UK Release Date: 8th December 2017
Runtime: 89 minutes
Director: Chris Peckover
Writer: Zack Kahn, Chris Peckover
Starring: Levi Miller, Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Aleks Mikic, Dacre Montgomery, Patrick Warburton, Virginia Madsen
Synopsis: A babysitter and the cocksure 12-year-old she’s looking after find their quiet evening disturbed when a masked invader makes his way into the home, and violent antics ensue.
Christmas horror movies tend to fall into the camp of being over-cranked and ridiculous or supernatural and spooky, rather than the all-out nastiness of a slasher film or a home invasion story. There’s none of that cautious Christmas cheer in Better Watch Out, which is a misanthropic, grim film with a heart so black it could’ve been cooked up at a focus group featuring Ebenezer Scrooge, Stephen King and Jack the Ripper. It’s a seasonal slasher with real intensity and violence so shocking there’s always blood among the baubles.
The film provides a reunion of sorts for two of the stars of M Night Shyamalan‘s surprisingly effective horror movie The Visit. That film’s Olivia DeJonge is a teenage babysitter tasked with looking after Luke (Levi Miller), while his parents – played by a cameoing Patrick Warburton and Virginia Madsen – are out at a Christmas party. Luke’s equally arrogant mate Garrett (DeJonge’s The Visit co-star Ed Oxenbould) pops in and out, but the whole evening goes wrong when a home invader makes his way into the home.
Better Watch Out excels as a compelling Christmas horror movie with a consistent thread of dark surprise. To say more about the way the plot progresses would be to ruin that sense of unpredictability, but the conventions of the home invasion movie are turned upside down to create something much more horrifying. The Christmas setting gives the whole thing a weird tone of near-fantasy, as if these events are entirely within the mind of the protagonist, who has convinced himself he has a chance at a romantic relationship with the babysitter, who is several years his senior.
Director Chris Peckover doesn’t pull a single punch in his depiction of the rapidly deteriorating events that take place during the course of Better Watch Out. He escalates the tension with a real eye for pacing and suspense, helped by strong performances from the three central players. DeJonge and Miller, in particular, are incredibly impressive as characters who have more to them than the simple damsels in distress they initially seem to be. Miller is a long way from the wide-eyed innocent title role he played in the terribly reviewed Pan, but shines in the spotlight he is given.
The film isn’t perfect and suffers from some implausible plot turns, but the slasher action is very well put together and there are some moments of gore that are more brutal than just about anything on the big screen this year. Better Watch Out is a festive scary movie which warrants the title of Christmas horror more than any of the sillier films that fill the genre every year. It ends with a final twist in the tail that almost provides an uplifting ending, before a mid-credits scene ensures there’s a bleak conclusion to ensure this Christmas egg nog remains just sour enough.
Pop or Poop?
If you’re looking for something with a little edge this Christmas, away from the schmaltz of the usual festive comedies, you could do a lot worse than the dark-hearted horror Better Watch Out. Levi Miller and Olivia DeJonge deliver convincing and compelling performances in the midst of an almost unbearably tense thriller, punctuated with flashes of grotesque and potent violence.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.