The recipe for a perfect Christmas horror film -- think the 1974 classic Black Christmas or 2010's more arty, Finnish offering Rare Exports -- calls for dark humor, at least one scene of bright red blood on snow, some kind of creepy Christmas toy or ornament and a healthy dollop of irreverence for such a sacred season. Chris Peckover's Better Watch Out contains all of the above as well as a killer twist that upends this silly-to-serious film that's sure to enter the canon of Christmas movies for people who prefer a bit of arsenic laced into Santa's cookies.
Virginia Madsen and Patrick Warburton get top billing as bickering mom and dad Deandra and Robert, but the real star is the talented young cast. Olivia DeJonge is Ashley, a frazzled 17-year-old who's constantly fielding angry calls from her exes and parents, always at someone else's bidding. But when Deandra and Robert hand over some pizza money and leave her in charge of their baby-faced 12-year-old son Luke (Levi Miller) for the night, we finally see her getting comfortable, with a little control. But Better Watch Out soon becomes a slick home-invasion thriller that flips at the 35-minute mark into something completely unexpected, something that had me slapping myself for not having earlier seen where it was going. I'm not going to give it away, of course. Just know that the second half had my brain racing with thoughts about how we condition boys to think they are entitled to whatever they want, from the earliest of ages. Christmas has come early for horror fans.