It’s easy to imagine a movie where Kevin James (Paul Blart: Mall Cop) pursues a scrappy kid through the forest, suffering a variety of violent humiliations along the way. But the pratfall-heavy Home Alone knock-off in your head probably doesn’t look much like Becky, even though that’s the basic gist: 13-year-old Becky (Lulu Wilson) defends her holiday-home turf against a team of burglars led by Dominick (James). Only the criminals here aren’t just petty thieves; they’re a gang of murderous neo-Nazis recently escaped from prison, in search of an important (for reasons never made clear) key stashed (also for reasons never made clear) in a woodsy vacation property occasionally occupied by Jeff (Joel McHale) and his daughter.
Regardless of the threat level, Becky is in no mood for any of it. One year on from the death of her mother, Jeff has brought her to their cabin to make a life-changing announcement involving his girlfriend (Amanda Brugel) and her young son Ty (Isaiah Rockliffe). On the car trip out to the woods, Becky seethes and eats shoplifted sweets with maximum hostility. In these early scenes, directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion cross-cut between two points of view with great efficiency, revealing Becky and Jeff’s frayed relationship as Dominick and his gang head towards their target, leaving bodies in their wake.
It may seem a little on-the-nose to juxtapose a prison beating with cackling classmates at Becky’s school, but the connection goes beyond school-is-prison metaphors. Becky’s adolescent rage is primed and ready to strike, so when a major threat emerges, it’s half-nightmare, half-fantasy. She may go through hell, but she finally has an outlet for all of her pain and frustration, starting with a nasty jab and only escalating from there. When she cries “go away!” from behind the door to her room in typical crabby-teenager fashion, she can finally back up her warnings with lethal force.
Considering what circumstances might function as an excuse to turn a teenager into a killing machine may be a more provocative line of thinking than this movie can handle. The characters and their accompanying motivations are ultimately a bit generic, even if Wilson makes Becky’s violent prowess surprisingly believable and James is suitably menacing (though not exactly revelatory) as the nasty bad-guy ringleader. The screenplay doesn’t pause to tell us who Becky actually is, apart from a resourceful, grieving girl thrust into a horrifying situation. The end of the movie hints at a fascinating character study that hasn’t actually occurred.
What Milott and Murnion do, though, they do quite well. This is a tense, entertaining, sometimes mordantly funny revenge picture with some of the year’s most extreme gore. It succeeds at merging catch-that-kid antics with a latter-day Rambo sequel (though it’s more well made than any Rambo movie since First Blood); not a noble goal, perhaps, but a relatively novel one. If you only see one recent Nazi-goring thriller, make it Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room. But if there’s room for two, Becky does the job.
- Directors: Jonathan Milott, Cary Murnion
- Starring: Lulu Wilson, Kevin James, Joel McHale, Amanda Brugel, Robert Maillet
- Release date: September 28