Better Watch Out (4 stars)

Better Watch Out

This mischievous horror from director Chris Peckover is a cult Christmas classic in the making

Christmas and horror have gone together like pigs and blankets in festive frighteners from Black Christmas and Gremlins to Rare Exports and Krampus. Establishing its ultra-knowing credentials right from the opening's Meet Me in St Louis-ish snowman assault, co-writer/director Chris Peckover's satirical shocker gatecrashes the party with twisted vim. Blooming into a wicked hybrid of Home Alone and Michael Haneke's Funny Games, its snow-globe aesthetic is pierced with taboo-busting mischief and sharpened implements.

As with pressies, don't peek early: this one's best left unspoiled. Suffice to say the festivities start when noxious tween Luke (Pan's Levi Miller) is thrilled to learn that 17-year-old Ashley (The Visit's Olivia DeJonge) is babysitting him while his pickled parents (Virginia Madsen, Patrick Warburton – both a potty-mouthed hoot) go out. Amply confirming anyone's worst fears about tween-boys, Luke boasts to his mate Garrett (Ed Oxenbould, also The Visit) about fancying his chances with Ashley, despite being just 12 ('13 in a few weeks,' Luke offers, reaching a little).

As Luke boozes recklessly to impress Ashley, a home-invasion narrative follows to inventive effect; Santa standees are well-mobilised for jump scares. But Peckover and co-writer Zack Kahn's audaciously warped script is just getting started on the twists. As Ashley's boyfriend and ex join the fun, the story proceeds through stabbings, paint-can experiments, torture, dubious dancing, extreme seasonal pullovers and darker matters besides, keeping you on alert right up to the early credits.

With well-pitched performances from a believably capable DeJonge and an ever-surprising Miller anchoring the plot's swerves, Peckover discards concerns about plausibility and embraces his heightened pitch head-on. Absurd though events get, every satisfying jolt honours the film's cracked cartoon spirit. A Christmas cult classic is born: and it's going straight to Santa's naughty list.

General release from Fri 8 Dec.

Better Watch Out

  • 4 stars
  • 2017
  • Australia / US
  • 1h 29min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Chris Peckover
  • Cast: Olivia DeJonge, Levi Miller, Patrick Warburton, Virginia Madsen
  • UK release: 8 December 2017

Twelve-year-old Luke (Miller) is being babysat by 17-year-old Ashley (DeJonge), who he fancies his chances with, but then an intruder breaks into the house. The story proceeds through stabbings, paint-can experiments and torture, keeping you on the alert. Mischievous fun.