Fantasia 2017: BETTER WATCH OUT…and Don’t Let This Yuletide Chiller Slip By

The next Christmas horror/comedy classic has arrived.

The appearance of Better Watch Out at Fantasia Fest 2017 carries with it a mixture of curiosity and anticipation. After appearances at other festivals, the Christmas horror/comedy has generated much buzz for its dark sense of humor and genuine moments of fear and terror, making it a fitting entry for this festival in every sense. While the film has many qualities that will win over fans of the genre, its the film’s embracing of a campy sensibility that it sets into motion from the start and never lets go of, which is the most winsome, especially when coupled with its authentic sense of menace. With its midnight movie feel, Better Watch Out will stand strongly as a cult classic and a staple piece of viewing for many Christmases to come.

In Better Watch Out, 17-year-old Ashley (Olivia DeJonge) has been hired to babysit 12-year-old Luke (Levi Miller) while his yuppie parents (Virginia Madsen and Patrick Warburton) go to a Christmas party for the night. Although Luke feels he’s far too old for a babysitter, he hardly minds due to his not-so-secret crush on Ashley, which provides an endless stream of ribbing from his best friend Garrett (Ed Oxenbould). As Ashley and Luke settle in for the night, the pair begin to hear strange noises from outside. Soon, the power is out, a stranger is lurking through the house and the two find themselves fearing for the lives. However, the real danger has yet to truly begin.

Co-written (along with Zack Kahn) and directed by Chris Peckover, Better Watch Out is totally the kind of exercise that’s very easy to warm up to for lovers of twisted humor and unwavering suspense. Great comedy/horror is far from an easy balance to master, but this film has it cinched in ways so many other titles are never able to. One touch, the appearance of the traditional plastic lawn Santa which keeps popping up in the most random of places, instilling fear in the characters, draws laugh after laugh, while the use of a paint can as a weapon prompts one character to yell: “You’re f***ing Home Alone-ing him,” displaying a tongue-in-cheek awareness of the kind of film Better Watch Out knows it is. The laughs are well-balanced with a mystery that’s more than enough to keep its audience intrigued and hooked. In this day and age, suspense proves just as difficult to master as horror and comedy, but this film has it and knows what to do with it. The fact that said suspense and moments of terror are handled delicately and sparingly, makes the effects all the more powerful.

Then…the twist happens; and what a twist it is. I would rather turn my horror fan card in than reveal anything remotely close to a spoiler, but suffice it to say that the sharp turn Better Watch Out eventually takes is 100% unexpected and entirely welcome. What’s most fascinating about the turn is how it proves to be both disturbing AND morbidly entertaining. There’s an undeniable subversiveness that consumes the story which only intensifies as the film progresses thanks to a no-holds-barred attitude on behalf of the filmmakers. And yet, the whole exercise isn’t as off putting as it could be considering the material. Regardless of the sometimes-shocking moments, Better Watch Out remains so incredibly watchable mainly because you can’t help but wonder where things will go and how the characters can possibly get out of this. Yes, some of this can be chalked up to voilence and shock factor, but only to a certain extent. As a matter of fact, when a gore-filled moment does indeed happen, it’s handled with panache and a surprising amount of subtlety. In the end, it’s good old fashioned cat and mouse suspense that wins out over explicitness. It’s the film’s secret weapon and it never lets it, or the audience down.

How Better Watch Out scored such a name cast for this kind of affair is up in the air. My guess is that they all just wanted to have a little bit of fun; and fun they certainly seem to be having. It’s fun to watch Madsen and Warburton inhabit such non-present parents and young actors such as DeJonge and Oxenbould take on roles that in other scenarios would be played by actors at least a decade older than them. However Miller is the star of the film in every way, shape and form; being called upon to bring forth every kind of emotion in the acting textbook, which he more than does. His is far from an easy role, but Miller has done his homework and seems to be in control of what will certainly be one of the most memorable roles of his career.

To describe Better Watch Out in movie terms would be to brand it a cross between Home Alone, Black Christmas and When a Stranger Calls. But more than that, the film works as both a total tribute and variation on those classics while existing as its own entity. The movie may not end up being anywhere near the same realm as those films in terms of legacy, but it will certainly garner enough love from genre aficionados who will ensure its place as classic in its own right. For all the film’s fun however, it’s hard to deny the chilling knowledge in the end about how realistic the events of the film actually are. This is a story ripped from today’s headlines. The sad truth perhaps may be that the only way people would give a story such as this the time and attention it deserves is through the guise of a well made genre film.

Better Watch Out opens in theaters and on demand October 6th from Well Go USA!

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