08th Dec2017

‘Better Watch Out’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Review by Matthew Turner

Stars: Levi Miller, Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Dacre Montgomery, Aleks Mikic, Patrick Warburton, Virginia Madsen | Written by Chris Peckover, Zack Kahn | Directed by Chris Peckover

Better-Watch-Out-UK-poster

Previously known as Safe Neighbourhood, this Australian Christmas horror falls firmly in the tradition of other festive frighteners such as Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) or Black Christmas (1974). However, it comes with something of a secret weapon, in the form of a sharply-executed central twist, that allows for a subversive take on the genre and a disturbing look at toxic masculinity.

Set in Smalltown, USA, Better Watch Out stars Levi Miller (Pan) as 12 year-old Luke, whose affluent parents (Virginia Madsen and Patrick Warburton, both under-used) head out to a Christmas party, leaving him in the care of their regular baby-sitter, 17 year-old Ashley (The Visit’s Oliva DeJonge). However, unbeknownst to Ashley, Luke has become quietly obsessed with her and is planning to make his move, hoping to scare her into his arms with a scary movie.

This being a horror movie, things quickly take a sinister turn. A young man (whose face we never see) delivers a pizza no-one ordered, doors are mysteriously found open and then a brick comes through the window with “U leave, u die” written on it. Before long, Luke and Ashley are huddled together in a cupboard, hiding from a home invader with a shotgun. But is everything as it seems?

To reveal any more of the plot would be to spoil the fun, but suffice it to say that the script handles its central twist extremely well. As a result, Better Watch Out starts off as a bog-standard home invasion thriller and then turns into something that’s more like Michael Haneke’s Funny Games crossed with Home Alone, the latter of which gets a gruesome shout-out in the film’s nastiest scene.

The performances are excellent. Miller perfectly captures both the frustration of being thought too young and the delusion of thinking he might have a chance with Ashley – we’re not given any insight into his viewing habits, but we can hazard a guess. Similarly, DeJonge is a likeable, engaging presence as Ashley, and there’s strong support from Ed Oxenbould (also from The Visit), as Luke’s dope-smoking best friend Garrett.

Peckover maintains tight control of the tone throughout, balancing blackly comic dialogue with queasy, hide-behind-your-hands moments. He also takes a leaf out of the Tarantino playbook when it comes to the gore factor, making you think you’ve seen worse than what’s actually shown on screen.

In addition, Better Watch Out ticks all the right Yuletide horror boxes, finding inventive uses for carol singers, fairy lights and Christmas decorations, while also making amusingly ironic use of a seasonally appropriate soundtrack. It also leans heavily into its toxic masculinity theme, making it frighteningly appropriate (and, it goes without saying, deeply uncomfortable viewing) for the current climate.

It’s fair to say that the film stretches credulity in places and there’s at least one key moment where the set-up could have used a little more work, but Peckover compensates with a strong sense of pace and there are more than enough jump scares and plot twists to ensure you don’t dwell on the implausibilities for too long.

It’s also worth pointing out that the trailer for the film spoils more or less the entire film, so be sure to avoid that, as it’s much more fun to go in as cold as possible.

**** 4/5

Better Watch Out is in UK cinemas now.

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