Released to theaters in the theatrical dog days of mid-2020, Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion’s “Becky” became a home-formats hit, its gleefully tasteless home-invasion thrills a guilty-pleasure tonic for COVID captives going a bit stir-crazy. Now Lulu Wilson is back as that title character, more or less the sole survivor of her prior screen outing. You can be sure in “The Wrath of Becky” that age hasn’t dulled her pissed-off homicidal verve, and that fate will surely provide another crop of ne’er-do-wells to tempt its exercise.
However, a different writing-directing duo is in charge this time, Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote. Their efforts generate rewards that are somewhat diminished, if still diverting. Quiver is releases this SXSW-premiered sequel to U.S. theaters, with home-formats dates as yet unannounced.
Three years ago, Becky was a 13-year-old hopping mad over not just her mother’s recent cancer demise, but the gall of her beleaguered father’s decision to commence a new romantic relationship. That level of hostility put her in fine fettle to deal with Kevin James’ gang of escaped cons, who arrived seeking a mysterious item at the family’s summer house. The ensuing battle between criminal might and malicious right was implausible, but it had considerable appeal as a blackly comedic revenge fantasy, with Wilson’s petite warrior-queen brat an inspired creation.
Now a not-so-sweet 16, Becky is introduced doing “anything to keep me off the grid and out of the system,” including robbing foster parents she has zero intention of staying with. She has, nonetheless, found ongoing shelter under the roof of Elena (Denise Burse), an elderly woman with a similarly wary attitude towards humankind. It’s unclear whether Becky goes to school, but she does go to work, waitressing at a local diner. It is there that she has the displeasure of serving three local louts (Michael Sirow, Aaron Dalla Villa, co-director Angel) who waste scant time before earning her ire — and some strategically spilt hot coffee.
Unfortunately, at least some of these men are the type to hold a grudge, as our heroine discovers several hours later. An ugly home break-in scene leaves her bereft of a benefactress, as well as her own (missing but presumably still alive) beloved dog, Diego. This being a small town, it does not take Becky long to discover the perps’ whereabouts. And given that she’s soon once again fully locked ’n’ loaded for vengeance, it proves a bonus to discover the trio are affiliated with a noxiously misogynist group of reactionary extremists.
These “Noble Men” have stashed a whole arsenal of paramilitary gear in a barn owned by local leader Darryl (Seann William Scott). When he realizes his new recruits stirred up irrelevant trouble on the eve of a planned government insurrection, he is unamused. Patience wears even thinner as all these he-men discover they’re now under siege from one teenage girl who’s commandeered their weapons, and refuses to be properly awed by their assumed ethnic or gender superiority.
Director-writers Angel and Coote, who achieved middling results with horror-adjacent thrillers “Hypnotic” and “The Open House,” lend this more snarkily over-the-top genre piece a tone more cartoonish than their predecessors managed. “Becky” was borderline crass but sharp, and the incongruity of its bloodthirsty tween heroine gave the proceedings a subversive edge.
But now the game Wilson (who was 16 at the time of shooting) seems a more generic “La Femme Nikita”-type female action figure, acrobatic and indomitable. She makes arch asides to the audience as she goes about her business, and their attempted wit is pretty generic, too. The film’s pacing is brisk enough, though the action doesn’t really heat up until the last half hour. Despite considerable gore, it only sometimes rises to the first film’s spiciness level in punchy ideas or staging.
The critique of Proud Boys-type pseudo-patriotism as a cover for terroristic fanaticism is certainly well-timed, though a little pat in the way its players get handed to Becky on a plate so she can flex her avenging grrrl-power muscle. Still, one thing “Wrath” has over the first film is its villain: While comedian James made an uneven switch to more serious terrain as “Becky’s” lead neo-Nazi bad guy, Scott — a terrific comic actor whose past dramatic opportunities have been spotty — immediately nails Daryl’s control-freak zeal and humorlessness. His well-played supporting goons may be mere “peckerwoods,” as somebody puts it, but Daryl is no joke. His is the kind of alarming anti-everything puritanism that would gladly torch the entire nation in order to “save” it. Though the violence here is otherwise seldom memorable, he does command an exit of worthy ghoulishness.
“The Wrath of Becky” is entertaining enough. But perhaps inevitably, with its heroine grown to near-adulthood, the novelty is a bit dulled now. The directors preside over a competent, energetic yet somehow stylistically uninspired package whose flourishes tend to be of a cutesy, self-congratulatory nature. They provide Becky with freeze-frames and graphics revealing her snarky inner thoughts — which are, through no fault of Wilson’s, rather less interesting than the pint-sized yet formidable Becky of 2020 might’ve led us to expect. Still, don’t expect you’ve seen the last of her: This second chapter ends with explanation still teasingly withheld for a significant narrative cipher from the first.