Overview: 12-year old Cole’s night takes a turn when he discovers his beloved babysitter is part of a Satanic cult who need his blood for a ritual sacrifice. Netflix; Rated TV-MA; 85 minutes.
She Knows You’re Alone: The babysitter has become a horror genre staple over the decades. From When a Stranger Calls to the more recent Emelie, horror has a frequent fascination with young women tasked with protecting innocence. Whether the film pits the babysitter against a force of evil, or turns the expectations around and makes the babysitter herself the evil force, there are few tropes left to be challenged when it comes to this particular subset of horror films. As such, McG’s The Babysitter doesn’t offer a particularly fresh plot. Even the bare-bones title suggests the familiar without any attempt to subvert expectations. While all of this may seem like a cinematic attempt at reverse psychology, leading to a surprising new angle that rewrites the rules, that’s not the case. The Babysitter is a very well made version composed of things you’ve seen before. It’s a film built on generating nostalgia for kid-friendly horror movies of the ’80s, but the film does have a voice of its own. Brian Duffield’s sharp-tongued, kinetic screenplay, which made 2014’s Black List, evokes Kevin Williamson and Shane Black. The result is an enjoyable horror-comedy with surprising moments of poignancy to be found in a perspective that lacks maturity.
Babysitter’s Club: Samara Weaving’s Bee is the world’s coolest babysitter. It’s hard not to fall in love with her, and easy to see why Cole (Judah Lewis) does. There’s a heartwarming chemistry between Weaving and Lewis. This chemistry isn’t something we consider often enough when it comes to the relationship between child actors and the adults they share most of their scenes with, but Lewis and Weaving make it impossible not to. Both characters are immensely likable, and Cole’s fears and sense of his own delayed development and reluctance to let go of childhood fears is endearing. Bee is clearly a fantasy, too cool to be true, and a character that feels like a bit like 12-year-old wish fulfillment, except for the fact that Weaving creates this warm sense of awareness of her role in this boy’s life that feels entirely natural. This ultimately makes Cole’s eventual shock at her true nature all the more heartbreaking for him.
Once Bee’s friends enter the film, the film ratchets up its deviation from reality. Bee’s friends, played by Bella Thorne, Robbie Amell, Hana Mae Lee, and Andrew Bachelor, each fulfill high school archetypes by adding their own high-energy that generate a few well-earned laughs, and many guilty chuckles. The group’s sacrifice of new group member, Samuel, hence referred to as “Sacrifice Samuel,” is punctuated by the kind of over-the-top geyser of blood that we expect from Sam Raimi. McG is clearly having a blast in his exploration of a new genre, and delivers gore with a contagious enthusiasm that strikes the elusive tone between horror and comedy that so many horror comedies strive for. Still, as the film progresses there’s a sense that something is missing. The heart is all there, as is the style, but the film’s repetitive nature begs for additional element.
Are You Thirsty For More?: After Cole witnesses Bee’s sacrifice of Samuel and decides to fight back against Bee’s cult, The Babysitter becomes decidedly influenced by Chris Columbus’ Home Alone, albeit an R-rated version. Cole’s fight against his attackers also becomes a fight against his own anxieties, an element that may carry personal weight with McG’s own struggle with anxiety. Cole’s success against each attacker, who come at him one by one, feels a bit too easy and a result more of luck than skill. If The Babysitter could have benefited from any added element, it would have been a creature, or creatures, for Cole to contend with and give his fears a more formidable form, while also allowing the film to deviate from its rather formulaic plot structure.
When Cole is finally able to confront Bee, the scene rings with emotional sincerity in terms of his perspective and his role in her plans. But Bee and her friends’ plan, to make a sacrifice to Satan so that they can get anything they want, feels empty, which strips the final confrontation of a certain validity. We get hints at something deeper around the edges, such as Bella Thorne’s cheerleader character Allison, talking about her desire to be a journalist while confronted with the fact there’s no expectation that she can do it. But the film doesn’t do anything concrete or thematically traceable with the sub-context of millennials unable to fulfill their dreams, expectations, or lifestyles, while also having to serve as caretakers for a previous generation’s children. There’s a lot to like about The Babysitter but there’s nothing to think about outside of Cole’s clear-cut emotional journey.
Overall: The Babysitter is a good time, and while it’s hard not wish there was a bit more to it, it’s a cute film with strong performances and a slight Amblin touch that could easily strike a chord with younger fans just getting into the genre.
Featured Image: Netflix