Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Rated R, 100 minutes
One hopes that a movie featuring a pissed-off teenage girl defending her home and family from a bunch of neo-Nazi convicts would be a bit more delirious, unhinged and outrageous than what’s actually offered with BECKY. Directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion’s action thriller is vaguely reminiscent of DIE HARD and HOME ALONE (granted a blood-soaked, R-rated version), but it’s largely too straight-faced for its own good. A mixed bag of goodies (and baddies) awaits.
Surly 13-year-old Becky Hooper (Lulu Wilson) is going through a rough time. Not only is she going through the typical hormonal surges that accompany being a teen, but she’s also grieving the recent death of her mom. At school, she’s a bullied outcast. Hoping to reconnect, her dad (Joel McHale) brings her and the family dog Dora (ruh-roh) to their family’s lakeside home. He also invites his new lady love Kayla (Amanda Brugel) and her young son Ty (Isaiah Rockcliffe), making it super awkward for Becky. Even worse, they announce their engagement, sending Becky fleeing into the surrounding remote wilderness.
Meanwhile, in what seems like another world, convicted neo-Nazi Dominick (Kevin James, in his first big dramatic role) and his fellow inmates Apex (Robert Maillet, a hulking Dylan McDermott doppelgänger), Cole (Ryan McDonald) and Hammond (James McDougall) have escaped from jail. As a killing and torture spree begins, their mission becomes clearer. They’re looking for a key (why it would be hidden in the Hooper home provides the mystery element). It’s up to Becky to rescue her family from these murderous maniacs – and they don’t know the demon they’re up against.
Milott and Murnion, along with screenwriters Nick Morris, Ruckus and Lane Skye, don’t exactly reinvent the wheel with the home invasion formula, except for the fact it’s a youngster using her wit and wisdom to rescue her family and fight back. While grown men stalking and beating up a girl might be seen by some as gruesome, others will roll their eyes, or even cringe, at the filmmakers’ deliberate provocation. The themes cleverly contrast complacency (as represented by Becky’s dad) with rebellion (as reflected by Becky). Apex suffers an existential crisis, which adds meat to the bone. The filmmakers play around with audience loyalty during one pivotal scene involving him and Becky’s other dog, Diego.
Costume is also crucial in the case of our heroine. Once Becky rises to the challenge, she sports a knit fox hat. This character-motivated wardrobe choice adds a nice juxtaposition, a visual representation of her bygone adolescence clashing with a jarring adult reality. The film’s also got a good energy and aesthetic. Becky’s booby trap set-up sequence is exciting, albeit fleeting. It’s deliciously cathartic when she finally explodes on the villains, exorcising her pent-up rage.
The picture’s pacing is snappy, keeping the narrative momentum going. The opening montage cross-cuts between Becky’s brutal existence at school and Dominick’s prison yard life. It’s odd they’re equating the plight of a teenage girl with that of a Neo-Nazi, but please go on. As the antagonist and protagonist chat on walkie-talkies, the camera pans left and right across the screen, hiding the cuts, as if to once again draw a parallel between the two. The big moral question it ends on is about as deep as a puddle. It’s meant for the audience to question who the real monster is – someone who covertly hides behind a facade, or the person who’s overt about their ugliness.
Nima Fakhrara’s score is ominous and aggressively confrontational. Heavy breathing and loud percussive drums tap into Becky’s hellraising internal drive. Other times, its synth distortion overtakes the scenes. Yet it all works to coax out the inherent, underlying tension.
Wilson gives a strong performance with the lean material. She embraces Becky’s bad side with the precise amount of vim and vigor to make things fun. The rest of the main cast, however, tend to be an issue. James as a demented, manipulative convict isn’t particularly intimidating, nor convincing. McHale cast as a hapless victim also doesn’t add gravitas. Maybe it’s because both actors are too closely associated with their onscreen personas (James as a loveable goof, McHale as a snarky jerk). The material for their maturation as actors isn’t exactly there either. At least their miscasting adds a small dash of bonkers to the proceedings.
BECKY will be in drive-ins, and also available on demand and digital on June 5.