Directed by Jonathan Milott & Cary Murnion. Screenplay by Nick Morris, Ruckus Skye, & Lane Skye.
Starring Lulu Wilson, Kevin James, Joel McHale, Robert Maillet, Amanda Brugel, Isaiah Rockcliffe, Ryan McDonald, & James McDougall.
Yale Productions / BondIt Media Capital / BoulderLight Pictures
Rated R / 93 minutes
Action / Drama / Thriller
DISCLAIMER: The following essay contains spoilers
Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion did a great job with Cooties, turning what in real life would be a disturbing situation into one that’s darkly hilarious. Bushwick, while not my cup of tea, was an interesting little B-flick that had good action scenes. Their latest feature Becky mashes pieces of their other films together, adding an extra thematic touch by pitting a girl whose family’s changing significantly after the death of her mother against a neo-Nazi’s surrogate family.
The eponymous Becky (Lulu Wilson) is grieving over the death of her mother. Her father Jeff (Joel McHale) has decided on a weekend away at the cabin, where their family spent many good times. He’s invited Kayla (Amanda Brugel) and her son Ty (Isaiah Rockcliffe), because he and Kayla have decided to get married. Becky’s not particularly thrilled. But their weekend getaway is shattered completely when a neo-Nazi named Dominick (Kevin James) and his crew, fresh escaped from prison, arrive at the cabin looking for a mysterious key.
Most people who enjoy Becky will find the action-thriller elements enough. There’s a little more underneath than just wild and unexpectedly gory scenes. Themes of family, comparing Becky’s to the one Dominick created, lead to deeper questions about what holds people together. Best of all, the hypermasculine, patriarchy of Dominick’s neo-Nazi worldview crumbles because of a young blonde-hared, blue-eyed girl who systematically dismantles his crew of angry white men. Becky already lost her mother to a biological cancer, then she’s forced to deal with the social cancer that is white supremacy threatening to take everything she has left.
“There was a little girl,
Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good,
She was very good indeed,
But when she was bad she was horrid.”
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The film opens and closes on Becky being questioned after her encounter with the neo-Nazi gang. In the beginning, she appears as a victim. We understand by the end that, though she’s a victim of the neo-Nazi gang in a sense— losing her father and one of her dogs to them— she is more a victor than anything, and the questioning takes on a different light. Sure, Becky has a little sociopath in her. Yet she uses her perceived sociopathic, violent tendencies to defend herself and the people closest to her, whereas the neo-Nazi gang, particularly Apex and Dominick, commit violence in the name of their racial cause. That all comes down to family.
Differences between families is a major theme in Becky, and in a number of ways. Becky’s dealing with a shakeup in her own family, having Kayla come in as her father’s new wife and all the emotions that come along with a child watching a parent remarry. Then there’s Jeff becoming an adopted father to Ty by marrying Kayla, taking on raising another child as his own alongside the daughter he has already. Jeff becomes a contrasted father figure against Dominick. The white supremacist talks about having “collected a few strays” as a surrogate father. He treats Apex and the rest of his neo-Nazi gang like they’re his own kids. This is where the nurture concept comes into play, in how we separate Becky— raised by a guy like Jeff— and someone like Apex— ‘raised’ by a guy like Dominick. Apex is still a neo-Nazi regardless of trying to unsuccessfully turn over a new leaf. He was taught the tenets of violent white hatred by his surrogate father. His brief attempts to let Kayla and Ty go aren’t enough to undo his involvement with a horrific group of racists. On the contrary, Becky’s only use of violence is in self-defence, no matter how gory. She uses whatever violent bones exist in her body to avenge the death of her father and, ultimately, save the two people who would’ve become part of her family were Jeff not murdered. Becky could’ve used the violence built up by her emotions over the loss of her mother against the kids at school. We watch her get bullied briefly at the very beginning, and she doesn’t hurt any of them. Because a parent like Jeff, and surely her mother while alive, taught her well.
Several neo-Nazi symbols appear throughout Becky, but they’re more than simply signifiers of white supremacy. They point to the often hilariously ignorant hypocrisy of white supremacist purity. For those unfamiliar with modern heathen/pagan groups and other similar movements, many of these groups celebrate their Norse roots. Most of these groups have publicly denounced the right-wing white supremacist groups who’ve tried to claim Norse imagery as only for whites. The white far-right’s use of Norse history is actually not about history at all, rather it’s about creating a narrative and weaponising history for their hateful purposes. That’s why we see Dominick searching for a key with the valknut on it, which he also has tattooed on his hand. The screenwriters do a really interesting thing by having Dominick’s eye get stabbed, because this soon leaves him with one eye, taking on the figurative form of Odin. However, the joke is that, unlike Odin who gained knowledge by losing his eye, Dominick loses sight, both figuratively and literally, and the loss of his eye marks the beginning of his brutal downfall.
Apart from Norse imagery, neo-Nazis and all variants of white supremacists have continually taken symbols from other cultures— one cog in a much more vast wheel of colonialist and imperialist action(s) by the Nazi Party— to use as their own, all the while loudly proclaiming their Aryan culture is whiteness at its most pure. Dominick’s prominent head tattoo is visible in his first scene: a swastika in a spiral on the back of his skull. The swastika, probably the single most defining symbol of Nazi Germany, is itself ripped from Eastern culture: Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism all have historically used a left-facing form swastika as a divine/spiritual symbol. Hitler just turned it backwards, using the right-facing form rather than left. So certain symbols these white supremacists use to identify themselves, and the hideous ideology they live by, aren’t ‘pure’ like they want to believe. Just one of many examples of white people appropriating non-white culture, which we continue to see from the innocuous to the extreme today.
All the Aryan nonsense comes full circle in the best kind of way through Becky herself. She’s a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl— the picture of a perfect Aryan woman as fetishised by the Nazis. In a perfect world, for a guy such as Dominick, a girl like Becky would be valued for her superficial genetics. Instead, as a girl, Becky totally subverts the Aryan wet dream by rejecting their ideology and subsequently murdering them, one by one. She disrupts the neo-Nazi ideology further because they see power as physical— believing men like Dominick and Apex are bigger, stronger than people of colour or women— and her use of psychology to counterattack proves that physical power to be worthless. More than all that, Becky risks her life to save Kayla and Ty, explicitly going against the foundations of white supremacy. She and Kayla, despite the awkward family stuff, stick together. In contrast, Apex, for all his horrible faults, starts to see the error of his ways, which begins to break him away from the hold Dominick has over him. The comparison of Becky and Kayla v. Apex and Dominick serves to show the fragility of bonds built upon hatred and whiteness, as opposed to the connections people forge across race, across culture, and across difference in general. Dominick’s white supremacy offers only nihilism while Becky’s fight against it offers hope.
“I collected a few strays along the way”
Becky could be better at times, mostly in terms of story because it felt like a few plot points weren’t developed enough. The whole inclusion of neo-Nazis likewise would have benefited from being fleshed out more. That doesn’t take away from the fact the film’s exciting, it’s a little different, and Becky gives us a protagonist who’s not the same old dude we always see in these types of scenarios. Lulu Wilson has already proved herself to be a skilled actress. Here, she showcases an ability to really carry a film, going toe-to-toe with Kevin James, whose turn as a neo-Nazi is subtle and unsettling. Wilson portrays the side of a young girl we don’t often get to see onscreen: angry, tough, and unforgiving. James shows us a white supremacist who, before revealing his tattoos, could almost pass as a neighbour next door-type guy (and the scariest neo-Nazis are the ones who blend in, flying under the radar). The rest of the cast put on a solid show, but Wilson and James are the explosive centrepiece.
Many will see the neo-Nazis as a plot device merely written in to create a whole other layer of tension aside from the home invasion angle. In 2020, we need more movies about killing neo-Nazis, and showcasing their hypocrisy. Fiction is a perfect vessel for sociopolitical anger. To me, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Becky taking down a group of white supremacists is perfect because it embodies a cultural place and time where we find ourselves currently. We white people have to start dealing with the rancid core of whiteness ourselves, not leave it for Black people and other people of colour to deal with on their own. We have to put ourselves in the fight. And, like Becky, sometimes we just have to give no quarter.