easily one of the most fun horror watches of the year. It’s got everything you want in a home invasion romp and more: blood, tension, humor, high energy, and likable characters. This film perfectly balances horror and comedy, while also subverting the genre. Levi Miller and director Chris Peckover have incredibly bright futures, showing multiple flashes of brilliance. And with more exposure, I believe this film will eventually become a horror classic to watch with your friends around the holidays.
Santa isn’t coming down the chimney in this one, so don’t sleep on Better Watch Out. Make some hot chocolate, curl up by the fire, and enjoy the mayhem!