Film

Review: Plenty of Gore, But Becky Misses the Mark with Thin Characters and Loose Ends

If it weren’t so cartoonishly violent, you might almost be able to take a thriller with the unlikely name of Becky seriously. Of course, the fact that nearly all of the most graphic brutality is perpetrated by a girl in her early teens (I don’t think the title character’s age is mentioned, but young actress Lulu Wilson is 14 years old) makes this entire film a little difficult to take seriously. Do I believe co-directors Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott (Bushwick, Cooties) want us to take Becky seriously? Boy, I hope so because nothing could make it any funnier if they were.

Becky

Image courtesy of Quiver Distribution

There are a couple of films I’ve seen during this pandemic that I wish I could have seen on the big screen because of their cinematic visuals, but Becky is a movie I wish I could have seen with a responsive crowd; I imagine this one would have elicited a great deal of reaction. Becky is a bit rebellious for her age. She seems both close to her father Jeff (Joel McHale) but also constantly angry with him, like he never stops disappointing her. Her mother died a while ago, but recently enough that the divide between father and daughter still hasn’t totally healed. He steals her from school with a surprise trip to the family lake house, but she’s immediately horrified when dad’s not-so-new girlfriend Kayla (Amanda Brugel, The Handmaid’s Tale) arrives with her young son to stay with them. Jeff was hoping this time together would help them all bond, and naturally Becky is too moody and stubborn to even give Kayla a chance.

The set up of Becky features a second storyline concerning imprisoned white supremacist Dominick (a bald and fully bearded Kevin James) and a handful of his cohorts escaping from a prison transport bus and heading directly for the aforementioned lake house in search of something very valuable to Dominick. The only member of his crew worth mentioning is the deep-voiced Apex (Robert Maillet, Pacific Rim, The Strain), who doesn’t like the idea of possibly killing kids (something that is implied happening on the road to the cabin), and clandestinely attempts to help these people escape while Dominick is invading their house looking for his lost object, which it just so happen Becky has—an oversized, ornate key.

How Dominick managed to hide the key in this particular house is never explained. But perhaps more interesting is that nothing about the key is explained. What does it open? Why is it so important to Dominick? Why should any of us care? There’s a subversive part of me that admires the filmmakers for denying us that information; we keep assuming the secret of the key is coming, but it never arrives. It’s almost ingenious, and if it felt like there was a purpose to keeping the film’s one secret a secret, I might have liked this movie a bit more. But it ends up being one of the film’s many loose strings—so many, in fact, I almost feel like we should expect a sequel to wrap things up and explain the key. And in the end, the mystery of the key feels more like a gimmick than a clever plot device.

We spend the first half of the film feeling Becky’s pain as she navigates her uneasy life with dad, and the second half of the film either marveling or being utterly shocked at how vicious and resourceful she is with four violent criminals after her. She rigs up murder traps so quickly that Becky becomes the bloodiest Home Alone ripoff in existence. Wilson’s self-aware performance is a riot, even if it wanders into parody with her delivering action-movie catch phrases like “I don’t want to hurt you; I want to kill you” with a bit too much gusto. Still, she is the film’s great unknown, and wondering what her next move will be is the film’s greatest asset.

James has attempted semi-dramatic work before but nothing to this degree. And while the idea of watching a movie with a white supremacist as the bad guy may not seem that original (we can turn on the TV every day and see those now), his stone-cold conviction to his ideology is just believable enough to keep him from being the reason the film doesn’t entirely work. Thankfully, his rhetoric is largely kept out of the film. When we first meet Kayla and discover she’s African-American, my heart sank because I wasn’t looking forward to the obligatory scene where Dominick would use some slur aimed at her. Blessedly, we are spared that.

When I reference the films excessive violence, I’m not overstating the severity of it. I don’t tend to get squeamish when the blood and guts start spilling, but even I was startled by some of what’s here, especially a sequence in which Becky attacks Dominick with the very key he’s searching for. Becky seems less about pure thrills and more suited to a horror crowd that might be more used to such levels of gore. The movie is an enjoyable enough distraction if you enjoy a few shocks along the way, but with its dangling plot points and thinly drawn characters, there’s not a lot to recommend to those with more refined tastes.

The film is now available On Demand and via most digital platforms.

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