Saturday, January 13, 2018

#2,486. Better Watch Out (2016)

Directed By: Chris Peckover

Starring: Olivia DeJonge, Levi Miller, Ed Oxenbould

Tag line: "You Might Be Home But You're Not Alone"

Trivia: Director Chris Peckover tried to obtain the rights to the Wham! song "Last Christmas", but singer George Michael didn't want it associated with such a "dark" movie

Ah. Christmas… the best time of the year! 

Carolers… decorations… good will towards your fellow man… etc., etc. 

All that stuff is great, but the real reason I love the season is it gives me an excuse to watch a slew of Holiday-themed movies and TV specials, and like most film fans my definition of what constitutes a “Christmas Movie” is a bit broad, so a number of different genres make up my December viewing schedule. 

First up are some of my childhood favorites (Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, A Charlie Brown Christmas, The Year Without a Santa Claus, and the criminally underappreciated ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas), followed by a few different versions of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (My favorite is the 1984 TV movie with George C. Scott, but I also enjoy Rich Little’s Christmas Carol, an HBO special I first caught in the early ‘80s; as well as the hilarious Blackadder’s Christmas Carol). 

After that, anything goes: Action (Die Hard, Lethal Weapon); Comedy (the beloved A Christmas Story, Elf, Bad Santa, and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation); Fantasy (Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, The Nightmare Before Christmas), and, of course, horror. 

Now, there are plenty of holiday fright flicks to choose from, including Gremlins, Saint Nick, P2, A Christmas Horror Story and even the incredibly flawed Don’t Open Till Christmas. But to be honest, only two horror movies have been regular fixtures on my yearly Holiday schedule: the original Black Christmas and Silent Night, Deadly Night

Well, I’m happy to say I now have a third film to add to the mix: director Chris Peckover’s Better Watch Out. From this point forward, it just won’t feel like Christmas without it! 

Pre-teen Lucas Lerner (Levi Miller) has a crush on Ashley (Olivia DeJonge), his 17-year-old babysitter, and with his parents (Virginia Madsen and Patrick Warburton) heading out to a Christmas party, Lucas intends to to turn on the charm and finally land the girl of his dreams. 

His best friend Garrett (Ed Oxenhould) remains skeptical; along with being 5 years older than Lucas, Ashley also has a boyfriend, Ricky (Aleks Mikic), and what’s more, she’s heading off to college in a few days. Lucas, however, is convinced his plan is foolproof, and the moment he’s alone with Ashley he begins to make his move... 

But Lucas’s amorous advances are put on hold when an intruder breaks into the house, forcing he and Ashley into hiding. Will they somehow manage to outwit the invader, or is there more to this terrifying situation than meets the eye? 

There’s much more to Better Watch Out, actually; a major twist just before the halfway point takes the story in a very different direction. Under normal circumstances, a shift like this one is difficult to pull off, but thanks to the film’s excellent young cast we buy it hook, line, and sinker. Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenhould, both of whom co-starred in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit, deliver strong performances. DeJonge’s Ashley is no pushover, and proves time and again that she can take care of herself, unlike Oxenhould’s Garrett, who does whatever Lucas tells him to do (even when he knows it’s wrong). 

The true standout, however, is Levi Miller, who shows incredible range in the role of the precocious Lucas, a 12-year-old who is intelligent for his age, yet not nearly as mature as he thinks. Lucas is equal parts sinister and childish, and often shifts from one to the other within the same scene. 
Madsen and Warburton also do a fine job in their brief appearances as Lucas’s parents, but it’s the youngsters that make Better Watch Out such a noteworthy horror film. 

Throw in some effective situational comedy, a remarkably clever script (even when you think you’ve seen it all, the movie finds a way to surprise you), and a handful of grisly scenes (the worst of which - a nod to John Hughes’s Home Alone - makes us squirm even without the gory payoff), and you have the makings of a Holiday horror classic. 

And that’s exactly what Better Watch Out is destined to become.


James Robert Smith said...

I'll have to give it a look. I like Warburton and Madsen.

You left GROUNDHOG DAY off of your Christmas movie list. I always add it as one of my favorite Christmas movies--winter setting, snowfall, sappy sentimentality, and most of all--a story of redemption as powerful as Scrooge's in A CHRISTMAS CAROL.

I now place Ray Charles' "You Don't Know Me" in my cycle of Christmas songs.

PooBahSpiel said...

This is so going on my list of inappropriate Christmas movies. Thanks!