On one hand, new Christmas thriller Better Watch Out is a killer interrogation of a particular brand of toxic masculinity. Specifically, it skewers the post-Revenge-of-the-Nerds brand of nerd empowerment, where resourceful, intelligent young men get the girl through outsmarting them. Placed in the milieu of polite white suburbia at Christmas time, the film – aptly described as Funny Games meets Home Alone – channels the dark side of these men with sickening effectiveness.
On the other hand, Better Watch Out is kind of underwhelming as a thriller. Sure, it’s smarter than Netflix’s The Babysitter – with which it shares a surprising number of plot points – but it lacks the action, laughs or scares of that film. The tone feels off in a way that’s more disappointing than unnerving; director Chris Peckover is aiming to undercut Christmas cheer, but the colourful aesthetic feels disconnected from the disturbing subject matter, rather than contrasted against it.
Still, the actors – mostly young Aussies, including Jasper Jones’ Levi Miller and The Visit’s Olivia DeJonge (as the babysitter) and Ed Oxenbould – make this worth a watch. Miller, in particular, does impressive work with a difficult role, and all three strike the right balance between unnerving realism and heightened horror.