Precocious twelve year old Luke Lerner (Levi Miller) has a crush on his babysitter, seventeen year old Ashley, portrayed by Olivia DeJonge (The Visit). Prior to Ashley coming over to babysit, Luke has been scheming with his best-friend, Garrett, (Ed Oxenbould), as to how he can win her affections. In a few days, Ashley will be moving to Pittsburgh, and Luke knows, this could be the last time he sees her. Once his mom, played by Oscar nominee Virginia Madsen (Sideways), and his dad, portrayed by Patrick Warburton (Seinfeld), leave for the evening, he puts his plans into action. Luke starts by drinking from a bottle of champagne, thinking it will impress her, and hoping that she will join him. In addition, he puts on a horror movie in the hopes that Ashley will be scared enough to want to get closer to him. Unfortunately for the would be Casanova, his plans, as the viewer would likely expect, don’t come to fruition, but there might be a greater problem that both he and Ashley have to immediately confront. (As an aside: DeJonge and Oxenbould, starred as siblings in the 2015 film “The Visit,” which was written and directed by two-time Oscar nominee, M. Night Shyamalan).
A pizza, that hadn’t been ordered by Ashley or Luke, is delivered by a person whose face is masked – The phone rings and no one speaks – a mysterious figure appears in the window – a back door, which had been closed, is once again open, and then a knock on the door, and no-one is there. Well, that is not entirely true. Garrett had been playing a trick on Ashley and Luke, but when noises are heard upstairs, Garrett, who is in plain sight of the two of them, can no longer be accused of playing games. Before too long, the trio receives a tangible threat, written in chalk on a brick that has crashed through the window, that reads: “U leave U die.” From the outset of the threat, Ashley takes on the role of a resilient protagonist. She is intelligent and willing to fight; no matter how dire the situation becomes, she never gives in.
The film from that moment, until a clever twist a short while later, comes across as a standard home-invasion thriller. A viewer can expect disconnected phone lines, mishaps with cell-phones, no internet service, as well as jump scares. During the course of the evening, both Ashley’s current boyfriend Ricky (Aleks Mikic), and her ex-boyfriend Jeremy, played by Dacre Montgomery (Stranger Things), get swept up in the mayhem, that unfolds on Christmas Eve. I am going to stop giving specific plot details at this point, because to provide more, would, in fact, ruin the reveal, which serves as the catalyst for the remainder of the film. Who has broken into the house? What are their motivations for wanting to keep Ashley, Luke, and Garrett inside the house? Why not take whatever money and valuables they came for and leave? Those questions and more will be answered by the end of the entertaining, albeit disturbing, film.
“Better Watch Out” premiered at the Fantastic Fest, in Austin, Texas, on September 26, 2016. The film was written and directed by Chris Peckover (Undocumented), who co-wrote the screenplay with Zack Kahn (Mad), based on a story written by Kahn. The runtime of the film is 89 minutes. Parts horror and thriller, the movie was originally titled “Safe Neighborhood.” The film is well-paced, and provides enough tension and suspense to keep viewers interested from start to finish. This film, will not be for everyone. Furthermore, while the cast is uniformly good, and give believable performances, there are plot elements and scenes, where the viewer will have to be willing to suspend disbelief at what is being shown on screen.