Becky (2020)

Becky first published by Through The Trees

After a prologue – in fact a scene from the chronological end of the film – in which 13-year-old Becky Hooper (the amazing Lulu Wilson) is being interviewed by a police detective and a psychologist about an incident which she claims only partly to remember involving some men and her ‘fort’, Becky begins with two different sequences being closely intercut. There is a pile-on in a prison courtyard, ending in a racially motivated stabbing, and a fight in a school corridor, broken up by a teacher. Dominick (Kevin James, in an unusually non-comic rôle) is put in leg irons before he and other white supremacist convicts are picked up by a prison van. Becky is summoned from her class room to be picked up early, her dad Jeff (Joel McHale) asking, in language that makes his arrival sound like a prison break, “Wanna guess why I sprung you early?”. Then as we watch both Jeff’s car and the prison van drive their separate roads, the convicts execute an actual violent escape. The sequence ends with the cons, now dressed as prison guards, flagging down a family car – not Jeff’s – and doing something unseen, and unspeakable, to the family inside. We hear shortly afterwards on the news that two young children and their father, out for a drive, have been murdered in cold blood.

The parallelism of these two sequences, reinforced by match cuts and fluidly matched tracking shots, suggests a symmetry between Becky and the convicts that the rest of the film will explore at length. For we can see, from the start, that Becky is already breaking bad. Having recently lost her mother, and deeply resentful of Jeff’s new, African-American girlfriend Kayla (Amanda Brugel) and Kayla’s young son Ty (Isaiah Rockcliffe), Becky is sullen, rebellious, deceitful, rude, larcenous, bullying and prone to aggressive rages – all signs of adolescence’s onset, or perhaps of a more ingrained delinquency. When Dominick, his hulking protégé Apex (Robert Maillet), Cole (Ryan McDonald) and Hammond (James McDougall) invade Jeff’s home with extreme prejudice in search of a MacGuffin that is key to Dominick’s grand plot for a race war, they quickly, violently subdue everyone there – except Becky, who is off sulking in her fort in the woods. Once Dominick has learnt of Becky’s existence, and realised that she has what he wants, he will make the mistake of using her father as leverage in their negotiations, leading her to lash out vindictively and take on all four murderous men at their own game.

This third feature from directing team Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion (Cooties, 2014; Bushwick, 2017) plays out like a collision of the Home Alone films with  Steven C. Miller’s The Aggression Scale (2012), even as one particular bloody act of revenge from Becky is directly modelled on another from the end of I Spit on Your Grave (1978). Yet Becky comes with a double dynamic, simultaneously inviting us to share in the exultation of this pre-teen’s triumphant vengeance, while making us worry about what kind of person she is fast becoming. Dominick quickly recognises her as a kindred spirit, and is not sure whether he wants to kill her, or just to take her under his fatherly wing on her path to full-blown sociopathy. Meanwhile the child-killer Alpha, travelling in the opposite direction to Becky in his efforts to break good, tells her of her actions: “Those kind of things, they leave a stain. I got too many stains of my own. It’s not too late for you. You’re just a kid. I’m done. I don’t care what Dominick wants anymore. I’m walking away, and I hope you will too.” 

Yet there is the strong suggestion here that Becky, far from being traumatised by her deeds, is just starting to get a taste for them, and is a younger, more cunning Dominick in the making, with the key now in her hand that will open the door to even greater destruction and cruelty down the line than Dominick could ever envisage. In other words, Becky – fond of reciting the poem about the girl who “when she was good, she was very, very good, but when she was bad she was horrid” – is all at once the film’s plucky heroine, fearlessly standing up to vicious wickedness, and also its arch villainess – making Becky a thrilling if morally (as well as viscerally) messy experience for the viewer. 

Strap: This bloody clash between murderous prison escapees and a 13-year-old girl is a thrilling if morally (as well as viscerally) messy experience for the viewer. 

Anton Bitel