Still healing from the death of her mother, Becky (Lulu Wilson), an unusually sullen teenager, prepares to spend a weekend at the family lake house with her father Jeff (Joel McHale) and two dogs, Diego and Dora. Jeff has plans of his own; he’s ready to introduce Becky to his new fiancé Kayla (Amanda Brugel) and her son Ty (Isaiah Rockcliffe). Surprising everyone, a Neo-Nazi gang led by Dominick (Kevin James) invades the home and terrorizes the family looking for a special key.
But with all their careful plans, Dominick and his thugs didn’t count on a girl like Becky. “Becky! You’re clearly a special girl,” Dominick proclaims in the movie trailer. Armed with an array of tools pillaged from her childhood fort (colored pencils, a ruler, tripwire, and wood scraps all make an appearance), Becky doesn’t plan to surrender so easily. When her father is harmed, the story takes a shocking and bloody turn. Becky, directed by Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott (Bushwick) seamlessly blends tropes that may remind viewers of family-friendly classics such as Peter Pan, Lord of the Flies, and Home Alone, into one bone-crunching, blood-spattered brouhaha in which gorehounds will find much to enjoy. The overall impact falters, though, due to some unmet expectations involving the rules of the story. Let me explain.
The home invasion film has a long and interesting history. In 1909, iconic film director D.W. Griffith created The Lonely Villa, a short eight-minute film in which criminals break into a house occupied by a woman and her three children while the husband is away. Women and children are portrayed as helpless with the men acting as brave rescuers, and law and order saves the day. The home invasion film continued in this tradition until Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring (1960), which changed the game by combining the home invasion story with a “tables have turned” theme. After his daughter is raped and murdered, Tore (one of Max von Sydow’s very memorable roles), exacts revenge by brutally killing the three people responsible for her death. It’s a lone man, not the law, who enforces holy justice.
More movies pairing these two themes include Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy (2018), Martin Scorcese’s Cape Fear (1991), Terence Young’s Wait Until Dark (1967), Meir Zarchi’s I Spit on Your Grave (1978), and Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left (1972). These last three are notable for featuring women as the exacters of revenge, rather than playing the role of hapless victim. In these more contemporary home invasion stories, the world is painted as devoid of safety. Law enforcement is painted as either inept or even part of the evil. Sometimes the person exacting the revenge is also the main victim (I Spit on Your Grave), and sometimes the exacter of revenge is not the initial victim (The Virgin Spring), but their connection to the victim is so great, they must avenge the crime.
Here are the rules of the home invasion/tables have turned story:
- The victim of the crime must be sympathetic and appear vulnerable.
- The crime perpetrated must be ghastly and shock the viewer.
- After the crime, the exacter of revenge must overcome initial grief, fear, doubt, or insecurity.
- After a moment of decision, the exacter of revenge arms themselves for battle.
- The revenge is bloody and inhumane. In other words, the punishment fits the crime.
Becky checks all these boxes, safe for the first one, which in many ways is the most important. Becky never appears as a victim. In fact, early scenes of the movie align Becky as a parallel version of Dominick. Alternating shots depict Becky at school and Dominick in prison watching fights, walking from one place to another, being transported in a vehicle, and watching others with an air of judgment. Becky’s an outsider but she’s no victim. She’s in control of every situation. In fact, we see her carrying out crimes of her own on the trip to the lake house.
When the men break into the lake house and terrorize the family, Becky’s throwing a temper tantrum in her fort, while Jeff, Kayla, and Ty are being interrogated. And while repeated flashbacks telegraph how much she misses her mother, Becky never appears vulnerable. Viewers will certainly feel fear for Jeff, Kayla, and even Diego and Dora, but never Becky. It’s unclear if she feels any connection to her father, and she certainly has no affiliation with Kayla, so it’s hard for viewers to align themselves with Becky.
That being said, Lulu Wilson (Ouija: Origins of Evil) certainly gives an enthusiastic and notable performance as Becky. Donned with a knitted animal hat, pink-tinted sunglasses, blue highlights, cargo boots with different-colored laces, and wide-legged cutoff jeans, Becky dresses like a contemporary version of a Lost Boy (Peter Pan). Along with her striking fashion flair, Wilson comes equipped with a scream, a condescending smirk, and a glare that can compete with the best.
In addition to Wilson’s performance, the techniques used to frame shots of Becky are used to great effect, depicting her isolation in a way that viewers will feel subconsciously. During the drive to the lake house, the camera alternates between showing Becky and Jeff, but never in the same frame. When they arrive at the house, Kayla and Ty pull up in a separate car. Jeff joins them, and the camera shows the group of three in the foreground with Becky set apart. This same view is used at dinnertime. As the movie progresses, Becky receives plenty of screentime alone, but whenever she shares the screen with another character, there’s always a line of separation shown by the camera framing.
Going toe-to-toe with Lulu Wilson is Kevin James as Dominick. Anyone who has seen James “makin’ the pizza” in Hitch or performing in his many comedic roles (Paul Blart: Mall Cop anyone?) will do a double take at James’s interpretation of a Neo-Nazi criminal mastermind. James certainly possesses the brawn to look menacing. Dominick’s clean-shaven head sports a swastika, and a full beard covers the face we normally associate with light-hearted humor. While his transformation is remarkable and will certainly get viewers talking, the overall affect misses the mark. James never reaches the level of scary. Nothing he says or does (other than being Kevin James in a very different role) diverts from stereotypical behavior and diatribes we might expect from a Neo-Nazi fascist. In contrast, the other members of the criminal gang show more complexity and nuance, which makes them more believable. Still, watching his performance was rewarding and fun.
Viewers looking for gore and vengeance will find plenty of enjoy. Becky exacts revenge that is prolonged, imaginative, wet, and messy. Often, it’s the creativity used that makes a “revenge death” rewarding, and viewers won’t be bored.
One more troubling issue remains. Dominick and the gang come to the house looking for a key with a special symbol on it. The key does turn up during the story, but it’s never clear what Dominick planned to do with the key, which is frustrating. A quick internet search reveals the symbol on the key as a valknut, or ancient Norse symbol. While uses vary, it’s often used by Neo-Nazis as a sign that they are willing to give up their lives in battle. Questions are inevitable: Why was this key at the family lake house? How did Dominick know they key was at the house? Could someone in the family have a past connection to Dominick? And the final reveal about the key’s location may cause unease and prompt more lingering questions than expected from a simple home invasion story.
Becky diverts from the contemporary home invasion/tables have turned story mashup. In the past, these stories depicted vulnerable characters getting revenge on perpetrators of trauma and unspeakable evil. In contrast, Becky portrays a young person who has lost all trust in humanity long before this band of criminals entered the property. From the beginning, she wants to punish everyone for the world she is forced to endure since the death of her mother. Even her relationship with her father is strained. Becky is alone when the movie starts. For Becky, Dominick and his band of thugs are just one more proof that people suck, and her actions show that no one is exempt from judgment, even when they help her.
All that being said, it’s possible to enjoy Becky at the basic level. Viewers looking for some blood, guts, kids-gone-wild type action will approve.
Becky‘s world premiere is taking place during the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival.
In select theaters, drive-ins, on VOD, and digital June 5th, 2020.
Final Score: 3 out of 5.