In the long, sordid history of the “Christmas horror” sub-genre, there’s never been a movie quite like “Better Watch Out,” a consistently surprising and unusually well-acted thriller, which says pertinent things about suburbia, holiday entertainment and toxic masculinity.
A cast of veteran Australian child actors credibly evokes upper-middle-class Americana, with Olivia DeJonge playing Ashley, a teenage babysitter who takes a last-minute gig to look after 12-year-old Luke (Levi Miller). What Ashley doesn’t anticipate is that Luke — who’s long had a crush on her — has enlisted his nerdy friend Garrett (Ed Oxenbould) to scare her into his arms.
The plan almost immediately takes some unexpected turns, as other guests drop by. Gradually, Ashley figures out what’s happening, and has to use her wiles to protect herself and the household she’s been hired to safeguard.
“Better Watch Out” wowed audiences on the festival circuit (under the title “Safe Neighborhood”) with jarring twists (best left undiscussed here), polished performances and director Chris Peckover’s accomplished style. But what’s likely to make it an enduring cult favorite is how attuned Peckover and his co-writer, Zack Kahn, are to the treacly nonsense of Christmas movies and the perverse fantasies of adolescent boys. From the shockingly raunchy dialogue to the ironic yuletide pop songs, this movie is a fun kind of nasty.
‘Better Watch Out’
Rating: R, for disturbing violent content, language throughout, crude sexual references, drug and alcohol use — all involving teens
Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes
Playing: Arena Cinelounge Sunset, Hollywood