Better Watch Out

Better Watch Out is a year-end treat to horror fans who have seen it all before.

One of the biggest challenges for a horror film writer is to conceive ways to scare the audience, especially when everyone thinks they have seen it all before. Last year’s Don’t Breathe was one such example of reinventing the horror-thriller, and all on a shoestring budget. Subverting the genre even further, 2017’s Get Out took innovation to another level with its slow burn but thoroughly unsettling atmosphere in a narrative that is both shocking and satirical. For a pitch black horror thriller masquerading as a home invasion film, Better Watch Out is a different breed of horror and perhaps the most predatory of them all.

Using the grand but acquired art of deception, writer Zack Kahn and co-writer/director Chris Peckover gives this film a spectacular spin on its head, but not before opening with the now standard home invasion premise. As such, the film begins on familiar ground with jump scares that seem too deliberate and even contrived. This is just the smoke screen in place to conceal an early twist in the story that gets dark and even more twisted. And before long, we the audience get knocked around like limp passengers in the backseat of a vehicle taking sharp turns.

Most viewers won’t even realise that the white Christmas setting of a typical American suburb was actually shot in Sydney, Australia. Or that the three lead actors, with their perfect American accents are also Australian. Their delivery is the real reason to recommend this film, but to avoid spoilers, I’ll just say that the transformation of some of these characters – from doe-eyed cuteness to downright pathological – is remarkable for virtually unknown actors.

At its lightest level, Better Watch Out can be perceived as a caricature of the Home Alone films. Is it scary? It’s hard to answer that question without revealing a crucial twist but during all the ensuing mayhem, Peckover’s triumph are the comic interjections that make some of the goriest scenes unexpectedly funny. And yet at its scariest, the writing, and the narrative, are grounded towards director Michael Haneke’s psychological thriller Funny Games. Anyone who has seen that film can survive this film. For horror fans who like it dark, clever and twisted, this is the ultimate year-end treat at the cinema whether you’ve been naughty or nice.

Rating: ★★★★☆

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.