Editor’s note: The hosts of Horror Movie Podcast are always impressed by the knowledge and insights of our listenership in the emails and voicemails that we receive, as well as in the comments here at HorrorMoviePodcast.com. Once again, we’ve asked our listeners to participate in our 31 Days of Halloween by contributing written reviews. This review was submitted by a long-time listener and friend of the show who goes by the screen-name “Sal Roma” … You can follow Sal on Twitter @JTalley986 and on Letterboxd at @Sal_Roma.
Title: Better Watch Out
Director: Chris Peckover
Warning: Review Contains *Spoilers* – But They Are Clearly Marked.
When it comes to 2017 horror, there’s been a handful of movies I’ve been really excited about at one time or another. At the start of the year, it was Get Out. Later on in the year, it was movies such as It Comes At Night, Cult of Chucky, and even The Ice Cream Truck. However, the movie I’ve been anticipating the longest has been Better Watch Out or, as it was titled last year during it’s festival run, Safe Neighborhood. A horror movie set on Christmas and starring the two siblings from The Visit? Sounds awesome. After such a long wait, there was some fear that perhaps the film would be built up too much in my head and would ultimately become a disappointment. Much to my happiness, not only did Better Watch Out live up to the expectations, it exceeded them.
Despite being psyched for Better Watch Out for a solid year, I knew virtually nothing about it beforehand. I knew that The Visit siblings, Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould, were the two stars (which was slightly wrong since Oxenbould played the role of the best friend of the main male star). It was obviously set around Christmas time with a break-in, of some sorts, creating the main turmoil for the film. The early going is enjoyable, but slightly underwhelming as twelve year old, Luke, is desperately trying to woo his five years older babysitter, Ashley (DeJonge) prior to the break-in disturbance. Luke’s attempts to set the mood are cringey to say the least. With each attempt, it gets more and more awkward to watch while at the same time, it’s very innocent and realistic to some extent. It’s relatable to have that early crush when you have zero chance with her. The break-in with the masked intruder created some effective tension scenes as Ashley and Luke attempt to avoid being caught, but ultimately I felt the film was shaping up to be a bit too repetitive with the duo constantly having to sneak around and Luke trying to prove to Ashley that he can be the man that will save her. Due to the age difference, you know they won’t get together, so I was unsure of where they could possibly go with the story to keep it fresh. Where they went is where the massive spoilers begin. If you haven’t seen the film yet, I greatly recommend you watch it first.
***Warning: Major Plot Spoilers Below***
Around the thirty minute mark, the truth gets revealed about the break-in and Ashley realizes that it was just some horrible con by Luke and his buddy, Garrett, to try and cause Ashley to swoon over Luke saving the day. In Ashley’s ranting at Luke, Ashley and the audience are shocked by Luke pistol whipping Ashley to kick off the real story of the film – Luke’s disturbing plan to hold Ashley hostage. This plot twist goes down as one of my favorite plot twists in recent memory. It’s completely unexpected and it helps set the tone for the rest of the film – the film has many surprises in store for its viewers. Suddenly, Luke’s cringiness becomes an amazing performance by actor, Levi Miller. Considering the fact that Miller was likely only thirteen years old at the time of filming this movie, he does a wonderful job at going back and forth between being a sociopathic freak to having child-like freakouts.
That tightrope act between the film having an innocence while also being perverse continues throughout the movie. As Ashley’s boyfriend, Ricky, and her ex boyfriend, Jeremy, are introduced to the story, Luke is able to really explore this balancing act. Sometimes he’ll threaten to force Ashley to do something sick while then immediately admitting that he’s just joking. What makes Luke so scary is that you know he’s mentally unhinged, but you never know where the line is for him. How far will Luke go before his parents get home from their date? This balancing act also extends to the violence. At times, Better Watch Out is a rather violent movie, but we’re rarely shown anything too graphic. One such death scene involving a paintcan can be frustrating due to seeing so little, but ultimately the lack of shown gore is made satisfactory due to the fact that it lulls you into a false sense of security. If the film isn’t going to show any proper gore, then clearly it won’t take anything else too far either, right? Yet, the film does go farther than I expected, especially when it came to the deaths. The death of Garrett was particularly heartbroken as he’s shot by Luke for daring to kiss Ashley. With his final breaths, Garrett utters his last words of, “I want my mom” when suddenly Luke fires the second and final shot into his best friend, killing him suddenly and shockingly. Just as surprising, was Luke choosing to cut Ashley’s throat when it seemed so likely to me that she’d be the survivor, standing tall over a defeated Luke. For a film that enjoys being child like at times, it also has the balls to take things to the edge. It’s a great mixture of innocence and intensity.
I ended up enjoying Better Watch Out so much that I watched it an additional time that same day. The film has great replay value because now the viewer is watching the opening thirty minutes with the knowledge of who Luke truly is. Suddenly Luke’s carefree longing of Ashley or his resting of his head on Ashley’s shoulder while watching a horror movie comes across as creepy. There’s also a lot of set ups for future moments. For example, why watching the horror movie, Ashley screams at the TV while the movie characters are avoiding the killer by going to the attic as being a stupid move. Yet, Ashley and Luke did the same exact thing once the “intruder” broke in. Immediately after catching on to the fake intruder, Ashley dismisses Luke’s sad attempts at trying to impress her with being brave as a way to try and get to second base. Yet, even though it was nonconsensual, Luke’s master plan did lead to him coping a feel. A second watch also makes it easier to realize how Luke and Garrett set up all of their tricks to make the break-in look realistic, which I have to applaud the writers for finding a way for characters to stumble onto the contraptions, which allows the viewers to realize what had happened rather than an unnecessary scene where Luke reveals all with an extended monologue. Not only is Better Watch Out an entertaining film with plenty of surprises, but its script is careful to ensure there’s as few plot holes as possible.
Overall, Better Watch Out is one of the highlights for 2017 horror. The basic premise is interesting enough, but the massive plot twist to kick off the second act makes it something truly special. I was constantly unsure what would happen next with the film surprising me as late in the film as the very ending. There’s great tension at points while its young stars all shine, particularly Levi Miller. Luke becomes such a grating character that I kept wanting to see someone smack Luke like Tyrion Lannister slapping Joffrey.
9/10 and a recommendation to rent now and buy the BluRay in December!
– Sal Roma
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