SXSW 2023: ‘The Wrath of Becky’ Review
Becky was a huge surprise upon its 2020 release. Coming out in an era where there was a drought of horror content – or content in general – its resourceful little girl vs. white supremacist narrative amounted to some vicious grindhouse goodness. It’s not a film one would expect to get a sequel. But at this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival, one premiered. Despite a new creative team – Matt Angel & Suzanne Coote take over as writer-directors – and a diminished scale, The Wrath of Becky brings its own brand of devious mayhem.
Years have passed since Becky (Lulu Wilson) dispatched a group of Neo-Nazis. She now lives in a semi-remote area, working a thankless job as a diner waitress and coming home to her roommate Elena (Denise Burse) and dog Diego. Wilson hasn’t missed a step since the first movie, her rage simmering just underneath a thick layer of sarcasm. She must keep it stuffed down, otherwise she’ll be thrown back into the foster system following her father’s death. Her plans come to a halt when she insults a group of customers who, unbeknownst to her, are part of another white supremacist group. What luck!
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By now, any savvy audience member should know where this is going. The white supremacists are part of an online group of would-be patriots known as the Noble Men. The hot-head Anthony (Michael Sirow), bumbling DJ (Aaron Dalla Villa), and skeptical Sean (Angel himself) are recognizable caricatures of those who go down the alt-right pipeline. Better still, all of them are much more memorable than every non-Kevin James villain from the first film. The issue here, though, is that oftentimes they are played for such doofuses that they don’t quite register as scary.
Their incompetence hardly matters when they draw first blood, killing Elena and taking Diego up to Darryl (Seann William Scott), the founder of the Noble Men. Now Darryl is a villain that’s easy to fear. Whereas Kevin James’s character in the first film was scary because of his detached conviction, Darryl is scary because of his passionate conviction. He fancies himself a born leader and is, against all odds, kind of charismatic at first glance. Yet, in each passing moment, he peels back more layers that unveil the moral rot at the center of him. Also, implications about his time in the Iraq War make you wonder when he’s going to snap.
For Becky, there’s no need to snap. She’s already in rage mode. But in The Wrath of Becky, there’s a bit more of a mischievous fun to it. Becky’s got a confidence and wherewithal she didn’t have in the last movie. That comes at the cost of diminished suspense. At the same time, it’s a boon to the movie because it allows Wilson to be a badass. Her sly smile when she finds a cache of weapons, her toying with the Noble Men, it’s great genre stuff that makes the shrunken scale not matter so much. Again, the drawbacks turn into positives – the smaller cast of baddies makes their offing that much more satisfying. An arrow through the cheek particularly will get audiences cheering.
The Wrath of Becky‘s biggest crime is that it’s a bit unambitious. The formula – Becky gets wronged, goes on a rampage against hateful villains – is something you could do a million times and I’d still watch. Furthermore, there is an attempt to build out the series mythology. The key from the first movie continues to be enigmatic, its mystery deepening. A gloriously insane ending sets up a sequel that could possibly best both of its predecessors. And why not? The Wrath of Becky proves that, even with its constraints, there are still stories to tell in what could be a new horror staple. – James Preston Poole
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