Jonathan Milott, Cary Murnion/ USA/ 2020/ 93 mins

If you felt Hit Girl in Kick-Ass was a little PG-13, then Becky might be the inappropriately tooled-up girl for you. A young girl with some serious rage issues, Becky (Lulu Wilson) gets the chance to vent her fury on a motley troupe of escaped Neo-Nazi convicts. Directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion are no strangers to subverting the alleged innocence of youth, having previously given us a horde of zombie schoolkids in CootiesWe’re now rooting for the murderous teen however, as the filmmaking duo leave us in no doubt that there are not ‘fine people on both sides’. They also up the interest by stunt-casting cuddly Mall Cop Kevin James against type as the hulking antagonist. It’s blunt, brutal and a gory good time, but does take itself too seriously.

Becky is already having a bad time of things by the time James’ Dominick and his cohorts stage a home invasion at the lake house getaway owned by her father Jeff (Joel McHale). She is still trying to deal with her mother’s death from cancer. It’s not clear how long it has been, but it’s certainly not long enough for Becky to be reconciled to the fact that Jeff has a new girlfriend Kayla (Amanda Brugel). She is even more upset that Kayla and her son Ty (Isaiah Rockcliffe) have been invited along for the weekend. Furious, she stomps off into the woods, ensuring her absence from the house when Dominick and chums show up. They are looking for a mysterious key. A key that Becky just happens to have in her possession.

The film instantly sets Becky and Dominick up as the principal antagonists, cutting neatly between Becky brawling at school and Dominick’s involvement in a prison yard shivving. Just to make it clear that Dominick is a very bad man, he has not only a swastika, but the SS sig rune and an Iron Cross inked on his bald head. In case there was any doubt about his affiliations. James is intriguing in his first dramatic role. Dominick’s a man of violence, but he is principally a manipulator. Intelligent and softly-spoken when he wants to be, he is the kind that attracts weak souls and gets them to carry out his dirty work. It isn’t a hugely complex role but more than enough to make you wonder what someone like S. Craig Zahler could do with the King of Queens.

Lulu Wilson as Becky is a worthy foe and a worryingly competent and resourceful killer. Think Arya Stark without the training and in a woolly fox hat and you’re there. Pencils, rulers, nails, outboard motors and the key itself are all utilised to grizzly effect. The violence is brilliantly staged and inventively nasty, but fails to indulge the inherently ridiculous premise of a 13-year-old girl taking down a group of vicious killers Rambo-style. A henchman failing to snip through the optic nerve of an eye mangled by an adolescent assault because he’s using a child’s scissors should be blackly hilarious. It’s clear Milott and Murnion want us to reckon with Becky’s nature – is she doing what she has to do to survive, or is she an ingrained psychopath? – but her actions tip the scales heavily toward one conclusion. Therefore, a lighter tone would have been welcome.

The directors also miss the opportunity to add some depth to the film beyond the surface levels. Apart from some basic eugenic monologues from Dominick, the Neo-Nazis in Becky are used as shorthand for pure evil. Dominick does allude once to taking lost and confused men into the fold, but little comes of it. Compare this with Patrick Stewart‘s gang in Green Room, which draws parallels between the Neo-Nazis and the protagonists’ hardcore punk band as two very different routes toward the formation surrogate families. You also get the impression that the filmmakers almost want to make something of Becky’s perspective in which Kayla and Ty are just as much home invaders as Dominick’s mob – the house is framed in flashback as very much a Proustian space of treasured maternal memory – but then shrug and hurtle off towards the next set piece. Again, this may be asking for extra thematic weight in what is essentially an update of the golden age of grindhouse, but it nevertheless feels like a missed opportunity.

Nevertheless, Becky impresses in terms of its commitment to carnage, and the feral ferocity of Lulu Wilson’s worryingly convincing performance. Perhaps it will also mark something of a Vince Vaughn-type reappraisal for Kevin James. Dominick as a character isn’t the most complex, but has a rough, growling charisma that the actor adopts like a favourite suit. Becky also indicates there is more to come from Milott and Murnion as filmmakers. There may be a frustrating sense of unfulfilled potential in the film’s execution, but every sign that they’re capable of something great.

Available on demand from Mon 28 Sep 2020