FrightFest 2017: Better Watch Out (2016)
Better Watch Out feels like two films stitched together, each of which, individually, would have made for an engaging – if slightly unoriginal – in-peril chiller. Instead the marriage of the two jars, as they simply don’t sit together comfortably.
It’s difficult to say too much about the film’s storyline and how it unfolds, as to give away the transition between its dual plot-lines would spoil what is one of the film’s strongest aspects. When the passover between the themes takes place, it is its unexpectedness which makes you sit up and take notice.
It is easy as well to decipher the break in the film, as the violence is more pronounced in the second half. Admittedly there is probably not enough time for sustained unpleasantness to kick in initially, with any real tension coming from a game of cat and mouse into which the central characters are forced. The violence – of which there is plenty – comes after the ‘interval’, though its essence of seasonal slapstick will deaden any lasting impact the viewer may feel: whacking people with tins of paint or shooting them with garden based, paintball guns, looks more Home Alone (1990) than Black Christmas (1974).
You can’t make a film like this without being influenced, in some way, by past glories. The babysitter-in-peril premise – which forms the catalyst for the mayhem – is clearly straight from Halloween (1978), whilst mayhem inflicted upon a housebound victim during the festive season, smacks of the ‘All Through The House‘ segment from the Amicus anthology, Tales From The Crypt (1972). These – along with blatant nods to Scream (1996) which pop up periodically – make for an engaging, though hardly fresh, viewing experience.
The main cast – none of whom are older than their mid twenties – throw themselves into the Christmas carnage with vigour, with the Australian juvenile actor Levi Miller impressively chilling as lead protagonist Luke. Reduced to no more than bookend cameos, the film is gains unspoken gravitas by the presence of American stalwarts Patrick Warburton and Virginia Madsen as Luke’s parents Robert and Deandra – two of the film’s few adult characters.
The whole thing is imbued with such festive cheer and carried off with such panache, that you’d feel like Scrooge to write it off completely. However, though one hopes that director Chris Peckover and Zack Khan (with whom Peckover shares writing credits), intended to make a film with two distinct (yet complimentary) halves, you can’t help feel that that may be giving them too much credit.
Better Watch Out will open in the US on the 6th October, and in the UK on 8th December, 2017.
Director: Chris Peckover
Writers: Zack Kahn (story) & Chris Peckover
Stars: Virginia Madsen, Dacre Montgomery, Patrick Warburton,
Olivia DeJonge, Levi Miller, Ed Oxenbould, Brendan Clearkin,
Tara Jade Borg, Aleks Mikic, Tricia Mary Hennessy
Runtime: 85 mins
Country: Australia / USA