Thirteen can be a petulant age, but hell hath no fury like the pubescent heroine of “Becky,” who has the ill luck to confront a gang of escaped cons — though that’s definitely worse luck for them, as it turns out. Offering fairly brutal action on the verge of black comedy, this indie thriller from the directorial duo of Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott is lean, mean, nasty fun that will appeal to genre fans with hard-edged tastes. It may be less appealing to surprised fans of comedian Kevin James, who’s a long way from “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” as the sadistic chief villain here. Selected for Tribeca this year, the feature is instead going straight to digital and on demand (plus available theatrical venues) on June 5.
Her mother having died (of cancer, it’s suggested) a year ago, Lulu Wilson’s titular teen is still grieving in her particular way, which mostly means being very angry — at life in general, but also specifically at her father Jeff (Joel McHale), simply because he provides a target. When he picks her up from school, it’s for a father-daughter reparative weekend she’s clearly not going to make easy. There is good news: He has decided not to sell their lakeside vacation house. But there’s bad news too, at least as far as Becky is concerned: He has also invited new love Kayla (Amanda Brugel from “The Handmaid’s Tale”) and her little boy Ty (Isaiah Rockcliffe), whose very existence our heroine finds an intolerable affront to her mother’s memory. Over an already-uncomfortable dinner, dad announces he and Kayla plan to marry. Naturally this prompts Becky to stomp out in a huff, heading (with one of the family’s two dogs) to her old playhouse “fort” in the surrounding woods.
It is at this juncture that the doorbell sounds, rung by a purported neighbor seeking a lost pet. Unfortunately, we know Dominick (James) is in fact the ringleader of a convict quartet who’ve escaped during transport, already leaving a trail of corpses in their wake. Those in the house soon figure it out as well, at gunpoint. What the criminals want is a mysterious key that for unknown reasons has been secreted in the house’s basement — but it is no longer there. It doesn’t take long before the intruders suss that missing Becky might have the coveted item. Grievous harm will be threatened and visited upon the captives to encourage her return. But once she grasps the emergency herself, Becky proves alarmingly capable of dishing out equal punishment, or worse.
At about the film’s halfway point, she dispatches the first of the bad guys — who, in addition to swastika-tattooed Dominick, include Cole (Ryan McDonald) and Hammond (James McDougall), plus Apex (6’10” former pro wrestler Robert Maillet), a not-so-bad giant whose guilty conscience may actually make him an ally. But Becky isn’t very interested in making such distinctions. Utilizing everything from art supplies to gardening tools as lethal weapons, she cuts a gory and gleeful path through her pursuers, treating the rescue of those still held hostage as a secondary concern.
Some of this duly strains credibility. For example, it’s unclear why Becky neglects various opportunities to reach help on foot or via motorboat. But “Cooties” co-helmers Milott and Murnion maintain enough of a balance between plausibility and revenge fantasy, the sheer vigor (as well as frequent nastiness) of their approach punching things across whenever viewers’ eyes might begin to roll in disbelief.
Wilson’s nimble half-brat, half-she-devil performance is key to our buying the basic premise, aided by solid supporting cast contributions. James grows less intimidating the more dialogue he’s given in an otherwise trim script by marital duo Ruckus and Lane Skye (who together directed another siege-type thriller last year, the acclaimed if little-seen “Reckoning” aka “The Devil to Pay”) with Nick Morris. But such garrulous interludes are few, and for the most part, he cuts a creditably detestable figure in this wildly against-type role.
Shot in Canada, the U.S. production is nicely turned in all technical and design departments, with a sleek look, brisk pace and appropriate
leaps of the electronic pulse in Nima Fakhrara’s original score.
Given the release timing, there’s a special frisson to “Becky’s” hints at its perps being members of white prison crime syndicate the Aryan Brotherhood, lending a bit of the political commentary that was more overt in the directors’ sophomore feature “Bushwick.” It’s also probably just as well in current circumstances that racially-charged content remains peripheral, keeping this energetic enterprise safely in guilty-pleasure escapist terrain. There is, however, room for such avenues to be more fully explored in any potential sequel — after all, we never do find out just what deviltry that all-important key unlocks.