Tucked away under the Christmas tree, behind the horror films, the crime dramas and the dark comedies is How to Deter a Robber, a sweet story about some teens who face off against some burglars.
Madison (Vanessa Marano) is your average bright eyed teen who bickers with her mom and thinks the world is unfair. She just needs to finish that college admissions essay, but her mom doesn’t take her seriously, and she’d rather just hang out with her boyfriend, Jimmy (Benjamin Papac). Her family has gathered for the holidays, and after a frustrating family dinner, Madison and Jimmy decide to decompress. While glancing across to the neighbours house, they see a light switch on and off and jokingly suspect a burglar or a ghost. The two break into the house, and borrow some skincare and a Ouija board, then fall asleep. They wake up to the house completely burglarized and wind up the prime suspects, unable to leave the country and are marooned Madison’s family home with her uncle. Ready for anything, the pair prep themselves to deter any would be thieves looking for their next score.
This cute addition into holiday comedy-thrillers is welcome. It’s the first feature from writer/ director, Maria Bissell and she accomplishes a lot. She’s created a warm coming of age tale that targets the teenage demographic while being fun holiday tale able to make space for itself in the crowded off-beat holiday film space. It’s genuinely funny and stacks the gags and laughs using written jokes, physical bits and camera gags. The editing style is reminiscent of Edgar Wright style sound design bits which drags you into the world of dark comedy.
Marano is great in the lead. Her line delivery is stellar and she portrays the bratty teen with everything handed to her in a way that keeps the character likeable enough to root for. Papac is perfect as the window dressing doing just enough to matter. Chris Mulkey as Uncle Andy brings the necessary warmth to the character that was lacking from the other parental figures showcased. He doesn’t care for kids these days, and doesn’t think you need a cell phone. You get up at 6:00am in his house, but he’ll still show you his cool antiques and reminisce about when you were younger. It’s the chemistry between Marano and the men in the film that make the movie really work.
The story of the burglars falls to the wayside in more ways than one. Firstly, the good bid. It’s a story about Madison learning to appreciate her life and her family, and facing her first adversity with the help of her uncle and finally understanding more about the world. The less good bit is that the burglars are kind of boring and don’t raise the stakes. The burglars are somewhat of a myth. The audience doesn’t know if they’re real, if they’re dangerous, or if they’re really just a Hodag. As a result, the scenes of doomsday prepping and family bonding are funny, but that’s really it. Any element of stakes or fear humming in the background and ultimately interrupting the prepping would have made those parts more engaging, but they, instead felt like poorly places fluff.
How to Deter a Robber is a total blast. It’s a refreshing dark comedy that boasts the influence of Home Alone and Sean of the Dead and feels fresh and brand new enough to target the next generation. The gags are well staged and shot, and the whole movie smells like cinnamon, gunpowder and bayberry so you can absolutely slap on a scarf and brace for some well-earned holiday laughs.