Better Watch Out (2017) Review
Director: Chris Peckover
Cast: Olivia DeJonge, Levi Miller, Ed Oxenbould, Virginia Madsen, Patrick Warburton, and Dacre Montgomery
Better Watch Out is a very difficult movie to write about. The trailers for it are extraordinarily misleading, promising another movie than the one we actually get. The less you know about what the movie is really about going in, the better. Your enjoyment of it depends entirely on whether you’re able to accept what the movie is really about, and many critics and audience members alike have. The movie has been met with universal praise. I, dear reader, could not accept it, no matter how hard I tried.
That’s not to say the movie is badly made, because it’s not. The problem with me is with the number of things the movie shows us in the name of entertainment. I’m not talking about the film being gory; the trailers assured us it will be, and it is. I’m talking about the inherently sick idea that drives the film. You know, the one that wasn’t even hinted at in the trailers. It’s bad enough to see a teenaged girl tied to a chair and molested by her captor. Once you see who the captor here is and the circumstances that led to it, it’s positively stomach churning.
Olivia DeJonge plays Ashley, a sweet teenaged girl who is only days away from moving out of town to go to college. In the film’s opening, she’s on her way to babysit 12-year old Luke (Levi Miller), the only child of a bickering couple (Virginia Madsen and Patrick Warburton) who are on their way to a Christmas party. Ashley has known the family and Luke for five years, so it’s understandable that she becomes weirded out when Luke tries seducing her with alcohol and by putting his hand on her leg. Luke has developed a crush on her over the years, and by the encouragement of his pot smoking friend Garrett (Ed Oxenbould), he decides to make tonight the night he lets her know how he truly feels.
Strange things begin to happen as the night wears on. A pizza is delivered to the house, in spite of the fact that nobody seems to have placed an order for it. Ashley keeps receiving numerous phone calls and texts from her boyfriend Ricky (Aleks Mikic), with whom she’s on a rocky relationship. A brick flies through an upstairs bedroom window, inscribed with the threat “u leave, u die!” There is someone, or a group of people, outside who mean the kids harm, and…
Well, that’s all I got to say about that. To say any more about the plot would be to spoil the film’s biggest twist.
Some people online have compared the movie to Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, but there is a huge difference between the two. Whereas Haneke used his film to make a commentary about violence, screenwriters Zach Kahn and Chris Peckover (who also directed) have made a movie that revels in it. We’re supposed to find a lot of it amusing because the bulk of Better Watch Out is played as a black comedy, but there’s not a moment in this movie where I laughed. It’s just really distasteful, made all the more sickening by the twist itself.
Not helping matters is the performance turned in by Levi Miller, which I found to be irritating on a nails-on-a-chalkboard level. Granted, the kid is not given an easy role to play, and I’m sure the right actor could have made the role more memorable. Miller just isn’t that actor, though. He seems all wrong for the part, and during the scenes where he’s made to go over-the-top, it’s downright painful to watch. DeJonge, on the other hand, is actually really good as Ashley, and is able to inject layers into a screenplay that is seriously lacking in it. I liked her in the otherwise forgettable M. Night Shyamalan yarn The Visit, and I think she’s even better here. This girl is a born actress.
There really isn’t much else I can say about this movie without spoiling it, but for those of you who do see it, answer me this: There are a few survivors to all the carnage that happens in the film, yes? One comes as a shock, given that they appeared to be fatally wounded. I won’t say who it is, but I wonder, how did that person survive such a fatal wound? Yes, we hear somebody mention what the person did to stay alive, but given that they were incapacitated when they received their injury (and the severity of the injury itself), it’s highly unlikely that they would be able to do anything to save themselves. Or did I miss something?
Maybe I just missed the boat on this one (I am, after all, the guy who hated such universally loved movies like Snowpiercer and Goodnight, Mommy), or maybe the movie just wasn’t for someone like me. It could be that I might grow to appreciate the many virtues the movie possesses if I decided to see it for a second time. Looks like we’ll never know.
Final Grade: * (out of ****)
A hard R for bloody violence, lots of profanity, crude sexual references, teenage drug and alcohol use