Ashley (Olivia DeJonge) is driving to a house in the suburbs when she nearly runs over a black cat that runs across the road. This could be an omen. She is supposed to be heading for a friend of the family's, whose twelve-year-old son needs a babysitter, and she expects this to be an easy way to pick up a little spare cash by making sure he is safe in bed, and early, so she can chat away to her boyfriend Ricky (Aleks Mikic) on her phone. The son, Luke (Levi Miller), has other ideas, however: it doesn't matter to him that she's five years older than he is, he has convinced himself he can make romantic moves on the girl, and his best friend Garrett (Ed Oxenbould) tends to agree...
Christmas horror movies are ten a penny now, but there remain filmmakers who feel they can add a little festive fear to the season, as well as cashing in on seeing something appropriate to the time of year each time Yuletide comes around. Better Watch Out, also known as Safe Neighborhood (you can see why they changed that nothing title), was an Australian variant on the form, only set in a snowy United States since Oz was not best known for its cold weather around December, so the unwritten rules of the style stated that there was no way a Christmas chiller was going to be set in the blazing sunshine, no matter that this would have been something more original than usual.
Nope, here the town was blanketed in white, all the better for the sensation of a chill entering the bones rather than the sensation of feeling all warm and cosy while the weather outside was frightful. The most famous actors here exited early, as Luke's parents were played by Patrick Warburton and Virginia Madsen in alternately embarrassing dad and longsuffering mother roles, but they have to get to the Christmas party neither seem to be wholly keen on attending, leaving Ashley to settle down and try to persuade Luke to get to bed as quickly as possible. This, as you may imagine, is not what Luke himself has in mind, and he kicks things off by opening the champagne.
Ashley is horrified, though not as horrified as she soon will be, as before long strange things begin to occur, such as a pizza they didn't order turning up at the front door, and the entrance to the back patio mysteriously opening apparently by itself. What could be going on? Is there a prowler hanging around? Could he be trying to break in? All the answers to those questions constituted the film's big twist, and if you had seen the trailer you might have anticipated a Home Alone for adults where the kid does his best to better the intruder, which was not exactly what was on offer, for director Chris Peckover and his co-writer Zack Kahn had identified something that many preferred to ignore in that holiday classic: Macaulay Culkin was a stone-cold psychopath in it, taking lipsmacking, sadistic pleasure in harming others.
The key dialogue here was late on when one character asks, why did you make me do this? As if the mayhem had not been their fault but others', and their actions had led them to wreak bloody havoc, or at least vile mischief, so they were not to blame - hey, they were the victim here! Naturally, this was bullshit, and a nasty piece of work is a nasty piece of work no matter how many victim-blaming excuses they concoct to excuse their bad behaviour, but it did make for a compelling set-up, since there was one person you really wanted to see receive their comeuppance. As the film progressed and it looked increasingly as if the villain was going to get away with it, that impulse to see them punished only grew, rendering Better Watch Out an experience that played on your worst emotions, but did so very well: it was uncomfortably well crafted, from the wintry interior lighting to the way hope was dangled then snatched away. To say any more would be to spoil that final revelation, but it was safe to say Home Alone wasn't going to be usurped any time soon. Worse luck. Music by Brian Cachia.