You may have barely broken out the pumpkin beers, but here it is, a holiday-themed horror movie that is ready to lead you into the yuletide season.In a shocking turn of events, you have found what is maybe the first SPOILER FREE review in the history of this site. Because there are certain perks associated with doing this whole review thing, we occasionally get to see movies early. Better Watch Out is one of those instances, and we wanted to give you the lowdown on what you can expect without ruining the whole damn thing for you. Give the trailer a watch and then continue down to our refreshingly light and spoilerless (read: vague) review of the movie.
Reviewed by: Jake
Better Watch Out is, in the most distilled sense, a home invasion flick set during the Christmas/holiday season. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Home Alone did that. Kevin McCallister is a goddamned monster and Harry and Marv should have both died like a million times during that movie. You’d be right on all those counts. The dynamic the film ultimately sets up is most easily equated to Home Alone. It also features some moments that are heavily reminiscent, at least to me, of Superbad. That’s an awesome combo, but how exactly is it horror? Well, that’s where things get interesting. Remember how I said Harry and Marv should have died in Home Alone? Just go ahead and keep that in mind... Ruminate on that concept while I run through the rest of the plot.
The story in Better Watch Out centers around a babysitter named Ashley (Olivia DeJonge) who is tasked with protecting Luke (Levi Miller), the twelve-year-old she’s watching, from intruders at a quiet suburban home. Luke’s a horndog who’s hot for babysitter, and he's dead set on making a move on Ashley before she moves away from town. Nice confidence, young man. Let’s see how it plays out for you. The problem is that this isn’t just any home invasion... The culprits are far from the mask-clad goons genre fans are used to seeing in this sort of fare.
What the Movie Does Right
Long before the windows start breaking and the invaders start invading, Better Watch Out indicates that it is not going to serve up a customary experience. It's what the movie does around the simple home invasion construct that makes it so unique and fun. With relative ease, it subverts the genre and has some pretty great and unique twists to offer. There are multiple times in this movie where you’ll think you know exactly what’s going to happen, and even in the instances where you're right, the means to those ends are likely not what you’d have put money on.
The film is carried by incredibly strong performances by each of the lead characters. DeJonge is likable and reasonable, while Miller plays the ungainly, prepubescent part he is given exceptionally well, rendering Luke the real standout. His awkward confidence mixes childlike innocence and charm with some truly raunchy and hilariously uncomfortable dialogue, much of which comes while his friend, Garrett (Ed Oxenbould) is on screen.
Additionally, director and co-writer Chris Peckover does a great job of getting each and every drop of the holiday season out of this movie without making it feel like it should only be viewed around Christmas. There are ugly sweaters, carolers, and a color palette that squeezes bright colors out of every scene, but none of it goes too far. And that’s the best way to think about much of this movie. It deftly toes the line in a lot of different areas but manages to keep from crossing the threshold and becoming too much of any one thing. Make no mistake, Better Watch Out goes to some very dark places, but it does so while showing just enough restraint to leave the fun intact. It is a movie showcasing an ability to gleefully subvert your expectations from the first sleigh bell tone at the beginning of the film right up to the final note
What the Movie Does Wrong
For a movie doing the Home Alone thing, there is an inherent attention to detail required to make the cat & mouse game of traps believable. The film handles this well for the most part but there are a few relatively untidy ends on display that you might be a bit puzzled by. As I mentioned, I’m not here to spoil this one, but I will say is that there’s one logical leap made near the end of the film that I don’t think science or the human body would prove reasonable. Ultimately, there are nits that can be picked here, but it’s tough to do so without divulging specific details, and frankly, the movie is just too damn fun to care.
Story: 7.5 - This is a relatively simple home invasion flick that truly shines through its numerous subversions of the genre conventions we are all used to.
World-Building / Immersion: 8 - The acting in this movie is preposterously good. We are in a wave of incredible child/teen acting in the genre right now. I’m not sure when exactly it first hit us or if it will continue, but we need to recognize and enjoy. On top of that, the world here is more than adequately painted. Though it’s pretty damn simple, I enjoyed the clear holiday setting that doesn’t try to beat you over the head with how “holiday” it is.
Scare-Factor: 5 - I’m having a hard time penning a rating for this one because, as I mentioned earlier, there are strong shades of Home Alone in this thing, and the raunchy humor is more than a little reminiscent of teen comedies like Superbad. Where the scare comes in is when you think about just how fucking dark some of what’s on display is. And trust me, it doesn’t take a ton of mental gymnastics to get there.
Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 7 - This movie gets really close to going some super gnarly places and juuuust manages to take a step back from the precipice at the last second. I’ve gotta think part of that is due to maintenance of the fun/fright balance the movie is going for, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was related to the budget at hand. Either way, it feels well handled and serves the movie well. The sound effects and score also get a thumbs up.
Overall: 8 - This is a movie that manages to be both really fun and really dark and it does both of those dissonant things with ease. Do yourself a favor and put this in your annual holiday horror lineup.