DIRECTOR: Chris Peckover
When Luke's parents head out to a party over the Christmas Holiday, they decide to hire a babysitter for their twelve-year-old son, Luke. Luke has a massive crush on his babysitter, Ashley. Tonight won't be the easy, regular job that Ashley thought it was going to be when dangerous intruders break into the house. Both of them must try and defend themselves if they plan on surviving. Ashely will soon discover that this isn't a regular home invasion.
Back in 2016, I remember when a little Christmas horror movie was doing the rounds of film festivals titled Safe Neighborhood. It was getting a lot of rave reviews. Cut to a year later, and the film was now getting a release. Only this time, the movie had been retitled as Better Watch Out. A much more festive name to go with the home invasion during the Christmas holiday theme. At this point, I had chosen not to read up on the movie or watch a trailer for it. I wanted to go into this completely blind and it was the best decision I made regarding this movie.
Not knowing a single thing about the movie, I went in expecting a couple of kids who try to fend off a couple of home intruders. I didn't expect much else than that. Being a fan of Christmas horror movies and home invasion, I hoped that I'd walk out of this one having enjoyed this almost Home Alone-esque type of story. It sounded like this could be the Home Alone of this decade. Which I'm totally fine with as I grew up on the Macaulay Culkin classic. It was that and so much more.
As Better Watch Out began, I wasn't warming up to it. Levi Miller as Luke spends a good chunk of the first act fawning over Olivia DeJonge's Ashley. At times it's weird, awkward, and uncomfortable. It also played pretty cheesily. Going in blind, I found these early scenes to be somewhat uneven. I wasn't feeling them at all. This quickly changed, though. It switches things up at the thirty-minute mark, and it becomes an entirely different beast. It's this switch up that cements this film as a new Christmas horror classic. Sure to be added to everyone's festival films.
Once we get wind of what's going on, this is where things begin to get pretty fun and excitingly twisted. I am happy to admit that didn't see the twist coming in this movie. So I went into this with one expectation and was left jaw agape when I had the carpet pulled out from underneath me. The movie spends the next hour showing a character turning into a conniving, calculating, and demented villain and I loved every second of that last hour. The movie ramps up both the violence and the tension.
Better Watch Out is quite the brutal and mean-spirited little movie. When I went into this movie, I didn't expect much in the way of blood, gore, and violence as several of the posters look a bit cartoonish and have an almost family-friendly quality to them. Boy, was I wrong? While the death toll isn't astronomical, the death scenes do have a gut-punch factor to them when you see who is the dishing out the punishment. There is one moment with a paint can that is our villain testing to see if the famous scene from Home Alone involving the paint cans would actually kill the victim. Some great bloodshed to be found.
Visually, I found Better Watch Out to be a great looking movie. For a film that is set almost entirely in a two-story house where one character is tied to a chair for most of it. They manage to really use the location very well. Just as surprising was to find out that this is an Australian production. I'm proud to see another Australian horror movie doing well. Over the last decade, the increase in great films is fantastic to witness. If director Chris Peckover is indeed Aussie, I'm glad to see so many talented Australian filmmakers delivering quality horror films.
My biggest gripe with Better Watch Out is the first thirty minutes. It's not enough to derail the last hour which is an exhilarating ride once that switch-up takes place. I've seen a lot of reviews claiming that Better Watch Out is unpleasant. I loved the places that this movie was willing to go. I think another small issue that can be raised is that the first thirty minutes play quite comedic where the last hour is extremely dark. The tonal shift will either make or break it for some viewers. It's so drastically different that it will be a shock which is great for a Christmas themed horror movie.
Lastly, we have the performances of the young cast. Levi Miller as Luke is fantastic. The range that this kid displays here is wise beyond his years. He has the best role in the film. He looks like he had an absolute blast. Olivia DeJonge is great as Ashley. Her last few minutes of the film is so good. That last middle-finger moment was a cheer-worthy moment. I really wish we got to see more of both Virginia Madsen and Patrick Warburton as they have what feels like extended cameos in the film. The entire cast is excellent here.
DEATH TOLL: 3
BLOOD AND GORE:
- A kid is shot in the back as he runs for safety.
- A girl is hit in the face and falls down the stairs.
- A girl is stabbed in the neck.
- We witness bodies covered in blood.
- A guy is hung from a tree by a swing.
- A kid is shot in the head and chest with a shotgun.
- Someone gets hit in the head with a baseball bat twice.
- A guy is stabbed in the cheek with a pencil.
- A guy's head explodes when hit in the skull with a falling paint can.
Better Watch Out has the honour of joining the ranks as one of the best and most mean-spirited, twisted, and intelligent Christmas themed horror movies to come out this decade. The movie has one of the best twists of the year, a real 'rug being pulled out from under you' moment. The entire cast is brilliant, its visually impressive, and the film has a few really nasty moments of violence towards kids. The only real issue I had with the film was the first thirty minutes feeling a tad uneven, tonally. Other than that, this is festive and fucked-up.