Better Watch Out and How to Spot a Christmas Film

Regular readers (hi mum) will know that I love a good Christmas horror movie. Which is why Better Watch Out left me cold.

Not to be confused with You Better Watch Out, Better Watch Out is an Australian-American nihilistmas flick that’s more stocking filler than chiller. It follows 12-year-old Luke (Levi Miller) as he tries to get cosy with his attractive babysitter Ashley (Olivia DeJonge). Do 12-year-olds even require babysitters? In this case yes, because the film soon takes a nasty turn into R-rated Home Alone territory – hence the movie’s tagline: “You Might Be Home But You’re Not Alone.” Which doesn’t really make sense because there are already two of them in the house.

Luke’s plan appears to involve watching a scary movie with Ashley because he’s read that fear releases the same dopamine as sexual arousal, and that’s why horror films can be pleasurable to watch. But not in this case. It’s hard to discuss without spoilers but the picture’s unpleasant developments feel increasingly cruel, without the wit or creativity that made something like Krampus so much fun. Director Chris Peckover is no Sam Peckinpah, and the closest the film comes to a joke is to play Christmas music over scenes of violence – a gag so old it belongs in a cracker.

Like Happy Death Day (which riffs on Groundhog Day the way this riffs on Home Alone) there’s a decent premise, but the script needs punching up – and needs to do more punching up. I’m sure at one point I heard the line: “Dial 911 and if I scream, press send.” Levi Miller is suitably awful as Luke, who looks like he should be in Glee – and considering his breaking voice, sounds like it too. The best scenes involve Virginia Madsen and Patrick Warburton as Luke’s foul-mouthed parents, but as soon as they leave so does all the film’s myrrth. Ultimately this isn’t a complete turkey, just another eggnoxious Christmas film.

And it is a Christmas film, despite a YouGov poll last week finding that more people think a movie has to be “about Christmas” to count as a Christmas film. It also found that this view is more common among older and more conservative people. Personally I find the phrase “about Christmas” to be meaningless, because Christmas means different things to different people. For me it means curling up beneath the hanukkiah and watching Black Christmas, and yule have a snowball’s chance in hell of convincing me that a film called Black Christmas isn’t a Christmas film.

That’s why I think any film set at Christmas can be a Christmas film, even if it’s as depraved, rotten or grotesque as Love Actually.

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