*. Colour me baffled. Better Watch Out is a complete piece of shit. This is a movie with no redeeming qualities that I can make out. It’s a holiday horror flick that has a babysitter (Olivia DeJonge) being terrorized by her 12-year-old charge (Levi Miller, in what should have been a career-ending role). That is the big “twist” in the tale, and you know it’s coming within the first five or ten minutes. And that is the only twist that is even attempted.
*. Is that enough to make the film worth watching? I’ve nothing against movies about kids who are psychopathic killers. I’ve enjoyed them all the way from The Bad Seed and Village of the Damned up through Devil Times Five and Children of the Corn. So I can’t say I find Luke shocking or disturbing in any way. Instead he just annoyed me. About the only thing I liked was the way his voice kept breaking.
*. Then there is the matter of tone. As it gets started it seems like it’s going to be a horror comedy, but that’s only because of the crude language, which I think is meant to pass for humour. Hey, the kids are as foul-mouthed as mom and dad! But then there’s the “twist” (I have to put that in quotation marks) and it turns into the usual round of torture and cruelty, which drags us through all the stations of the cross we are used to in the genre, most obviously the failed escapes and rescues.
*. So that’s the movie then. It’s awful. It’s not scary, it’s just painful to sit through. Audiences didn’t appreciate it and the box office, as far as I can tell, was nearly nonexistent. And yet here’s the baffling part: critics ate it up. Its ratings on the aggregator sites are very high, and not just because of the usual sort of puffery you find on the niche review websites. The Guardian found it “fresh and exciting” and the Los Angeles Times “a fun kind of nasty.” Other reviews said much the same.
*. I don’t get it. There’s nothing fresh or original here. There’s nothing about it that’s well done. If you’re a fan of extreme horror there isn’t even any on-screen gore to speak of. The tone of the whole things seems to have been woefully misjudged. It’s just a movie that riffs on the tired juxtaposition of all the phony suburban bonhomie of Christmas with the horrors of the dysfunctional nuclear family. Children are killing people while we hear carols being sung! How subversive! Alas we’ve been here before, with movies that were much, much cleverer and more exciting.
*. I won’t rant here about Better Watch Out. It’s no good, but that doesn’t make me angry. What does upset me is the evidence of just how degraded the critical establishment has become. Were reviewers afraid of not seeming hip enough to get it? Who could have thought this was edgy or different or fun? Such dereliction of duty is something to be upset about.