Better Watch Out (2016)
★★ / ★★★★
Those expecting an effective hybrid of horror and dark comedy are certain to be disappointed with “Better Watch Out,” a weak attempt at wringing terror and uncomfortable laughs from the audience. It is a beautifully photographed film, the story taking place in a house seemingly taken right off a high-end furniture ad which works as great contrast against the would-be grizzly goings-on inside, but nearly everything about it comes across forced and unconvincing. I doubt that even viewers who have little to no experience with the sub-genre of Christmas horror would be impressed by it.
The premise involving a babysitter (Olivia DeJonge) having to protect a pre-teen (Levi Miller) from home invaders is nothing new, but writers Zack Kahn and Chris Peckover, the latter directing the picture, manage to deliver a few unexpected twists. The first third shows potential to genuinely entertain. I enjoyed that the big twist is not revealed somewhere in the middle or during the final fifteen minutes. Even I caught myself leaning toward the screen, wondering what else the film has under its sleeves. However, once such surprising turns are taken, look closer and realize there is no substance behind them. As a result, the twists, including the work as a whole, fail to leave a lasting impression.
Although a horror film with supposedly suspenseful sequences, the building of tension is wildly inconsistent. For example, when a character is tied to a chair, there is so many dialogue between predator and prey that drags. Obviously designed to establish a semblance of character development, the problem is that the characters are not interesting in the first place. It does not help that the pauses are empty, ill-placed, awkward. This is not a horror film told through dramatic lens occasionally and so silences function merely as nails on a chalkboard rather than creating moments of rumination or giving us the opportunity to connect the dots.
Horror pictures and dark comedies usually thrive on exaggeration, pushing the envelope to such an extent that they either offend or confuse the viewer about the messages to be conveyed. And so it is curious that the approach here is rather prepubescent, undeveloped in that it is neither pushed to be too scary nor too darkly comic. I found that the material is afraid to pummel the viewers into feeling extreme emotions. Were the filmmakers afraid that if the material were too bleak it would not make money? And if so, why bother to tackle this mishmash of genres at all?
“Better Watch Out” might have been a more potent film had the writers taken the time to revisit and think about the works of Michael Haneke and Gaspar Noé for these great directors know how to craft seemingly ordinary premises and pervert them into unforgettable experiences. Instead, what results is a mere punctuation in the sea of ordinary, unimpressive, factory-sealed horror-dark comedies released annually. Hard pass.