Well, here I am about a week away from Christmas and I find myself watching even more holiday themed horror flicks. I posted about Red Christmas and A Christmas Horror Story last week and have been going through plenty of others since then.
I’m a big fan of Silent Night, Bloody Night, but for some reason that movie doesn’t work its way into my brain very well and I can never remember it. I also watched Black Christmas which completely failed to grab my attention. I was distracted, so maybe I’ll come back to that one again next year.
From there I dipped back in to favorites like Gremlins and Rare Exports and now I’m looking at a few other new ones. As an unexpected and early Christmas gift, Netflix double shipped me two films this week: Better Watch Out and Dick Maas’s Sint, two films that held plenty of surprises.
Directed by Chris Peckover from a script he co-wrote with Zack Kahn, Better Watch Out sets you up for one story that it tells very well and then switches up the game on you about 20-30 minutes in. Full of effective twists, this film’s terrifying, not so much in a jump scare kind of way, but because of what it says about unexpected evil hiding right under our noses and the most toxic of masculinity. And that’s about all I can say without spoiling it, so you might want to just skip to the next film if you don’t want to know what happens (I went in blind to this one and highly recommend it).
So, here’s the deal. Levi Miller plays a kid named Luke whose parents — Patrick Warburton and Virginia Madsen — have hired Ashley (Olivia DeJonge) to babysit while they go away for the night. He wants to be with her even though she’s very clear about not reciprocating those feelings. Before long, Ashley, Luke and his friend Garret (Ed Oxenbould) find themselves running from people trying to break into the house.
But that all turns out to be a ruse set up by Luke and Garret to get Ashley scared so she’d fall into her charge’s arms. Upon figuring this all out, she explains how stupid the plan was and Luke flips the script by knocking her down the stairs! At that point we come to realize exactly how crazy Luke really is and the extent to which he’ll go to make Ashley his. In a lot of ways, it’s a nice counterpart to McG’s The Babysitter.
With all do respect to Kahn and Peckover, this movie fully hinges on Levi Miller’s performance as Luke and he is amazing in it. He perfectly nails the calm creepiness of a Norman Bates type, but never fully loses his 12-year-old nature. He goes from threatening to kill people to getting overly excited about stupid things and his voice cracks when he’s upset. Even though he’s a stone-cold psycho, he’s still a kid version of that archetype who’s as informed by his own insanity as the world he can read about online.
All the while, he also conveys the problem of toxic masculinity. I was surprised when the film kicked off by revolving around a pre-teen obsessed with having sex with his babysitter, but then it just gets worse and worse. He needs to have power and will do anything to control this woman who has become an object of his obsession. We don’t see too much of his home life, but do know that his mom attacks his father by using homophobic insults. I’m far from an expert in analyzing all of this, but I do think that early scene is there to partially inform at least a portion of Luke’s mental state.
I give this film huge kudos for being more than I expected (and honestly, more than it was advertised as). Miller’s stellar, but the rest of the cast brought their A game as well. Sure, some scenes felt maybe a little too much — like Luke’s little dance number towards the end — and there’s no real reason for it to be set at Christmas, but overall I give this one a very enthusiastic thumb’s up and recommend you check it out.
After that I watched the 2010 Dick Maas splatterfest Sint, called Saint Nick here. In this one, the title character’s actually this mythical figure who appears any time there’s a full moon on December 5th to, well, kill a bunch of people. Here‘s more on the Sinterklaas story if you’re curious.
I first heard about this one — and Dick Maas in general — on a recent episode of the Shock Waves podcast, so this was nice timing. I haven’t seen his other films, but this one definitely seems representative of his bonkers filmmaking style.
Here’s what I’m talking about. This movie opens with the murder of the corrupt bishop Nikolas in 1492, then the killing of a family in 1968 and then jumping to modern times where a bunch of college students are doing Secret Santa during a class where half of the boxes contain sex toys. From there you get a cop shooting a present on his desk, undead axe-wielding Black Pete minions and the angriest take on Santa this side of A Christmas Story.
The story itself unfolds as some of the kids from that college scene, the cops and a few others come to realize that a murderous Saint Nick is on the loose. So, here’s the thing about the Dutch Saint Nicholas mythology. First off, he awards good kids, but also has bad kids dragged off to Spain with the help of Black Peter who is often depicted by white people in blackface. That plays into part of the plot early on, so keep that in mind. I read a bit about the history of this character on Wiki and understand it’s a cultural thing, but it still felt cringey and bad to me.
If you can put that aside, though, you’re in for a real bonkers treat with Sint. As I mentioned, this version of Sinterklaas has not problem murdering people in a variety of crazy ways and posing them in optimal positions, Michael Myers-style. The cast is relatively compelling, though the folks who did some of the VO dubbing didn’t seem to take it too seriously. For the most part, the film feels big and well-built, though you can definitely see the wires, so to speak, in some of the FX scenes, like when our title villain rides his house on the rooftops.
I’m happy to have watched this film that clearly has nice horror ties to the holiday season. The plot boils down to “can we make them believe the threat is supernatural or do we stop it ourselves” which we’ve all seen a lot of times, but it scores in the gore department and offers a lot of bloody good fun.