SPOILERS. ABSOLUTELY DO NOT READ AHEAD IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO BE SPOILED!
WHOA. Wow. So, maybe I’m just a goofball, but whatever the film is, there are certain films, where within the first 15 minutes, I step back while watching and go, “Oh yeah, this is going to be great.” I just get that certain vibe about films. I was saying that about 2017’s Christmas horror movie, Better Watch Out, at about the 13-minute mark.
That was before the proverbial crap hit-the-fan, and the premise of the film, “Ashley travels to the suburban home of the Lerners to baby-sit their 12-year-old son Luke at Christmastime. She must soon defend herself and the young boy when unwelcome intruders announce their arrival,” seemed to get rolling in earnest. And that was BEFORE the real crap hit-the-fan, and it turned out Luke, played by the creepy psycho, Levi Miller, was the psycho all along. And that was BEFORE the crap hit-the-fan AGAIN when Luke took it to the next level.
Blown away, folks. Yes, I’m easy to please and all of that when it comes to films, especially horror, and I have a notoriously bad memory, but I’m trying to think of the last horror film that rocked my socks like this? Where it completely through me for a loop and left my jaw agape? Where I felt the tension in my body? Where that tension never seemed to let up? Where I was holding my hand out in shock at the end? Maybe not since 2008’s The Strangers have I felt like that?
So, let me further explain, Luke and his friend, Garrett (played by Ed Oxenbould), set up an elaborate scheme, so Garrett thinks, to scare Ashley (played by Olivia DeJonge), fake a rescue of her by Luke, and then she would magically fall in love with him. Luke is hot for the babysitter, as they establish early on in the film. Naturally, Ashley is ticked off about this when she realizes it’s all a ruse and tries to call his parents. That’s when the tables turn a second time and Luke’s real plan comes to fruition, which is to tie Ashley up, bring her boyfriend, Ricky (played by Aleks Mikic), and ex-boyfriend, Jeremy (played by Dacre Montgomery) to the house, kill everyone and blame it on the jealous ex-boyfriend. Garrett, for a time, goes along with it because he’s a doofus friend who thinks Luke actually likes him as his best friend. But Luke is a psychopath. It’s a lot like the Eric Harris (psychopath) and Dylan Klebold (depressed loser taken in to be used by the psychopath), the duo behind the Columbine school shooting in 1999. Now, the latter being a so gullible and going along with the scheme, and hurting people, too, mind you, doesn’t absolve him of blame, but it does explain the why. That analogy explains the why for Garrett.
The way it all unfolds and the carpet gets pulled out from under you is brilliant. I was vibing that it was going to be a great film 13 minutes in because in those 13 minutes, Ashley seemed like a good person trying to do good by Luke and be gentle with him even though he was being a creepy 12-year-old, and Luke seemed like a 12-year-old pining after his babysitter, and yeah, he overdid it and it made you cringe, but he’s 12 and you understood it. And then you’re waiting for the crap to hit-the-fan per the premise, and then it does, and it’s like, okay, here we go. Ashley’s stepping up, just as the premise promises. But then they pull the rug out from under you again that it was a prank, and at that point, I’m still not thinking Luke is a psychopath. I’m thinking, whoa, he took that way too far. He’s got some distorted ideas of masculinity and relationships, but okay. And in fact, I’m thinking, now the real psychos will break-in, and the true craziness will begin to show Luke this isn’t a game. Turns out, it still was a game, and I was being played.
When Luke punches Ashley and she falls down the stairs, and she wakes up in duct tape? Wow. Blown away. As the movie unfolds from there that Luke is a psychopath who has been talking his way out of everything, as a psychopath does, and who believes earnestly that he will talk his way out of this whole scheme, it’s unnerving. At first, you’re like, okay, he’s a 12-year-old, she’s going to kick his butt when she gets free. But as the movie goes along, you start buying into, “Okay, he’s 12, but he’s a freaking psycho,” and that adds to the aura around him.
I will say, the main criticism to offer of the film is that the two boyfriends who come to the house are absolute idiots, thankfully, for Luke’s plan to work. The only way for that facet of his plan to work is for them to be idiots, and they are. They walk right into the house (or in the case of Jeremy, right outside of the house) like lambs to slaughter. Oh gee golly, what’s going on here, sort of thing. Why would near-adults believe anything some 12-year-old dweeb like Luke is telling them about their girlfriend or ex-girlfriend? Yet, they go along with it.
That said, Ashley is resourceful and resilient to the end. I was about to dock a lot of points off of this film if Luke actually did succeed in his plan, as it seems he does when he seemingly kills Ashley, and sets everything to perfection. Although, even then, I will say, is it believable that, per Luke’s scheme, he slept through the brutal murders of three people and a suicide? Even with the help of sleeping pills because he supposedly sleepwalks (or so he’s convinced his mother)? Anyhow, if Ashley did die and he succeeded, that’s BS. The villain in a horror movie shouldn’t win, at least not in totality. Slashers often have the killer be ostensibly alive so we can have sequels, but they still lose at the end of the movie. Fortunately, Ashley was still alive and gave a defiant middle finger to Luke at the end. There has to be a sequel because Luke is trying to convince his mother to take him to the hospital to “check on her,” which is psycho translation for kill her. I would be curious how he’d explain that one.
Every home invasion story owes some of its elements to 1971’s A Clockwork Orange and every horror movie set on Christmas owes some of its elements to 1974’s Black Christmas, and I think you can feel those influences here. I don’t either were the first, but they did it the best and most memorably. There is a scene that reminded me of the latter, where Luke gives hot chocolate to Christmas carolers while right behind him in the living room, Ricky is dead in a chair.
Speaking of Ricky, did I mention he’s dumb? So, in a brilliant horror inspiration taken from Home Alone, which was foreshadowed at the beginning of the film, Luke is obsessed with the paint can scene, where Kevin sends paint cans swinging down from the second floor to Harry and Marv. Garrett thinks it would happen like in the movie, where they’d just fly backwards. Luke thinks it would smash their faces in. Luke, now that he’s outed as a psychopath, puts that to the test with Ricky. But Ricky is an idiot because, at least for the moment, all he had to do to avoid the paint can was fall backwards in his chair!
There are other great callbacks like the foreshadowing of the paint can, though. Like I said, the first 13 minutes plays so well and tender, like when Luke rests his head on Ashley’s shoulder. It feels sweet. Later, right before he kills her, he rests his head on his shoulder. Sick as heck! Or that, Ashley’s Kryptonite seemed to be spiders. One scared her (and me) at the beginning of the film, and then later when it seemed like home invaders were coming. Turns out, Luke knew that she was scared of them and they were his spiders set loose.
Overall, I thought this was a brilliant film from every angle. The performances were all believable. In fact, Miller’s was so good because he would’ve been around 15 at the time, and during some moments in the film, his voice would squeak. It was jarring. Because you have this kid being a psychopath and then reminders that, yes, he’s still a kid! DeJonge was fantastic as a different kind of “final girl.” The script co-written by Zack Kahn (his first movie with a writing credit!) and director Chris Peckover was well-paced, taut, surprising at a few different turns, well-done with the foreshadowing and callbacks, and with believable dialogue of how young teens would talk. And the commendable direction by Peckover, who I should note, this was only his second horror film, which is wild. His direction kept me tense! It made me feel for the peril Ashley (and later, Ricky) were in. Even Jeremy’s death scene was hard to watch. The fact that Kahn and Peckover are still so fresh, and they churned out something like this with such a young Australian cast? Heck yeah. I’ll be watching them in the coming years. Very impressed.
Also, how brilliant is the title, folks? It works as Christmas-themed title (the “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” song), a horror title (self-explanatory), and also a nice subterfuge to the viewer, that they better watch out for the unexpected, which is impossible to do, which is why the twist on top of the twist out of nowhere works so well. I didn’t suspect a dang thing.
One lingering question I had, was Luke being honest when he said the dad did order the pizza? Who ordered the pizza and why was the pizza man so weird?!
Anyhow, seriously, watch this film so I can talk about it with you! Although, I hope you didn’t read this having not watched it because then you missed the joy of being surprised.