Saturday, 2 September 2017



Sometimes it's almost scary how comprehensively the rest of the army seems to be marching out of step. Some years ago I was the only person in the room not to fall in love with Hobo With A Shotgun and now it's happened again: absolutely everyone else was having a great time and I grew steadily more convinced that somehow they were watching a completely different film. Where everybody else was enjoyed a dark Christmas-tinged psycho horror comedy I was glimpsing an alternate universe with a screening of a diametrically opposite movie.

Better Watch Out starts off with the expected tropes of the modern Christmas horror film: the well-heeled suburban mansion (that could comfortably accommodate a family of fifteen), lots of snow, sleigh bells and carols on the soundtrack, even though the time of year is largely irrelevant to the action. The parents are out for a pre-Christmas social get-together, leaving their twelve-year-old Luke and his geeky best friend Garret in the care of foxy babysitter Ashley. Initially there are a few hints of genial and cheery but unsettling horror, such as establishing Ashley's fear of spiders, fleshing out twelve-year-old Luke's inappropriate lust for her as he actively romances her with candlelit meals and highly inappropriate conversation, until suddenly it seems to swerve into a home invasion movie with bricks through the window and someone prowling around upstairs with a shotgun...

And then twelve-year-old Luke (sorry to keep bringing up his age, but it's important) punches Ashley down the stairs, ties her to a chair with duct tape and reveals himself as a leery, repugnant sociopath who's been manipulating events the whole time and will stop at nothing to have Ashley to himself, even to the extent of killing her current boyfriend. It's a sudden dive into what would be very uncomfortable territory even if Luke was a grown adult: an outwardly charming but inwardly callous and unfeeling (and casually murderous) sexual predator drooling over a barely legal high school girl is awkward enough; a pre-teen dancing those steps far more so.

Much is made, for some reason, of Home Alone, specifically whether Daniel Stern's character would have survived being hit in the face with a paint can (leading to Better Watch Out's alleged highlight), which is odd because the Macauley Culkin movie that springs to mind is actually the The Good Son. This comes across like a tinsel-decked version of The Good Son but played for laughs, although it's never actually funny because the film is so much in love with its pubescent villain and his brilliantly meticulous schemes that even a last-minute twist that might undo all his victories doesn't redeem it, and certainly can't redeem him. With a tired motivation for twelve-year-old Luke's moral compass (he wasn't hugged enough as a child, boo-hoo) and a genial tone that's bizarrely pitched as seasonal feelgood but wildly unsuited to the icky sexual obsession of its twelve-year-old lead, it's a film that I (apparently alone) found entirely impossible to like. Better Watch Out? Better Still, Don't.


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