Since becoming a film reviewer, I’ve decided that my favorite part of doing this gig is being completely blindsided by a movie. Once you start looking at anything critically, you can usually plot out exactly the beats of a movie and when they’re going to happen. Trailers for movies make this even easier, giving away more and more of a story than they ever seemed to in the past. As a matter of personal practice, I try to not watch trailers for movies that I already know I’m going to see (I’m looking at all you Marvel, DC, and Star Wars movies). I limit my viewing of any other movies trailer to only a few seconds. The practice has been difficult, but highly rewarding. Did Better Watch Out reward my efforts, or did it leave me wishing I knew what I had gotten myself into?
Better Watch Out is about a girl who is moving out of state with her parents that takes one last babysitting gig with the family that’s hired her for years. On this quiet night, she ends up defending her twelve-year-old charge from a home invasion that becomes something she never expected. Don’t be concerned about this movie being your usual chauvinistic torture porn. There’s much more cat-and-mouse going on here than that. That’s all the story you are going to get out of me, however. Watching more than 40-50 seconds of the trailer or me saying anything else will rob you, dear reader, of what I felt was the greatest part of this home invasion thriller. It feels fresh and different; the story flows and never really seems to lose its stride.
Director Chris Peckover shows us very promising skills considering he’s has spent very little time in the director’s chair. He and his team created a dark and tense setting with an expert used of color and play. I had to stop the movie a few times to just look at the wonderful use of colors. It’s as if Thomas Kinkade painted a holiday card and then put dead bodies in it. Visually the movie is beautifully playful with its use of juxtaposition. It feels silly talking about just how beautiful the shots were, but Peckover really found a way to make a Christmas movie tense and thrilling. Think of the age old argument: “Is ‘Die Hard’ a Christmas movie?” The same argument applies here, and it has everything to do with how much the look of this film works.
The cast is instrumental in pulling all of this movie together. While that’s a rule for every movie, this one really needed to sell its audience and make them invested in the story. Olivia DeJonge is chiefly responsible for making you buy into everything. She’s our babysitter, Ashley, and is that cool girl next door you look up to and have a crush on at the same time. She’s aware of her influence, but never takes advantage; instead, she makes you feel safe. Olivia delivers those points without acting or playing a role.
Levi Miller is Luke, Ashley’s twelve year-old charge. He’s your slightly above-average tween with enough hormones and brains that somehow combines bad ideas with competent execution. Ed Oxenbould is his goofy best friend, the poor kid who has no idea what is going on and is manipulated at every turn. The boys may be annoying like tweens tend to be, but they’re great together and are not entirely incompetent. The chemistry everyone has works very well; it’s easy to let these three tell you the story of a night that went terribly wrong.
Better Watch Out is a fun, thrilling movie with a twist that makes it feel new and different from movies of its genre. When that twist hits, it has the opportunity to catch the viewer off guard in a manner that (at least for me) puts a smile on their face. I feel justified in my pursuit to dodge trailers. I highly suggest that if this movie interests you in any way, be the Artful Dodger and see just enough to wet your whistle. Better Watch Out rewarded me for my efforts, as I’m sure it will reward yours as well.