The Christmas movie that certainly isn’t for the whole family.
Any fan of slasher/horror movies will be able to place the line, ‘I want to know who I’m looking at’. It’s the moment in Wes Craven’s postmodern slasher film to end all slasher films (which actually ending up spawning and countless straight up slasher film copycats) Scream, when Drew Barrymore’s character realises the guy on the other end of the line isn’t just some smooth-talking stranger. It’s an ingenious tonal switch that kicks off one of the genre’s most perfectly paced kills.
There isn’t a moment that’s quite as deftly handled in Chris Peckover and screenwriter Zack Kahn’s Better Watch Out, but there are a few that come close, cementing this as, if not the Christmas home invasion movie to end all Christmas home invasion movies, then certainly a fine addition to the genre, with just enough tongue-in-cheek satire to likely make it a future cult classic.
It’s a tricky movie to review, given that the majority of the film hinges on a massive tonal shift it would be a real shame to spoil, even though some idiotic critics have already done that. Ashley (Olivia DeJonge, The Visit), is babysitting Luke (Levi Miller, Jasper Jones) for the night. Right at the beginning, we see Luke and his mate Garrett (Ed Oxenbould, Puberty Blues) callously discussing ways seduction techniques that reek of juvenilia and too much time spent on pick-up artistry forums. They decide that ‘fear’ is key—make her scared and she’s yours. Kahn’s script captures the vernacular of horny teenage boys and he does a good job, while Peckover’s direction lets the talented young cast morph and shape their lines to suit themselves. At times, the script is a little heavy on the cursing, but this is more an issue of overusing a certain word than betraying realism.
Things begin to get eerie when Garrett and the parents leave and it’s just Luke and Ashley. The phone erupts with loud rings with no one on the other line, pizza arrives unordered and Luke chugs from a bottle of champagne to Ashley’s surprise (he’s twelve, she’s seventeen). DeJonge already proved herself an intriguing actor with the ability to elevate schlocky source material in M Night Shyamalan’s The Visit, and here she continues to be the most intriguing performer on screen. She balances the responsible babysitter role with an increasing dread as Luke’s true intentions bubble to the surface—DeJonge’s performance anchors the piece as everything around her descends into chaos.
When the twist comes, you might feel like suddenly you’re watching a different movie. I didn’t expect it, and where it goes from there, you’ll simply have to see for yourself.
Better Watch Out will be in cinemas 23 November.