It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas…in July.
Let’s bitch it out…
Some film reviews are easier to write than others. Sometimes a film resonates with you and the review becomes a way to galvanize audiences to go see it. Other times the film is so bad that a review listing its faults practically writes itself. Even films that don’t quite work, but do interesting things, give critics something to work with in their reviews.
And then there’s a film like Better Watch Out, a smart, crafty, nasty little horror film that arrived at Fantasia Festival with high praise from nearly a year of festival screenings and delivered something completely unexpected. Unfortunately discussing any of what makes the film so great would effectively ruin it. You’ve heard of films that rely on audiences going in cold? Better Watch Out is one of the best examples in recent memory. So in lieu of a full review – I’ve written a snapshot review with no spoilers, a few hundred words that dance around the meat of the film in the hopes of piquing your interest enough to seek it out when it arrives in theatres and VOD this fall. In a nutshell: this is an instant horror holiday classic that (as my screening partner from Anatomy of a Scream suggested) will instantly become part of a double-bill with your annual screening of Black Christmas.
Luke (Levi Miller in a star making turn) is a typical 12 year old boy with a major inappropriate crush on his 17 year old babysitter Ashley (Olivia DeJonge). As his parents Robert and Deandra (Patrick Warburton and Virginia Madsen) prepare for a Christmas party, Luke and his best friend Garrett (Ed Oxenbould) discuss how best to hook up with Ashley. After several failed attempts to seduce the babysitter that border on painfully awkward, the evening takes a dark turn when armed men break into the house. Faced with impending death, Ashley and Luke must fight for their lives to survive the night.
This brief plot synopsis establishes the general premise of Better Watch Out without giving too much away. The early scenes of the film are brilliantly executed to flesh out each character and provide them with enough backstory to understand their motivations. Ashley is a nice girl preparing to leave home for College. Luke is a boy on the verge of becoming a man, desperate to be seen as more than the “kid” his parents and babysitter categorize him as. Garrett is the wingman who acts more confident than he actually is. Even Ashley’s exes, Ricky (Aleks Mikic) and Jeremy (Dacre Montgomery), get more backstory than peripheral characters usually do in horror films.
Understanding these characters is integral to the film’s success because we need to know what drives them when the shit hits the fan. And boy does it ever: Better Watch Out goes to completely unexpected (and at times extremely gruesome) places. The nasty shocks are off-set by treading the always tricky horror/comedy line with wit aplomb, thanks to a cocky, confident script by Zack Kahn and director Chris Peckover. To say anything else is to give away the film’s surprises, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Home Alone references, including the infamous paint can over the bannister, which absolutely slayed the Fantasia crowd.
That’s all I’ll say for now. When the film debuts in limited release Oct 6 (and premieres on VOD in early December), I’ll revisit Benter Watch Out and post a spoilery review. For now, however, keep this one high on your “must watch” list.