Just like the delicious combinations of chocolate and strawberries, macaroni and cheese, chips and chicken salt... when it comes to cinema, no combination makes hearts aflutter quite like horror and Christmas. Just picture it - snow on the ground, carols in the air, and a knife in a psychopath's hand. It’s glorious! Is it simply the juxtaposition of the genres, or the internal conflict of a time so pure and joyous being tainted with blood and fear that makes it just so titillating? While not the first time a film of this nature has been made, 2017’s offering under the tree, ‘Better Watch Out’, has the makings of a classic to sit alongside ‘Home Alone’, ‘Elf’ and ‘Christmas Vacation’ for years to come.
Ashley (Olivia DeJonge, ‘The Visit’) is arriving for her last babysitting gig before moving away to college, for favourite and regulars the Lerners and their 13-year-old son Luke (Levi Miller, ‘Red Dog: True Blue’) and his best friend Garrett (Ed Oxenbould, 'The Butterfly Tree', ‘The Visit’). The evening soon turns into a terrifying ordeal when it becomes a home invasion, and that’s when things get horrifying, messy and oh so twisted. I’ll stop there. The ignorant make the sweetest audience.
Writer/director Chris Peckover (‘Undocumented’) has assembled a truly remarkable cast of young players and given them material that is bold, terrifying, hilarious and complex, to say the least. There are no slow-walking men in masks or jump-scares from things that go bump in the night here. ‘Better Watch Out’ garners its sweat stains, anxiety, and fetal positions from real-world fears and intense psychological puppetry, all while having a laugh. Levi Miller is the standout here. While experienced, he’s still only 14 years old (at time of production) and masters a vast and breathtaking performance - for which I can’t say much about.
‘Better Watch Out’ garners its sweat stains, anxiety and fetal positions from real-world fears and intense psychological puppetry, all while having a laugh.
However, here’s where the film lost points with me: it straddles the lines of horror movie creepiness and real-life creepiness a little too precariously. Perhaps it’s because I’m a woman, but when the possibility of gross sexual assault hangs in the air, it pulled me from this psychological thriller and into a real-world fear that’s never seen as entertaining on any level. While this is my one and only gripe with the film, it’s not a small one. People may fear being murdered, but they’re still aware that the possibility of it actually happening is slim to none. Sexual assault in a completely different beast.
That side-note aside, ‘Better Watch Out’ is a fantastic ride - and this is coming from someone who tends to stay clear of horror films. But it was my disgusting love of Christmas that drew me to this one, and it didn’t disappoint. ‘Better Watch Out’ is a true gift this festive season.