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Film Review: Better Watch Out

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Better Watch Out could almost be considered a hidden Christmas gem, buried under all the fanfare of awards season releases. 

It's a hidden film for sure, so far grossing just under $44,000 worldwide, and certainly a Christmas one, littered with snow, carol singers and some choice seasonal attire. But whether it can be called a gem is hard to say. There's a lot to unpack in terms of what Better Watch Out has to say about male entitlement and the treatment and sexualisation of women, particularly that of teenage girls. But this is a film you'll want to go into blind, so the less said about it for now the better. Maybe its lack of promotion was a smart move after all.

Without giving away too much, the plot revolves around a precocious 12-year-old named Luke (Levi Miller) who, while his parents are away for the evening, repeatedly attempts to win the affection of his 17-year-old babysitter Ashley (Olivia DeJonge), the latter of whom has her own relationship issues to deal with. Their night is soon interrupted by a sinister presence lurking outside the house, and, well, things take a turn for the wild from there. 

Despite it unfolding in real time, Better Watch Out pretty much feels like how you would expect the year 2017 to take on Home Alone. One scene even features a paint can to the head - though with much nastier consequences. The acting is strong, with bizzare and funny cameos from Virginia Madsen and Patrick Warburton as Luke's parents, as well as an impressive performance from Miller as a boy with some serious issues. It's also fun to see DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould reunite after last year's surprise horror hit The Visit, even if their characters aren't as memorable here.  

Director Chris Peckover knows how to hold the tension and keep his audience guessing, but for all the fun the film has at toying with the viewer, it never quite elevates itself to become anything of real note. Its portrayal of toxic masculinity is disturbing almost to the point of gratuitousness, yet when it seems to sense this and lighten the tone it feels limp. It tries; it really does try. It's just not quite effective in the way it should be. There's little sense of dread or even reflection; only grim unpleasantness with a couple of light chuckles. 

For better or worse, Better Watch Out is a messed up ride of a movie. Those who enjoy more offbeat horror comedies should find something to revel in here, but for anyone else it's hard to say. One thing I can guarantee: no use of the middle finger has ever been so satisfying.

Better Watch Out is out now, distributed through Well Go USA.

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