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. Better Watch Out is, in the most distilled sense, a home invasion flick. But it’s what the movie does around that simple construct that makes it so unique and fun. The story 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. 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.
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. Luke is, for lack of a better way to describe it, a horndog. He’s hellbent on making a move on Ashley before she moves away from town. Luke’s awkward confidence mixes childlike innocence and charm with some truly raunchy hilariously uncomfortable dialogue, much of which comes while his friend, Garrett (Ed Oxenbould), is on screen. 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.
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. 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. For the most part, this decision serves the movie extremely well, as it truly shines through its juxtapositions of conventions we are all used to.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, and though there are nits that can be picked here, it’s just too damn fun to care. Do yourself a favor and put this in your holiday horror lineup. You won’t be disappointed.
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