ONE LUMP OF COAL
Better Watch Out
Review by Ray Schillaci
Rarely do I loathe a film. No matter how hard I think back to the good parts of it, the whole makes me feel sad as to the talent squandered. I have seen a number of Christmas thrillers, but Better Watch Out delivers such a noxious, bitter bite, I can’t help wonder why it was ever made.
Perhaps it was the trailer that threw me off, portraying an interesting Home Alone/The Strangers crossover. I felt very little holiday cheer in the first fifteen minutes, and for nearly the rest of the 74 minutes I wanted to flush this yuletide log down a toilet. There’s a nastiness that pervades in this film from dialogue to twists and turns that almost feel obligatory.
12 year-old Luke yearns to put the moves on his babysitter, 18 year-old Ashley. His parents are out for a long evening and Luke’s 12 year-old stoner friend, Garrett, encourages Luke to either commit to making out with Ashley or get stoned with him. Once Luke’s parents leave, and Garrett finds an excuse to exit, Luke initiates his awkward strategy. Ashley, clueless, sees Luke as the eternal little brother, and she’s dealing with a whole set of problems – her family moving out of state, an ex-boyfriend, and leaving her new boyfriend. The last thing this young lady needs is a hormonal out-of-control boy after her.
As Luke shows up with champagne, bragging how he can finish it off, and lighting candles for ambiance over pizza, minor unsettling occurrences are suggesting something dangerous just around the corner. This is where we think the film may take an interesting turn. An intruder, a child and his babysitter in peril, the child wanting to prove himself as a man. But no, this turn is more of a drastic sick twist that makes us question our characters and their motives.
To say anymore would spoil this wrongful minded dark comedy thriller that has so many missteps it tends to trip over itself like its 12 year-old lead. Struggling to attempt something new, the filmmakers have taken more wrong turns than the twists they thought they so cleverly created. There are a number of holiday horrors that have succeeded on a number of levels albeit their budgets – Black Christmas (’74), Silent Night, Deadly Night (’84), Krampus, Rare Exports. There have also been a number of successful babysitter thrillers that are gripping from the get-go, most notably, Netflix’s The Babysitter (although a very dark comedy thriller, it hits all the right notes to keep us on the edge and care about the characters).
It’s no fault of the film’s stars, Olivia DeJong (The Visit) as Ashley and Levi Miller (Pan) as Luke. Miss DeJong is wonderfully plucky, resourceful, and fierce in her portrayal as a teen struggling with her parents eventual move and her life being upended. She also delivers a wide range of emotions while bound and gagged through a good part of the film. Levi Miller gives the most diverse performance SPOILER ALERT… his bad seed turn is unsettling, and frighteningly appears to have little boundaries. But he also does a superb job conveying that sweet awkward side of a boy struggling to mature faster than he can. In fact, both these actors are so good I wish they were in another film together that I could appreciate.
That said, Better Watch Out is a great title, warning the audience to stay away. Yes, it may appeal to the anarchist youth, and those who revel in sick humor with little redeeming value, but is that really entertainment? One could argue that some of the holiday thrillers I mentioned are questionable entertainment. But, those films have style and are set well in their parameters whereas this newest ornament on the Christmas chiller tree is a tarnished and flimsy piece that appears broken before it can ever be enjoyed.
Better Watch Out is available at Redbox, Amazon and PPV.
Directed by: Chris Peckover
Release Date: October 6, 2017
Run Time: 89 Minutes
Distributor: Well Go USA Entertainment