On the surface, the big draw behind the strikingly gory thriller Becky is seeing Kevin James break from his usual role as a comedian. For the first time, James is taking on a purely dramatic role, as the villain of Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion’s horror movie. His character, Dominick, is no retread of Mall Cop Paul Blart — Dominic is a neo-Nazi who kills adults and children without remorse. Even James’ biggest fans may wonder whether he can pull off a dramatic performance. It turns out he can, but for better or worse, Becky isn’t a Kevin James movie. He’s just a part of the machine. Luckily, Becky is well-oiled, and mostly succeeds in making its mark as a thriller.
Lulu Wilson stars as Becky, a young girl who becomes the sole line of defense between her family and a group of escaped neo-Nazi convicts from a local prison. She’s been repressing her emotions about her mother’s death a year ago, a task made more difficult when her father (Joel McHale) decides to invite his soon-to-be fiancée Kayla (Amanda Brugel) and her son Ty (Isaiah Rockcliffe) on their trip to the family lake house without telling Becky. Luckily, those boiling emotions find an outlet in making the Nazis’ lives as difficult as possible, à la Kevin McCallister foiling would-be burglars in Home Alone.
Dominick and his crew have targeted Becky and her family because there’s a mysterious key somewhere around the lake house. It’s never clear what the key unlocks, and there’s no last-minute twist revealing its purpose. The most Dominick ever says is that the key will restore order in the universe. He claims each race has a cosmically designated place in the world, and that what the key unlocks will put them there. As important and unlikely as that seems, the key is both a red herring and a McGuffin; it’s a jumping-off point, but nothing more. The lack of resolution or explanation is frustrating, but it puts more emphasis on the slick, gory action, as well as a satisfying lack of pity for the Nazis.
Though James is the bigger name, one of the more interesting performances in the film comes from Robert Maillet, a former professional wrestler best known for playing giants (the Über-Immortal in 300, Lt. Aleksei Kaidonovsky in Pacific Rim). His character, Apex, is the only one of the escaped convicts who has any qualms about the killing they’re doing. But Milott and Murnion never back down on portraying him as a villain. He’s a Nazi, and that’s the end of the story. The film’s perspective is that one good deed doesn’t make up for a lifetime of bad ones, especially for someone who isn’t consistent about changing his behavior. It’s a refreshingly clear stance to take.
For his part, James is genuinely menacing — there isn’t a glimmer of humor to Dominick — but Becky doesn’t give him enough to do to make this a true dramatic showcase. Dominick is mostly one-dimensional, glowering at everyone around him and serving as fodder for Becky’s untapped rage, which should be explosive enough to satisfy anyone watching solely for the gore.
Becky’s fight against the Nazis invading her family’s home gets very bloody very quickly. Dominick’s initial tactic of torturing Becky’s father with a campfire skewer soon seems like child’s play as fake blood and guts go flying everywhere, thanks to Becky’s improvised weapons. (Warning to the squeamish: the worst scene involves an exposed ocular nerve.) Milott and Murnion shoot it all nimbly, using shifting focuses, roving shots, and reflections to ramp up tension, and making their distinct touch known from the start by cross-cutting so smoothly between Becky and her father’s road trip to the house and the convicts’ eventual escape that it dispels any sense of ease or knowing what’s coming next.
Wilson’s skill at shifting between bloodlust and shock helps carry most of the film, which, like the McGuffin it’s built around, doesn’t go much deeper than the carnage immediately on screen. Some heavy-handed dialogue toward the end of the film tries to address the trauma Becky must be going through as she becomes a killer, but the ordeal is otherwise conveyed entirely through Wilson’s expressions. But even Wilson has trouble making the clunky script sing. When Becky declares that she can be nice or “really horrid,” it feels accurate to what an actual young person might think would be a cool line, but to an adult’s ears, it sounds silly.
Ultimately, however, Becky is a solid thriller that covers up its flaws with bloody action. It’s a lean, smartly shot horror-thriller, and though most of the characters are thin, the performances lend them more depth. And while it may not be the dramatic breakthrough Kevin James needs to change public perception of his acting capabilities, it’s a start. He’s proven that he can make a compelling villain. Given a little more room, he would make a good dramatic leading man.
Becky is now available on VOD and at drive-in theaters.
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