Christmas. Thrillers. Dark comedy. Teenagers. Blood Any assembly of those words, in any order together, are a recipe for success. They’re also surefire words that may get make the average film goer run for the hills. In terms of the excellent and hilarious How To Deter A Robber the terms are just one of a litany of elements that make it worth seeking out, as soon as possible. This is the kind of movie when you first see it, you can tell is destined for future cult status. It may seem light slight holiday fair, but it’ll leave you filled with cheer, long before the credits roll.
Somewhere out in the great wilderness of Wisconsin, the Williams clan has gathered at the family cabin to celebrate the holidays. Madison (Vanessa Marano), the over-achiever without life experience is hard at work on college admission essays. She’s dragged her well meaning, but sweetly dim boyfriend Jimmy both as a distraction for her and buffer from her parents, sister and Uncle Andy (Chris Mullet). Feeling stifled by the family’s expectations, Jimmy and Madison sneak on over to the neighbors house
Easy laid out groundwork to show the layout of locations, while also setting up the cast of characters, doing enough leg work that nothing is ever too confusing.
Confidently quirky in it’s particular brand of comedy, How To Deter A Robber coasts along. Zipping well past any lulls that could undo the goodwill. It’s relatively light, but that isn’t a negative. There’s enough intricate little details that keep the zaniness at the forefront. To be honest, that’s the film’s biggest strength. Without that reliance it wouldn’t feel as fresh and fun as it ends up being. Leave it to a film that utters the word “Hodag” (creature from Wisconsin folklore) 23-ish times and then includes Hodag masks for the robbers, to melt event the coldest of hearts.
Jaunty score that feels both festive and a throwback to 60’s/70’s era films. Almost Herb Alpert-esque
As Uncle Andy imparts early on: “Remember your very presence in this house, is enough to deter a robber.” While that may seen like a hinky way to shoehorn in the title, it sets off a lightning bolt in Madison and Jimmy. Instantly they begin to fortify the family cabin. “Beware” signs hung in windows. Extra locks on every doors. Booby traps of various types ar tucked in each nook and cranny. The house is safe beyond compare from potential robbers. If those robbers are small children of have the emotional complexity of a 14 year old. As luck should have it, the dastardly duo about to descend on the cozy cabin fit that mold.
Any film that can work in a few moments to praise Santa Claus Vs The Martians and have Jonah Ray as a side chracter, is worthy your time. That desire to lay fast and loose with some scenes, might seem like a detractor, yet it’s not. There’s only a couple moments where How To Deter A Robber isn’t constantly making jokes. Those quieter beats give way to scenes of character development, occuring at just the right time. Madison and Jimmy are all the better for it, adding layers of sympathy to what seemed like one dimensional beings.
Hodag wool hat masks
Trapped in their own house, with no one to rescue them, Uncle Andy, Madison and Jimmy must team together, to make it through the night. Uncle Andy suggests compliance, in order to survive their captors. Only that’s a bit of a gambit as these are Fargo level criminals. Simultaneously bumbling and capable of bursts of rage. It’s that rage that keeps things tense. Given the ineptitude of robbers Christine (Abbie Cobb) and Patrick (Sonny Valicenti), that may be surprising, but director Maria Bissell leans into the situation. Leading inevitably to the question of who is going to snap or fight back first. When blood inevitable does get spilled, it leads to an even more haphazard series of events.
A gleefully goofy and twisty film that’s sure to become a holiday staple for those who like their cheer a bit darker. If Home Alone, Fargo and Villains had a baby, it would look something like the madcap comedy thriller How To Deter A Robber. It’s a delightful little caper filled with hapless criminals, aimless (or what others define as aimless) teens, that makes a whole lot of fun. It knows the sorry it wants to tell and sets out to do so with glee. In the process it fills each scene with all manner of laughs and does so in an efficient and elegant package.
Fantastic Fest [Review]: ‘How To Deter A Robber’ Is A Darkly Quirky & Mad-Cap Holiday Delight