The most provocative youth-horror since Scream, BWO blends Christmas feel with slasher stylism, tricky plotting, home invasion scares, & unforgettable villain twist by Levi Miller. A fresh reimagination of what holiday movies can be. 7.9/10.
Plot Synopsis: Ashley travels to the suburban home of the Lerners to babysit their 12-year-old son Luke during the holidays. She must soon defend herself and the young boy when unwelcome intruders announce their arrival.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
Official CLC Review
‘You better watch out. You better not cry..’ Any child growing up in the U.S. has no doubt heard the catchy morality-instilling, religion-socializing agent chanson blasted across airways every December teaching kids the rewards and punishments for being naughty or nice. What if your kids were *so* naughty though, they’d sooner be taken by authorities to be burned upon coal instead of merely finding it in their stockings? That’s the theme young directorial talent Chris Peckover aimed to paint in this tour-de-force home invasion-thriller that Santa or carolers wouldn’t come within a mile of, and it’s the most provocative youth-horror display since Scream. Blending Christmas feel with slasher stylism, tricky plotting, home invasion scares, & an unforgettable villain twist by Levi Miller, BWO is a fresh reinvention of what holiday movies can be.
A home invasion flick unlike any other. Better Watch Out starts out like any other Christmas movie – mired in easy tonal palatability and even Spielbergian-characters that feels almost marshmallowy for a horror movie lulling us into a sense of (false)-tranquility. Taking cues from Scream, that yuletide bliss & merriment with inklings of romance by its child stars takes an ominous turn, as the film sets up the classical (atmospherically-spooky) foundations of a slasher movie/home invasion thriller straight out the annals of Wes Craven handbooks – down to the black (masked)-costume wielding a weapon going room to room in-house hunting. However, just when we think we’ve figured the film out, a plot twist so sharp is thrust upon us it’ll knock you back like your aunts drinking egg-nog at a December 24th family gathering. An elaborate ruse by the 12-year-old cherub-face we thought was just an innocent kid with a harmless crush on his babysitter, things turn into disturbing psychological macabre with enough sadistic games, pure shock value, and social commentary on youth morality and middle-class suburbia to wholly take on the mantle of Scream – thanks almost entirely to its sensational Miller-led performances.
The youth performances led by an unspeakably-naughty Miller lead. BWO’s biggest sell is easily its canvas of *sensational* teen performances. The man of the hour, Levi Miller’s Luke is one of the greatest under-20 villain performances I’ve ever seen – with enough range character-developed from puffball kid to sadistic killer to knock you back silly like you just got hit with that Home Alone-referential paint can gleefully swung at Ash’s boyfriend. His joyful insolence and painstaking attention to detail playing out the dark, twisted fantasies in his head even setting up a CSI-level frame job to get away with multiple homicides is only bolstered by the fantastic final girl at the end of his blade/rifle: Olivia De Fonge’s babysitter girl-next-door Ashley bearing witness to such shocking events carried out by a kid she (thought) she knew since the age of 8, it’s downright terror of TCM proportions. Ed Oxenbould is fine as the best friend who was clearly in for awy more than he signed up for, rest of the cameos serviceable getting the fratty douchiness of many hot girls’ questionable picks in men right, and of course: Patrick Warburton is a gem anywhere he goes.
The score blends innovatively the thumping drumscapes and arpeggiating strings of classical slashers/thrillers with a holiday motif mired in sleigh bells, saccharine keys, and tonal airiness. Splicing together such an idiosyncratic mix makes for one of the most intriguing orchestral backings I’ve ever heard in a horror movie, playing up its theatrical Christmas flair in a genius way by composer Brian Cachia. And, of course, the film offers plenty of social commentary on the youth situation of America. The idea that a 12-year-old kid and his friend could come up with such a breathtakingly-evil scheme and sadistic games for fun is Scream-like ghastliness of the highest order – insinuating an eroding moral compass in today’s youth with desensitization by avenues such as perhaps too-young exposure to entertainment like horror movies and violent video games mixed with a class diatribe on rich kids’ boredom & improper parenting.
Flaws are that the film feels almost uneventful in its middle act – with too little profitization off its brilliant premise and plot twist in horror its presentably-genius antagonist so sinister and deft to be able to even set up such a turn of events would have no problem in carrying out in theory. Also, 12 is a little too young for realism for someone to be able to carry out such bedlam realistically, and is problematically way-too-far from the 17 of his babysitter he – for some reason – think she is going to fall for him in (should’ve been 2-3 years max if anything). I’m torn because I absolutely love the premise, twist, and performances – but the flick feels like an almost-thriller that needed an extra push in scares to settle into full potential and glory.
Overall, Better Watch Out is an imaginative, original, twisty home invasion thriller unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Despite a too-young antagonist and a bit too little profitization off its brilliant premise and set-up, it pushes the boundaries of both horror and holiday films – combining many of the best things from both (usually)-guilty pleasure genres into a Home Alone-meets-Wes Craven-meets-Saw present. The most provocative youth-horror since Scream, BWO blends Christmas feel with slasher stylism, tricky plotting, home invasion scares, & unforgettable villain twist by Levi Miller for a fresh reinvention of what holiday movies can be. 7.5/10.
Official CLC Score: 7.9/10