Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Babysitter

The Babysitter (2017)

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One of my favourite activities of late is what I like to call "plumbing the depths", and it is just watching random movies on Netflix. Today, I watched this movie. It's a Netflix original, and directed by somebody called "McG", and surprised me by not being absolutely terrible.

A nervous, sheltered boy (Judah Lewis) is left with a babysitter (Samara Weaving) for the weekend while his parents go on a trip. At the urging of his neighbour (Emily Alyn Lind), he spies on the sitter to find out if she's having sex with teenage boys after he goes to bed. Turns out she's the leader of a Satanic cult and murders a dude for a ritual. The kid must then defend himself and kill off the Satanists in his house.

Both of the main characters - the kid and the babysitter - are super likable, even though he's a whiny dork and she's a homicidal lunatic. The acting is reasonably good on both parts too - Judah Lewis is not the best or worst child actor I've ever seen, while Samara Weaving is lots of fun.

Her character is also probably the best babysitter in the world, holy shit. I didn't get babysat very often as a kid so I don't really have a whole lot of reference for this, but like, I'm pretty sure swimming, screening old movies on the side of a barn, pizza, and shooters are unusually awesome for a babysitting experience. Okay, yeah, so she steals his blood for their Satan thing at one point but, like... shit. What's a little blood, right?

Speaking of blood, this movie has plenty. It's like a grizzly Home Alone, which is definitely something the world needed because, real talk, Home Alone kind of sucks. Plus it has a few tense moments and hardly any jump scares. The movie leans more towards horror comedy than straight up thriller most of the time, which is unfortunate because the thrilling parts were way better executed than the "comedy", and I will get back to that soon.

The most interesting thing about the movie is its subversion of the horror movie babysitter trope. Typically in horror movies, the babysitter is the victim (see Halloween, When A Stranger Calls, House of the Devil, and others). In this movie, she's the antagonist. The members of the cult are all slasher victim archetypes (jock, goth, dumb cheerleader, nerd, blonde last girl, and black guy) and they die in the appropriate order, which is pretty clever. Sure, it's been done before, but it's still different than the norm.

The movie's main failing is that it is not actually as clever as it thinks it is. A whole lot of time is wasted trying to be "stylish", whatever that means. There's lots of rapid cuts (like an Edgar Wright movie), and titles which tell you the names of characters I don't care about (like Feast) and also I guess what the characters are thinking? Maybe? I don't get what the point of that was. All of this stuff is executed by a person who obviously is better suited to making, like, normal movies because instead of slick and sexy it comes off as frenetic and abrasive.

The writing suffers from the same problem. It's mired in pop culture references and "buffyspeak", which is great when utilized by a skilled writer, but in this case stuck out as trying to sound funnier than it was. The hip and sassy dialogue also clashed with the sappy overall tone of the movie. At its core, The Babysitter is a very earnest coming of age story about a boy getting over his unrealistic crush on his babysitter and falling for the girl next door, while becoming a man. Stuffing it in a glossy, snarky party dress doesn't change that.

The movie goes out of its way to set up everything that happens later. From the toy car sitting at the top of the stairs, to the kid overcoming his fear of driving, everything is staged early on. Some movies pull this off by setting stuff up in a subtle way (Near Dark and Satan's Little Helper are excellent examples of this) but The Babysitter painstakingly makes sure the viewer's attention is drawn to things that will be important later. Which makes it super predictable and annoying to jaded assholes like me who've spent way too many hours watching movies.

Another big issue is that I was never totally clear on what exactly the Satanist characters wanted. So they're doing this ritual that will grant them whatever they want. Later in the movie the jock mentions he just wants to kill people, the cheerleader says she wants to be a journalist, and the babysitter expresses a desire to be "confident" or some shit. But like, they're all obviously high functioning, attractive, and successful teens. The babysitter has a sweet job... babysitting, and the jock guy is a star quarterback. What could the Devil really grant them that they can't get on their own? Are North Americans so desperate that turning to black magic to get stuff is a perfectly logical thing to do and requires no further explanation? I don't know about you, but I've often considered dabbling in the dark arts and I've never come up with anything I want badly enough to make a deal with some demonic entity. Kids today, I swear to god.

Overall, this movie isn't great, but it's not bad either. It's a watchable post-slasher horror comedy, and in better hands, maybe the hands of somebody not named "McG", it could've been decent.

Merits
- Samara Weaver is delightful (+1)
- Lotsa blood (+1)
- Trope subversion (+2)
- Satanists are surprisingly nice people (+1)
Total: +5

Demerits
- Just because one of the characters says "This ain't Home Alone!" doesn't make it not Home Alone (-1)
- The movie tries way too hard (-3)
- People keep running upstairs instead of out. The Open. Fucking. Front. Door (-1)
- There's no way that kid survived flipping a muscle car and crashing it into a house without wearing a goddamn seatbelt (-1)
Total: -6
Final Score: -1

Directed by: "McG".  Written by: Brian Duffield.  Starring: Judah Lewis, Samara Weaving, Emily Alyn Lind, Robbie Amell, Hana Mae Lee, Bella Thorne, Andrew Bachelor, Leslie Bibb, Ken Marino.