Better Watch Out Review
Sometimes it's all just a matter a timing. Director Chris Peckover and co-script writer Zack Kahn have probably realised that fact since the release of their film a few months ago. Which, at first looks like a straight forward teeny horror armed to the teeth with cattle prod scares, reveals itself to be a little more subversive than first thought. While the film doesn't commit completely to its themes there is enough going on under the broader genre antics to make Better Watch Out a surprisingly entertaining thriller/horror that should generate some interesting points of discussion.
The film starts in generic style, introducing us to geeky pre-teens Luke (Levi Miller) and his best friend Garrett (Ed Oxenbould). As is the norm, 18-year-old babysitter Ashley (Olivia DeJonge) is present while Luke’s parents head out for the evening. It's a big evening for Levi who has big designs on trying to win over Ashley but has little chance given the age gap. The evening takes a turn for the worse when a brick is thrown through the upstairs window and they are forced to hide away as armed intruders force their way into the house. Luke knows there’s a gun inside his parent's bedroom and if he can somehow creep there and back he might be able to protect himself. And Ashley, of course.
Better Watch Out is a film that requires you to be careful about how much you reveal beforehand. The bare bones of the story are all that are needed before expectations are flipped on their head once the rug is pulled out from underneath everyone’s feet. Male privilege and entitlement suddenly rears its ugly head and turns the film into a hive of toxic masculinity. Peckover restrains from delving too far into this idea but once the hidden intentions of the bad guys are laid out in the open the motivations for their actions is made clear enough.
While never explicit with its horror, Peckover understands how to keep the tension in place and the 90 minutes zip by quickly enough. It may not feel like it at the time, but the opening act is intended to play like a horror template by design, throwing up a number of obvious jump scares. The change in direction is timed just right to avoid switching off completely, although the more sensitive horror fans may already be unnerved by the cheap scare tactics. If you decide to stick with the film once the twist is revealed you’ll need to suspend belief as it gathers pace towards the final act, tying up the loose ends with one last cheeky wink towards the audience.
The three young stars are all Australian and the film itself was shot there, but the setting is suburban America, clearly intended as a riff on Home Alone (there is a pretty gruesome sequence around the midway point that ups the ante on a famous moment from Chris Columbus’ film too). Levi and DeJonge stand out in their roles, both seeming to enjoy the peaks and troughs their characters experience. While not as entrenched in its ideas as films like Raw or Get Out, Better Watch Out is wicked little Christmas horror that delights in unwrapping the pigheadedness of its male characters to leave a nasty little present under the tree.