Even the likes of Billy Bob Thornton’s Bad Santa would be taken back with this gonzo Christmas caper as writer-director Chris Peckover takes on the suburban home invasion thriller and gives it an almost Funny Games-degree of psychotic flair on its way through the Selfridges’ Christmas section. An instant classic-in-the-making, Better Watch Out makes an instant star of the previously-dismissed child actor Levi Miller (let’s be honest, Pan is even worse than you remember) and forcibly burrows its way into the pantheon of must-see alternative Christmas flicks.
The set-up, at least initially, is a boilerplate horror go-around; with Miller’s sheltered suburban tween Luke on a mission to seduce his long-time babysitter Ashley (Olivia DeJonge), only for his attempt at lothario-like escapades to go belly up with the arrival of seemingly murderous intruders in his house. That’s the trailer, and that’s about what you need to know of Better Watch Out, a movie that makes a decently engaging run at an almost stock-storyline only to go full-blown Bone Tomahawk and pull the rug from under you, offering up a terrifically mincing turn from Miller and bags of sadistic fun along the way.
If there’s a caveat to be had, it’s that Better Watch Out draws such a distinct and charismatic air around its central figure that his supporting players understandably see their presences diminished almost by proximity. That being said, The Visit player Ed Oxenbould cuts a pretty admirable niche for himself in a role Matthew Lillard presumably finds hilarious, while Power Rangers and Stranger Things alum Dacre Montgomery steps out of his wheelhouse for a surprisingly engaging – if less substantial than you’d like – appearance as Ashley’s hapless douchebag boyfriend.
It’s the clever intricacies of horror homage that seem to spur director Peckover on more and more, delivering a slick, stylish and almost parodically-candy coated seasonal slasher that organically throws in asides to iconic genre works such as Haneke’s Funny Games and even a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nod to Halloween. That they’re as organic as they are though helps boost proceedings from lively and engaging into outright fun, with Miller never missing out on a chance to swing menacingly from the rafters and break off pieces of the scenery to chew as he goes along.
Sharp enough to keep even astute audiences guessing, and straight-up funny enough to keep even those who’ve long left the horror genre behind laughing to the point of bursting with some of the most gleeful acts of wanton carnage committed to film this year. Better Watch Out, in fact, feels like the ideal victory lap for a genre that’s come on in leaps and bounds in so far as its mainstream output for 2017 – with Get Out bringing sublime satire to the table, Raw flexing its indie-cred with deft confidence, and IT delivering not only polished mainstream precision but box office chops to boot; if you’re the kind of audience member who lapped all three of those up with gusto, there’s not even a chance you won’t come away from Better Watch Out with a smile on your face. But, if you’re not, there’s still more than enough twinkle-in-the-eye inventiveness to keep you entertained end to end.
Better Watch Out is in cinemas nationwide from Friday, December 8th; rated 15. Check out the trailer below.