You might be home but you're not alone
It’s the 21st of December and we are heading into the last few days before Christmas. Still, we have a few shopping days to go and some great movies left to look at. Behind door 21 of our Awful Advent calendar is Better Watch Out. Directed by Chris Peckover. This is a fantastic Christmas horror movie that is going to be a bit of a nightmare to review. Avoiding spoilers is a must so I might have to keep this fairly short. (He says before writing a 2300+ word review).
Still, if you are looking for Christmas horror with an interesting twist. Better Watch Out is most definitely for you. It has a cosy festive feeling, horrible violence, tons of humour and an interesting ending. Fairly fast paced, the movie takes a surprising turn about a third of the way in. It pulls the rug out from under your feet and wraps you up in it. Some will love it, some will hate it. Without further ado, let’s take a look.
We’ve been on a bit of an end of the year run of themed features. We had K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween in October. We had a Fall Themed Horror movie month for November, Now It’s December and that can mean only one thing. It’s Awful Advent. We are reviewing a new horror for each of the days leading up to Christmas. That’s not all, we will also review a bonus movie for Christmas day itself. 25 horror movies to make your December just that little more frighteningly festive… Or should that be festively frightening? I am not sure, whatever.. It’s going to be scary.
The catch? All of the movies must be set around or feature Christmas. Movies based on a specific Christmas theme are even better. Christmas and horror have always gone hand in hand. There are tons of movies to look at and I expect you can probably predict a few right now. With that being said. Check back every day of December for something new.
Better Watch Out follows the story of babysitter Ashely as she babysits 12 year old Luke. Luke’s parents are heading out and have called Ashely to come and look after him. We see Luke and his best friend Garrett chatting and find out that Luke lusts after Ashley. Planning to shoot his shot, Luke comes up with a plan. He just needs to be alone with Ashley to put it into action.
Ashley comes over and the parents leave. Luke listens to Ashley speaking to her boyfriend on the phone. Attempting to impress her, he opens a bottle of Champagne and begins drinking it. Ashley tells him to put it down. She orders pizza and the pair sit on the couch to watch a horror movie. Suddenly, they hear a noise from outside. They open the door and Luke shouts into the darkness. All of a sudden someone jumps on him. It turns out, however, to just be his friend Garrett.
Later, the three hear a crash from upstairs. Scared and not knowing what it could be. They look around the house. The phone line is dead and there is no internet connection. Heading back down stairs, Ashley looks out of the window and spots a knife in the car’s tyre. Garrett comes down the stairs holding a brick. Taped to it is a note saying “U Leave, U Die”. Panicked, Garrett runs out of the house. Ashley tries to stop him but when he gets to the end of the garden he’s shot dead. It’s clear Ashley and Luke are in for a hell of a night.
Needless to say, I can’t go into too much detail about the plot of Better Watch Out. Giving away spoilers would be all too easy in a movie like this. It is one of those films that lives or dies on its twist. If you have it spoiled, it will lose its impact. My fiancée and I watched this a few years ago and we didn’t entirely see it coming. I kind of cottoned on to it but wasn’t 100% sure. When the revelation came, my enjoyment of the movie increased dramatically. It’s now one of my favourite Christmas horror movies and an annual tradition. It’s great fun and full of hilarious moments.
The general outline is that Ashley has to defend Luke from a home invasion. Luke’s friend is shot, seemingly, dead in the back garden. Someone has cut the phone lines, the internet has gone, and there is a knife in the tyre of the car. This is, obviously, a drastic situation. Ashley isn’t about to take it lying down, though. Naturally she is scared but she grabs a knife and is ready to fight back. It isn’t long before something unexpected is revealed as an intruder tries to get into the house.
The tension builds as Ashley is stalked around the house. The pair attempt to hide but the intruder is relentless. Nevertheless, Ashley refuses to give up fighting. We have numerous different characters visiting the house. Including the traditional babysitter movie trope the pizza guy. A few of which have their own nightmare situation to deal with. It’s awesome stuff but the twist is what gives this movie its shine. Without it, it would be a pretty bog standard movie. Give it some time, and wait it out. It gets a lot better.
Believe it or not, American director Peckover filmed this movie in Australia. Planning to put Better Watch Out together in South Carolina on a meagre budget. Producer Brett Thornquest offered Peckover $3 million to make the horror comedy. The catch was that they would have to film the movie in the land down under.
Naturally this was an offer too good to refuse. With that in mind, Peckover returned to the homeplace of his mother to make the movie. The result is a film made with an almost entirely Australian cast. Obviously the film is still set in an unnamed American city. The characters all speak with American accents and the house is surrounded by snow. Despite being recorded in Sydney during the height of Australian summer. The Christmas feeling is very much present.
Set almost entirely inside of one house. This is a very self contained horror that doesn’t venture too far to deliver its scares. This can sometimes be a bit of an issue. Keeping characters contained inside of one house can be problematic. Aside from the lack of visual variation. It can lead to a lack of opportunities to shock the viewer. The environment becomes very familiar and the viewer grows accustomed to it. You can recognise where the scares are going to come from. This really lessens the impact they have and reduces your enjoyment. That’s without mentioning the fact that humans get bored pretty quick. We enjoy variety and like to see a range of locations in our movies.
Luckily, Better Watch Out manages to address this quite well. Creative camera shots. An interesting house layout and numerous rooms all work to avoid this problem. Events take place all over, what turns out to be, a pretty big house. Tension is created by having characters hide in the attic or sneak through the garden. Action takes place in a variety of rooms. Scenes never become stagnant due to never having one location as the main focal point. It’s a really decent job on Peckover’s part. He doesn’t fall victim to some of the usual issues movies like this can have.
Better Watch Out is a sharp mix of comedy and horror. Definitely aiming to become part of horror fan’s annual festive line up. The movie absolutely nails the Christmas feel. We have tons of fake snow and decorations everywhere. As I mentioned above, the film being set in one house could have been an issue. One of the benefits of this, however, is that the Christmas theme is nicely condensed. The movie really focuses on it and it feels absolutely perfect for the festive season. This is one of those movies where you know someone is getting tied to a chair with fairy lights. Its an old classic Christmas horror trope but a good one. You can’t beat the classics.
The film is genuinely funny at points. The subtle humour and clever script will have you laughing throughout. Starting off as a fairly standard horror movie. The comedy doesn’t really pick up until the halfway point of the movie. By then the characters are well established and playing off of each other really well. Additional characters are drip fed in which adds new dynamics. With the new dynamics come additional opportunities for laughs. It is brilliantly set up and doesn’t let up right until the end.
Many of the comedy elements are actually quite dark. Our antagonist here is genuinely sinister and almost impossible not to hate. Creating a truly awful character for people to despise is quite a difficult thing to do. Too many horror movies default to charismatic villains. Better Watch Out absolutely nails it, though.
Despite how much you will hate them. It’s tough not to laugh at some of the things the bad guys get up to. One scene, in particular, is both shocking and hilarious. It is an homage to holiday classic Home Alone and pokes fun at that film’s sense of almost cruel violence. One of my all time favourite Christmas Horror scenes. It both answers a question I am sure many of us have had about Home Alone and coins a new phrase.
Acting here is really decent. Obviously most of the focus is on our protagonist Ashley played by Olivia DeJonge. I remember first seeing her in The Visit. She is a little older here and playing a much different character. She does a really good job in this role, however. Not willing to simply lie down and take it. She proves to be a formidable match for our antagonists. Levi Miller is suitably smarmy as the 12 year old Luke. Almost toe curling when he is hitting on the much older Ashley. He gets the exact type of reaction that he should out of the viewer. Maybe reminding a lot of us guys of just how embarrassing we were at that age. As the movie goes on, he gets better and better. An absolutely brilliant performance that is tons of fun.
Side characters are all really good. I particularly enjoyed seeing Patrick Warburton in a brief role as Luke’s dad. Virginia Madsen, of Candyman fame, plays Luke’s mum and it’s great to see her in another horror. Ed Oxenbould has some fun moments as Luke’s friend Garrett. Aleks Mikic, as Ashley’s boyfriend Ricky, gets a few laughs in a relatively small role. All in all it is a great cast. You always seem to be able to rely on Australians to put together brilliant casts. It is rare that they don’t offer excellent performances. Everyone should be heading out there to produce horror movies. There is just so much talent to tap into.
Cinematography is about what you would expect for a low budget horror movie. There’s not a particularly great deal to write home about. None of the shots stand out for being really decent. They also don’t stand out for being bad, either. It does the job without much fanfare.
The direction is really decent, however. Scenes are set up fantastically well. The use of the available space keeps things interesting. Characters are placed in such a way as to create multiple angles with different points of focus. The house feels much bigger than it is. The tonal switch that comes after the big twist gives the movie a completely different feel. It’s awesome stuff. Peckover partly handled the screenplay here, as well. He maintains a lot of control over the movie’s look and feel.
As far as negatives go, this is a tough one. I really like this movie. I think there are a few things that are going to put a few people off, however. For one, this is a pretty mean spirited movie. Things happen that you might not expect and there isn’t exactly a desire to please the viewer. The antagonist is just so hateable that some people are not going to be able to get past it. An argument could be made, as well, that the movie plays to clichés a little too much. It starts as one cliched movie before changing into another one. Sure, it does it a little different but the way it plays out is quite familiar. You have seen the two halves before.
I think it needs to be pointed out that some people dislike twists. The thing with the twist in Better Watch Out is that it completely changes the tone. I absolutely love it but some people won’t. Some people will feel cheated by it and some will simply dislike the movie it suddenly becomes. This is understandable. You are signing up for what is written in the synopsis on the box. Better Watch Out changes in quite a dramatic way. Still, some are going to love it, I know I did.
The ending may leave a few viewers feeling a bit sour. Given the context of the twist. It makes sense that Peckover wouldn’t play to type. Still, some aren’t going to like it. A few plot holes here and there can leave the logic a little lacking. Despite all of this, however, I love this movie. In my opinion, if you are looking for festive horror fun with a twist, Better Watch Out is up there with the best.
Better Watch Out is a home invasion Christmas horror movie with a twist. Focusing on babysitter Ashley as she attempts to defend 12 year old Luke from a menacing threat. The movie features a sharp twist that is likely to shock the viewer. It changes things completely and transforms Better Watch Out into something much better.
Featuring excellent performances from it's mostly Australian cast. This is a movie that is both hilarious and engaging. Offering up some shocking violence while paying homage to classic Christmas movies. Better Watch Out won't be for everyone. Some people will likely dislike the antagonist so much that they struggle to enjoy it. It can be meanspirited and isn't in a rush to cater to what the viewer wants to see. Still, it is a fantastic horror movie with lots of laughs and a fitting festive vibe. Well worth checking out.