BETTER WATCH OUT: Jingle Hell

BETTER WATCH OUT: Jingle Hell
Better Watch Out (2016) - source: Universal Pictures

Home Alone is a regular staple on televisions around the world at Christmas time. It’s timeless for sure, but have you ever wanted to switch things up a little? The twisted tale of Better Watch Out is the polar opposite of Kevin McAllister’s domestic adventure, one that makes you laugh for all the wrong reasons.

The kids aren’t alright

Flip the roles of Harry and Marv with Kevin and that’s Luke (Levi Miller) and Garrett (Ed Oxenbould) in a nutshell, the two mischievous kids at the centre of Better Watch Out. Luke’s parents, portrayed in brief screen time by Virginia Madsen and Patrick Warburton (comparable to his role as Lemony Snicket), are going elsewhere so a babysitter is required for Luke. In comes their regular help Ashley (Olivia DeJonge), a 17-year-old girl who’s the source of Luke’s affection.

That is no secret to her, considering Luke’s uninhibited approach to her. What is less obvious to Ashley, though, is the boys’ ill-intentioned plan that they have concocted for her arrival. To describe any more of the plot would be entering major spoiler territory and Better Watch Out is a better watch without pre-existing knowledge of the plot.

BETTER WATCH OUT: Jingle Hell
source: Universal Pictures

The plot isn’t novel, with certain parts closely resembling a few movies from the last decade that did away with typical horror trappings for something more subversive, and to name some examples would give away some of the plot mechanisms but ‘subversive’ is the key word for those wanting to take a guess. There are enough twists, both shocking and hilarious, that helps the narrative rise above the formula that it follows and succeed as an absorbing thriller.

Actors bring the anti-Xmas spirit

The trifecta of young Australian actors, Miller, Oxenbould and DeJonge, are superb in this American story. Macauley Culkin was a major actor in another family comedy before Home Alone, Uncle Buck, whereas DeJonge and Oxenbould are familiar because they co-starred in The Visit. The duo lends their outstanding comic and dramatic talents to Better Watch Out the same way they did in M. Night Shyamalan’s comic-horror flick – except DeJonge steps up her game in this meatier role.

The breakthrough

Levi Miller is diabolically funny as a warped minded kid who cares less about the threats posed to his home than he does about getting the girl. His commitment to play a convincing sociopath and steely-eyed glare have him poised for more horror features. He would fit right in the twisted cinematic worlds of Michael Haneke and Adam Wingard, or the next season of American Horror Story.

BETTER WATCH OUT: Jingle Hell
source: Universal Pictures

Maybe comedy filmmakers will cast him because, after all, he does kill it as a character who is more scared of the house smelling of marijuana than he is of using a gun – a narrative choice that may be read as a comment on the cultural difference between the two things in the USA. Anyway, let’s hope Miller gets his due.

Better Watch Out: Conclusion

Better Watch Out is the rare film that’s appropriate for both Christmas and Halloween. Though occasionally unsurprising, it joins Krampus and Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale as a strong alternative to the regular holiday viewing because of the nasty genre thrills it delivers whilst being wickedly funny.

What did you think of Better Watch Out? Let us know in the comments below!

Read our interview with director Chris Peckover here!

Better Watch Out was released in the USA on October 6, 2017 and in the UK on December 8, 2017. For all international release dates, see here.

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Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.
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