CFF MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Better Watch Out’ is a cleverly demented holiday funhouse

Thanks to some darkly hilarious writing and some really great performances, Chris Peckover's Christmas horror-comedy is a sight to behold

| October 7, 2017

Even though it’s still early October, I have gone into full Halloween mode already, but apparently Well Go USA is already in Christmas mode in their release of “Better Watch Out,” and for 90 minutes at the Charlotte Film Festival, I had to exchange my pumpkin mask for a Santa mask to truly enjoy myself here. I actually heard about “Better Watch Out” last year when it premiered at a few film festivals around the country, with many people hailing the film for its tone and fun vibe it had. Then, the film simply disappeared for a while until I saw the film resurface on the schedule of the Charlotte Film Festival, and I booked my tickets immediately. Still, I do wish the distributor had chosen to release the film during the middle of November, rather than the start of October. Though most viewers will view the film on-demand, the window of the film playing in select theaters surely will not extend to the Christmas season, which really doesn’t do “Better Watch Out” any favors.

Luckily, “Better Watch Out” does most of its favors on its own, because this is a cleverly sick film of the most enjoyable variety.

Set at Christmas time, Ashley (Olivia DeJonge) is a 17 year-old babysitter in for the night to babysit 12 year-old Luke (Levi Miller) while his parents Deandra (Virgina Madsen) and Robert (Patrick Warburton) are out for the evening. After booting Luke’s obnoxious, delinquent best friend, Garrett (Ed Oxenbould) from the house, Luke proceeds on his plan to get Ashley to fall in love with him. Failing in all aspects, Luke soon finds himself dejected after being rejected by Ashley, but before he can wallow in his misery, him and Ashley find themselves fighting for their lives against far from typical home intruders that turn their night into one they could’ve never imagined.

“Better Watch Out” is best if you go in without knowing anything, including avoiding its trailer. While the trailer doesn’t really “spoil” anything, this is the type of film to experience with truly no knowledge of it whatsoever. The sheer unpredictability of a film like this is what makes it so damn entertaining to watch. With it focusing just as much on comedy as it does on horror, and not shying away from its hard R-rating, this is a film that’s simultaneously incredibly intense as well as being hilariously enjoyable to experience.

DeJonge is a really great heroine as Ashley, one that devolves from a typical, All-American girl attitude into something much more ferocious and badass come the end of the film. Oxenbould, teaming up with DeJonge after playing siblings in “The Visit” two years ago, also does really good work here as the tween pothead Garrett. It’s nice to see a young actor play such an array of different characters in his films so far, even with being in so few at this point in his career. He simultaneously has a youthful, carefree demeanor while also resembling a nervous puppy all at the same time. But the hallmark performance of the film has to be from Miller, who gets to really let his freak flag fly when the shit finally hits the fan in the film. Having only seen Miller in the dreadful “Pan,” two years ago, I was not only incredibly surprised, but really happy to see the Australian actor do really wonderful work here and proving himself beyond the one film we know him from thus far. This is an absolute blast of a performance to watch.

And that carries over to the entire film. When the terror begins and the cleverness of the characters begins to shine to defeat who they seek to defeat kicks in, this is one of the more fun horror films of the year to watch. This is exactly the type of film that will achieve cult status come next Christmas, one that really plays into the time period it takes place in and how the youth of today act in dire situations. It’s a wonderful critique on how media saturation has even worked in the formation of modern evil. The way that the film blends horrific terror and hilarious satire is incredibly clever, and the usage of Christmas as a background to utilize these elements is even more icing on the cake.

At only 89 minutes, “Better Watch Out” is pretty short, but moves at such a breakneck pace that one might not think such short time has passed. Still, I could’ve used at least 15 more minutes of the sheer insanity that “Better Watch Out” had to offer, or at least 15 minutes of watching Miller’s hypnotic performance. I’d much rather a film be too short than overtly too long, but it’s a small critique.

The only real issue I had with the film was in its final act. While the film in no way fell apart, it didn’t have the same ferocity that the first two acts had. It still had a super fun element about it, and it was just as enjoyable to watch, but it would be a lie to say that it didn’t lose a bit of steam come its finale. Had the film simply decided to “go there” with whatever violent act it had to commit or any other demented piece of horror, I think “Better Watch Out” could’ve ended on a more explosive note, even if its current ending still does pack quite a punch.

It might sound like I’m dancing around a lot of what “Better Watch Out” actually is, and I am. I’d rather have a vaguely positive review and let you experience the film for yourself than to spoil it for the sake of better writing. “Better Watch Out” is an incredibly fun comedy-horror film that might be making more appearances in my life around the holidays each year (still bitter the film wasn’t released closer to Christmas). This is a film that doesn’t seek to be terrifying, but does really good work at being intensely hilarious. That doesn’t mean that the film still doesn’t pack quite a gut-punch when it comes to its execution, which soon become a reindeer game of the most fucked-up variety. Honoring the films that came before it and paving its own way as a film that will live on for those not looking for “innocent” Christmas films, “Better Watch Out” is already an early Christmas present for whomever chooses to indulge in it. I just hope audiences can find it. I’m actually quite surprised the film wasn’t picked up by a distributor like Neon or A24, reaching a full theatrical release. I have to say that seeing a film like this relegated to an on-demand release immediately felt a bit disheartening, but it doesn’t change that the film is an absolute blast, one that you can still choose to watch anytime this holiday season.

4/5

Photo courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment

Directed by: Chris Peckover
Starring: Olivia DeJonge, Levi Miller, Ed Oxenbould, Alecks Mikic, Dacre Montgomery, with Patrick Warburton, and Virginia Madsen.
Runtime: 89 minutes
Rating: R for disturbing violent content, language throughout, crude sexual references, drug and alcohol use – all involving teens.
Now playing in select theaters and on-demand.

Well Go USA Entertainment, Storm Vision Entertainment and Best Medicine Productions present, a Chris Peckover film, “Better Watch Out”

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Category:Arts and Entertainment, Film

Hunter Heilman

Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he’ll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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Hunter Heilman

Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he’ll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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