Welcome to The Abominable Dr. Welsh’s inaugural 12 Days of Christmas Carnage. Yes, Christmas horror movies are indeed a thing. In fact, there’s actually quite a few Yule-themed horror outings. Over the next 12 days, as Christmas approaches, I’ll be watching and reviewing a different Xmas horror movie. For the first day of Christmas Carnage, I’ll be reviewing 2017’s Better Watch Out.
It’s Christmas and 17-year-old Ashley arrives at the Lerner house to babysit 12-year-old Luke. Like most 17-year-old’s, Ashley is mired in relationship drama with her current and ex-boyfriends. Unbeknownst to Ashley, Luke also has a pretty big crush on her. In fact, he has grand ambitions for the evening, hoping a round of scary movies might drive Ashley into his arms. But as the night wears on, increasingly strange events hint at a looming threat. When a rock crashes through the window with the message ‘U leave and U die’, Ashley must protect Luke from what looks like a home invasion.
Better Watch Out Delivers Fun, Subversive Twist on Familiar Narratives
Better Watch Out playfully subverts not one, but two, horror sub-genres. Writers Zack Kahn and Chris Peckover mix together the home invasion and ‘babysitter-in-peril’ narratives with a fun twist at the halfway point. Keep in mind, Better Watch Out isn’t the first horror movie to play with audience expectations in either sub-genre. Adam Wingard’s You’re Next toyed with the source of danger in home invasion several years earlier. Last year’s Netflix original The Babysitter similarly flipped the ‘babysitter-in-peril’ script.
…Kahn and Peckover’s twist elevates their movie from standard horror sub-genre to a timely #MeToo exploration of male entitlement.
What sets Better Watch Out apart from The Babysitter is it’s more attentive, patient story. The Babysitter was a manic, over-the-top romp through horror tropes. Comparatively, Better Watch Out allows its story to unfold with more purpose. Peckover, who also serves as director, keeps you guessing while dropping enough hints to nail that ‘a-ha’ moment when things twist. More importantly, Better Watch Out’s mid-point twist serves a larger thematic purpose. That is, Kahn and Peckover’s twist elevates their movie from standard horror sub-genre to a timely #MeToo exploration of male entitlement.
Smart, Slickly Choreographed Suspense
Though it’s light on actual scares, Peckover expertly choreographs and paces his suspense. Keep an eye on the full screen as Peckover likes to play with corners and shadows. The actual horror elements are quite light, which is more in keeping with Better Watch Out’s playful tone. But there’s also a malevolently twisted sense of humour to the proceedings. Peckover certainly hints at graphic mayhem. There’s fun callback to Home Alone that balances out the movie’s dark undertones with its subversive humour. Better Watch Out hints more than it shows its violence, further distinguishing it from You’re Next.
…there’s also a malevolently twisted sense of humour to the proceedings
Where Better Watch Out earns that R-rating is with its implied violence and irreverent sense of humour. An old-fashioned Christmas music score is effectively contrast with sardonic wit throughout the movie. Kahn and Peckover’s screenplay lets loose with F-bombs and crass humour from start to finish. Never mind that much of the dialogue comes from 12-year-old Luke and friend, Garrett. The motor-mouthed tween’s are in keeping with Better Watch Out’s stake-through-the heart approach to all those sugary Netflix Christmas flicks.
Better Watch Out’s Young Cast Excels
Much of the fun in Better Watch Out comes from its young and excellent cast. As babysitter Ashley, Olivia DeJonge is consistently excellent, delivering exactly the kind of female protagonist we need more of in horror movies. Ed Oxenbould, who previously collaborated with DeJonge in The Visit, once again shows a lot of charisma and poise for a young talent. But it’s Levi Miller’s movie from start to finish. Miller’s psychopathic and entitled Luke dominates with his flesh-creeping portrayal. He delivers the perfect manifestation of this entitled, ‘friend-zoned’ misogyny we see too much in our social media.
Better Watch Out Destined to Be An Xmas Regular
Better Watch Out is fun Christmas horror that delivers two good movies for the price of one. For half of its runtime, Better Watch Out delivers on its home invasion premise with some slick suspense. But when the story does a sudden about-face, the ‘babysitter-in-peril’ gets a modern makeover to great effect. Fortunately, Better Watch Out stands up to multiple viewings even with its twist spoiled. Indeed, it’s ending actually gets better on repeat viewings.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: A