Fantastic Fest Review: Better Watch Out

John Hughes meets Wes Craven in a candy-coated home invasion

Ashley (Olivia DeJonge) and Luke (Levi Miller) have their own adventures in babysitting in Safe Neighborhood

What was the difference between an Eighties John Hughes film and an Eighties Wes Craven movie? Pretty much just the body count. So what do you get if you mix the two? Better Watch Out, a deliciously subversive take on the home-invasion thriller.

Arguably the greatest home-invasion movie is actually Hughes' Home Alone, and it's overtly nodded at in the second feature from Chris Peckover (director of Fantastic Fest 2010 title Undocumented). In Better Watch Out (which played at Fantastic Fest under its original title Safe Neighborhood, it's Christmas in small-town America, and Luke (Levi Miller, Pan) has one last chance to admit he has a crush on Ashley (Olivia DeJonge, Hiding) before she moves away. The problem, as his best friend Garrett (Ed Oxenbould, The Visit) points out, is that Ashley is his babysitter, and she's five years older than him. His romantic schemes are automatically a nonstarter, but then really thrown into disorder when mysterious figures start appearing around the house.

Peckover embraces the grand tradition of home-for-the-holiday horrors, with the needy and nerdy Luke (played with charming geekiness by Miller) and the gutsy Ashley (DeJonge having her own ass-kicking adventures in babysitting) wondering what's going on, and who is tap-tap-tapping at that door. Twinkling lights that make extra shadows, seasonal music with a distinctly unseasonal twist, and the perennial menace of jump scares and carolers looking for free hot chocolate lull the audience into thinking they're in for a classic romp.

And then he pulls a sickening handbrake turn that drops everything on its head.

This is no cheap bait-and-switch, but a careful rebalancing between real malice and cartoon craziness. It's still a wonderfully twisted excursion into the same Hughesian tradition, but with an evil grin. Throw in hilarious cameos from the gleefully foolish Patrick Warburton (and his trademark scarcely-suppressed smirk) and the martini-dry and acerbic Virginia Madsen as Luke's parents, and you'll never watch Home Alone in the same light again.


Better Watch Out aka Safe Neighborhood screens again Wednesday, Sept. 28, 5:30pm.

Fantastic Fest 2016 runs Sept. 22-29 at the Alamo South Lamar. Tickets and info at www.fantasticfest.com, and follow our ongoing coverage at austinchronicle.com/fantastic-fest.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Fantastic Fest
They're Here! Fantastic Fest Wave One Arrives
First Fantastic Fest 2018 Titles
Overlord, Apostle headline fest opening salvo

Richard Whittaker, July 31, 2018

Exploring <i>The Endless</i> With Benson and Moorhead
Exploring The Endless With Benson and Moorhead
Filmmakers talk science, magic, and bickering brothers

Richard Whittaker, April 20, 2018

More Fantastic Fest 2016
DVDanger: <i>A Dark Song</i>
DVDanger: A Dark Song
Director Liam Gavin on magic and loss

Richard Whittaker, April 30, 2017

Nacho Vigalondo on <i>Colossal</i>
Nacho Vigalondo on Colossal
Combining the mediocre and cosmic with the creature feature director

Richard Whittaker, April 14, 2017

More by Richard Whittaker
The Nest
Pretense and aspiration collapse in this dour relationship drama

Sept. 18, 2020

Alone
Neo-slasher is quietly effective and bloodily harsh

Sept. 18, 2020

KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Alamo South Lamar, Fantastic Fest, Fantastic Fest 2016, Safe Neighborhood, Better Watch Out

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle