How to Deter a Robber starts off very strong right out of the gate, with a solid foundation of humor within a dysfunctional family unit. It seemed to me like it would be able to maintain the same level of snarky humor and snappy dialogue throughout the duration. However, the first half of the film is significantly better than the second half. The promise of an adult iteration of Home Alone, executed indomitably better in horror takes like The Collector and Better Watch Out, is simply too high a bar for How to Deter a Robber to clear.
A Christmas at the family cabin seems monotonous enough, even when Madison (Vanessa Marano) brings along her charming, adorkable boyfriend Jimmy (Benjamin Papac). In the midst of working on a college admissions essay that her mom (Gabrielle Carteris) will let up about, Madison spots a light on at a neighbor’s house. Madison and Jimmy then break into the house, joking about burglars and playing with a ouija board that spells out “sex”. When they wake up in the morning having accidentally slept over, the house has been completely robbed overnight. They report it and are now the prime suspects! Forced to return to the cabin with their friendly Uncle Andy (Chris Mulkey), Madison and Jimmy prep for the possible return of these thieves.
They put up a “beware of dog” sign, a horn attached to a door, and lightly booby-trap the place. This setup is fun, and I was excited to see where it went. The answer is disappointing only in that the actual conflict lets down the immaculate introduction. A movie like this is made or broken on the strengths of the robbers themselves. They have nary a speck of the personality of Home Alone’s Harry and Marv. It makes How to Deter a Robber feel structurally unbalanced. The family, mainly Madison, take center stage for better or worse.
The main problem with this plot is that it is just altogether too simple. It is a home invasion Christmas movie, and if the script had amped up either of these qualities significantly, we could have had a genuinely great film on our hands. Instead, it becomes too reliant on the humor of the situation and the naïveté of both Jimmy and Madison. The cast is all great, particularly Vanessa and Benjamin as Madison and Jimmy, respectively. It has its moments (who doesn’t think drunk-watching Santa Claus Conquers the Martians sounds like a great idea?), and it is generally more forgettable than bad.
How to Deter a Robber sneaks its way onto VOD, digital, and in select cinemas on Friday, July 16th.