BECKY (2020) is a pretty quick and simple thriller with a promising hook: neo-Nazi escaped convicts invade a vacation home looking for a valuable item, and it’s up to a 13-year old girl to improvise enough weapons to seriously fuck them up. Gritty HOME ALONE, I guess. It somewhat delivers on the premise, mostly in the area of (as the rating says) “grisly images and strong bloody violence.”
Becky (Lulu Wilson, OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL) is an extremely pouty youngster who is not on good speaking terms with her dad (Joel McHale, DELIVER US FROM EVIL, MORTAL KOMBAT LEGENDS: SCORPION’S REVENGE) as they drive to the lakeside cabin together. We learn that she’s having trouble dealing with the death of her mother a year ago; conveniently the “nostalgically watching old home movies to mourn a deceased family member” storytelling device can now be done with handheld electronics.
Things get really awkward when dad’s new girlfriend Kayla (Amanda Brugel, JASON X) and her young son Ty (Isaiah Rockcliffe, RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE) pull up to the cabin. Becky knows who they are but refuses to welcome them, giving them strong “eat shit” vibes.
“You didn’t tell her we were coming,” Kayla says, sadly.
I found it distracting that McHale plays Dad with a friendly “she’s going through alot, we just have to be patient with her” understanding guy sort of vibe while his character is written to make almost exclusively boneheaded decisions. He allows Becky to believe for the entire drive that he’s selling the vacation home against her wishes. When they get there and he relieves her with the information that he changed his mind, she then learns that he hid that they’d be spending the vacation with his new girlfriend and her son. When that’s a complete disaster and they’re all extremely uncomfortable and unhappy at dinner because Becky won’t even acknowledge them, he and Kayla decide it’s a great time to give the “Kayla and I love each other very much and have decided to get married” talk. Even if he had made the reasonable-human-being choice to wait and see if they can warm up to each other first it should be obvious to him that it’s okay to plan to get married but hold off for a while so his daughter can heal. Jesus christ, people.
Anyway, if this is meant to be a dissection of this idiot’s uncannily terrible parenting instincts – perhaps to draw a parallel with the villain, who sees himself as a father figure to “strays” he met during his life of crime – I think it’s a little too much to get into before the thriller elements kick in.
They kick in fast, though, and with style. I like the opening match cuts showing the progress of the family’s vacation alongside that of the villain’s prison breakout. The ringleader is a dude named Dominick with a bushy beard and a giant swastika tattoo on the back of his bald head, and as you may have heard he’s played by Kevin James of television and Adam Sandler movie fame. Dominick brings with him several other convicts, most of them doofuses except for a giant with the pretty cool moniker of Apex (Robert Maillet, 300, PACIFIC RIM, BRICK MANSIONS, HERCULES, POLAR). That guy looks terrifying, has an Andre-the-Giant-like deep voice a strong screen presence – I was not surprised to learn he was a wrestler (under the HIGHLANDER-referencing name “Kurrgan.”) One of the movie’s best choices is making the coolest looking henchman the one with the most layers, as he clearly has misgivings about harming this family.
Dominick shows up at the door claiming he’s looking for a lost dog, but soon pointedly talks about purity of dog breeds as a racist comment toward Kayla and Ty, who are Black. His accomplices storm in and they take the family hostage while looking for a mysterious key they expect to be hidden in the basement. It’s not there because at some point Becky found it and has it in her treehouse, where she is currently self isolating and angrily drawing pictures of Frankenberry.
So it turns into a DIE HARD situation where she’s talking to them on a walkie-talkie and going around to different hiding places trying to figure out how to attack them or defend herself. They get some mileage out of the juxtaposition of violence and kiddy stuff – she’s got blood on her face but wears a knitted chipmunk hat that has personal meaning to her – but this little girl gets a sort of Just How Badass Is She? line when Dominick expects Kayla to be able to tell Becky what to do.
“Becky is as strong-willed and vindictive as they come,” Kayla says, “and you just killed her only living parent.”
The style of the movie drew me in, and I immediately believed that it knew what it was doing. There’s plenty of clever camera and editing gimmicks that are effective, like when Dominick threatens Becky over a walkie-talkie and it keeps whip panning between the two – we understand that Becky is in a different part of the woods, but visualizing them as right next to each other emphasizes their relative proximity and heightens the threat.
But there were enough little implausibilities early on to make me give up on it being as smart as I wanted. I guess some of this is caused by the McMuffin status of the key – we never learn what it is, but late in the movie Dominick implies that it’s not just Nazi treasure or something, it will somehow make his race war dreams come true, like maybe it’s a magic portal to Ragnarok or some bullshit. I absolutely don’t want to interpret it that way, but Dad being aware of the key and knowing it has some kind of silly super powers he can’t let fall into their hands is the only way I can figure to explain his behavior. He never says, “What key? I don’t know about any key, why would it be in my house?” And when Becky is on the walkie-talkie and seems like she might have the key he doesn’t ask her or tell her to leave it somewhere. I kept wondering why this jackass wouldn’t just give up the money or whatever.
Dominick is presented as some kind of criminal genius and master manipulator of his flock, but he sounds like such a dipshit when he adds up how many tens of thousands of hours he spent in prison thinking of “this plan and our glorious execution of it.” What, you mean the plan to kill the guards while being transported and then come to the cabin with their guns and get the key out of the basement? That took alot of finessing?
I very much enjoy that Becky (GORE SPOILER) stabs Dominick in the face with the key and that his eyeball dangles out. And I am willing to take it as characterization that his solution is to cut it off and toss it in the sink drain. (Why not garbage disposal, filmatists? Are you cowards?) I’m even willing to pretend he could just put a bandage over it and not bleed out. But the other guy without hesitation running over to help cut the optic nerve with little scissors – as if, duh, we all know that’s what you do in the ol’ dangling eyeball situation – kind of took me out of enjoying cringing at the gruesomeness. A little.
(There’s definitely some kind of Odin reference in there, but I guess I don’t give enough of a shit about that kind of thing to Wikipedia it.)
But once I accepted it was gonna be dumb, I could go with it. Stabbing a ruler all the way through a guy’s neck was the best gore effect, for the record. But she has a couple more imaginative mutilatory methods, and one very gooey kill that seems like an homage to I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE. It’s never quite believable that this tiny girl can have so much success messing up large adult men, but it’s cool that she gets thrown around like a rag doll more than once. I winced a whole bunch.
Yeah, if you’re sensitive about kids and animals getting punched hard by 6’10” pro wrestlers, approach with caution. When I saw Becky’s beloved dog Rodrigo I was absolutely sure that some nazi was gonna get torn up by dog teeth, but also concerned that the dog might not make it. (DOES THE DOG DIE SPOILER: The family has two dogs – one gets killed. Just like THE HILLS HAVE EYES.)
Wilson is one of those child actors you keep seeing in everything (Haunting of Hill House, Picard, an SNL rerun with One Direction) and know she’s probly gonna be a pretty big actor if she continues. She does good with what they give her – an action role, and having to act crazy, even a part where she sings in a very legit version of that particular lilty way that folky white girls have all decided to sing for the past 5-10 years (unless it’s dubbed, I don’t know). But they should’ve given her more than a minute or two where she got to be happy about something, or at least not upset.
It is pretty cool to see James doing a serious villain role, and I think he does pretty good, but I wouldn’t say it’s the knockout performance you hope for in a comedic-actor-hungry-to-prove-his-dramatic-chops type role. He’s one of those villains who’s often trying to play the part of the reasonable guy with his victims, and that should either be his way of taking his menacing to another fucked up psychological level, or it should be him really trying to convince them but we sense the true evil behind the facade and it creeps us the fuck out. But honestly what it made me feel sometimes was that James must be a pretty cool guy in real life because he doesn’t have it in him to seem truly evil unless he’s spouting really degrading dialogue.
Oddly, Simon Pegg had the role before James, until he had to leave over a scheduling conflict. I bet he would’ve been good. Not that he’s not a cool guy too. I just think he could be scary.
The possible magic white supremacy powers or whatever of the key make for a (SPOILER) unsettling ending. Becky still won’t give Kayla and Ty the time of day even after they’ve been through this, and the movie ends with her lovingly clutching the key. I know you’ve been through alot of trauma, Becky, but don’t do any magic race war shit. You killed Nazis. We believed in you.
It’s kind of funny because earlier in the movie I was thinking that its style and violence reminded me of Cinestate movies and gee I wonder why they wouldn’t have made this one, it seems right up their alley except for the Nazis being the bad guys. But actually having an ending that leaves you hoping you’re reading too much into its racial politics is pretty damn Cinestate. So it must not have been offered to them.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, she definitely makes outstanding achievements in the field of gruesomely murdering a white supremacist and his prison adoptees using only items found in the treehouse and the shed. My hat is off to her. But especially in this day and age I would prefer the feel good ending of the interracial family triumphing over the forces of white supremacy, not just (SPOILER) a white girl and her dad’s Black loved ones who she doesn’t like surviving as separate entities. I guess one reason for my expectations is that directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion previously directed the interesting one-take-style Dave Bautista movie BUSHWICK (which they co-wrote with the great Nick Damici of MULBERRY ST/STAKE LAND/WE ARE WHAT WE ARE/COLD IN JULY fame). That one was accidentally timely for the Trump era – maybe even moreso now – because it has to do with guerrilla attacks in the U.S. designed to start a new civil war. And the seditionists assume that the racial integration of urban areas will make them easy targets, when in fact the opposite turns out to be true.
(BUSHWICK SPOILER: Then again, it has a bummer of an ending! Maybe I should be happy she at least doesn’t die in this one.)
BECKY was written by Nick Morris and Ruckus & Lane Skye. The latter two are a husband and wife team who wrote and directed another recent movie called THE DEVIL TO PAY that looks interesting. I somewhat recommend BECKY as a lowbrow thriller, if you have low expectations.