This new horror, or perhaps horror-comedy [originally titled Safe Neighborhood] from director Chris Peckover definitely has its moments and should please those that seek it out. It was shot in a studio in Sydney and uses rising Aussie talent among its cast. However, the film is nominally set in some generic American suburb where solid white-windowed houses hide their terrible events behind well-tended gardens. It is also set at Christmas time which is by now a well-worn horror trope so that the filmmakers can use the contrast between sweetness and false jollity and the gory mayhem.
A suburban couple, parents Deandra and Robert (Virginia Madsen and Patrick Warburton) leave their precocious young teen son Luke (Levi Miller) and his friend Garrett (Ed Oxenbould) for the night. Luke has designs on the comely babysitter Ashley (Olivia DeJonge), and he persuades the more reluctant Garrett that he has a chance of seducing her. This being a horror film, they get in the essential self-referential element by making them watch a horror film on the sofa. Luke hopes this will scare Ashley into his arms. However, Luke hasn’t planned on Ashley inviting her current boyfriend Ricky over for nookie while the ‘kids’ are asleep.
The film played to delighted squeals at the Sydney Film Festival earlier in the year and the curator of the season described it as Home Alone meets Funny Games. Without veering towards spoiler territory, this is a fairly neat encapsulation, although the film is not in the same league as either reference point. It’s good to see Ed Oxenbould (Paper Planes, The Visit) progressing on the tricky passage from cute blond child actor to more meaty roles but one wouldn’t want him to stray too far into horror and get trapped there. Miller as Luke is rather good too. He looks like a younger version of Dane Dehaan, and he handles the character switch that the film requires (but which horror fans will decry) with aplomb.
Horror watchers can be nerdy and they are a notoriously picky bunch who will savage the slightest false step in their beloved canon of genre rules. However, if you don’t go there so much as a purist but rather as someone who enjoys a good jolt and moderate comedy-gore, this is well worth catching.