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Becky Hooper (Lulu Wilson) is a troubled teen who is still dealing with the death of her mother. Her father Jeff (Joel McHale) takes her up to the family cabin, but, unfortunately, surprises her with having his new girlfriend Kayla (Amanda Brugel) join them, along with her young son Ty (Isaiah Rockcliffe). Add to that, Jeff announces he and Kayla are to be married. If that’s not bad enough, escaped convict Dominick (Kevin James) and his three accomplices Apex (Jonathan Milott), Cole (Ryan McDonald) and Hammond (James McDougall) invade the rural home in search of something hidden there. Becky’s inner rage now comes to a boil and Dominick may get more than he bargained for.
On the surface, that may sound like the plot of a Disney Channel movie, but in the hands of co-director’s Cary Murnion (Cooties) and star Jonathan Milott, this is an intense and sometimes vicious survival thriller. What helps suspend disbelief that a thirteen year-old girl could successfully take on four hardened criminals is the skillful establishing of Becky as a young teen with a lot of rage. The film takes just enough time to give us a good glimpse back at her last days with her mom and the subsequent anger at her death, followed by the anger at her father for wanting to move on. Thus we understand her pain when the story kicks into gear. When these white supremacist convicts burst in and start to hurt the only people and things…like her dad and their dogs…that she still loves, you can believe her anger gets a chance to be vented on the four invaders. The script by Nick Morris, Ruckus Skye and Lane Skye uses the McGuffin of a key hidden in the house, which Becky has long since discovered, to keep the thugs at the cabin and needing Becky to be found. The traditional Die Hard elements are here, with Becky and Dominick trading barbs over walkie talkies and the criminals threatening/tormenting the people in the house to try to bring her out…big mistake. What really makes this work is the vicious and extremely violent ways young Becky goes at her adversaries and the impact it has on her as well. It all leads to a really blood-spattered and suspenseful last act and a bit of a WTF ending. It’s not WTF because you don’t understand what’s happened, it’s because you do! The skillful direction and the film effectively portraying what Becky has gone through, make the changes in her not unexpected, though no less startling. A Disney Channel movie this is not.
We have a good cast. Fifteen year-old Lulu Wilson (The Haunting of Hill House) is a powerhouse as Becky. She expertly conveys a young woman already bubbling over with rage and frustration and then is pushed over the edge. She’s very convincing in the action sequences and believable that she has been driven to the point of really wanting to hurt these guys…bad! Big surprise is comedian Kevin James really making a solid bad guy as gang leader Dominick. He’s nasty, violent, but by no means stupid. He’s vicious and we believe he will do anything…and to anyone…to get that key. The two actors make very convincing adversaries. Joel McHale (Community) is good as Becky’s dad. He portrays a man who cares about his daughter and is a little frustrated with her current state of behavior. He just wants what’s best and the actor conveys that. Amanda Brugel and Isaiah Rockcliffe are good as Kayla and her son Ty. Brugel gets to show some strength, when left alone with the convicts and she plays it convincingly. As the remaining criminals, co-director Jonathan Milott (formerly WWE Superstar Kurgan) has the biggest role as a giant of a man who may still have a bit of a conscience. There are some developments with his character that at first seem to lead to an easy way out for his eventual confrontation with the petite Becky, but it only leads to something more shocking later on. Rounding out is solid work by McDonald and McDougall, whose characters are a bit less intense, but not comic relief by any means.
This is a very surprising and entertaining movie despite some familiar plot elements and a base story that sounds like it could have been something geared more for teens or kids. It’s intense and sometimes extremely vicious in it’s violence, especially effective as some of the worst of it is authored by a thirteen year-old girl. The filmmakers make it work, by successfully convincing us that this little girl is filled with a lot of frustration and rage and these four are the perfect opportunity to let it explode out. They also don’t let us forget that there is a price to pay for crossing lines, even in self defense, and leaves us a bit startled and unsettled when we see the results of it. A really good survival thriller that takes a familiar premise and a dynamite young actress and just runs with them. Another example of talented filmmakers taking routine elements and making them feel fresh and putting them to good use. Also worth mentioning is a cool electronic score by Nima Fakhrara and some nice cinematography from Greta Zozula.
Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) wooden rulers.
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