Dark Sky Films
Babysitters in horror films and suspense thrillers are typically fated to spend their time at the mercy of a sadistic killer – think Halloween or When a Stranger Calls – but once in a while these young ladies get the chance to switch things up a bit and become the evil threat themselves. The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and The Guardian are probably two of the most well-known, but the sub-genre gets a youthful injection this week with Emelie.
Dan and Joyce are the happy parents of three little kids, but they’re in desperate need of a break. Their night out on the town is threatened when their regular babysitter falls ill, but young Anna comes highly recommended so their plans move forward. What they don’t know is that Anna has been abducted by another young woman and her male friend, so when Dan picks up the babysitter it’s not Anna who he invites into his home – it’s Emelie (Sarah Bolger).
She passes muster and sees the couple off, but once the door closes Emelie’s true colors begin making themselves known. She lets the kids eat excessive sweets, allows the youngest to scale an unsafe shelf, and after snooping around the house she also forces the kids to watch their parents’ sex tape. Jacob (Joshua Rush), the oldest, senses something is amiss, but his suspicions are temporarily interrupted when Emelie invites him into the bathroom to watch her pee and insert a tampon. (They sure don’t make sexy, older babysitters like they used to.) As the night wears on though he realizes she’s up to more than just careless exhibitionism – and not everyone’s going to make it to the morning.
Director Michael Thelin and writer Rich Herbeck craft a terrific first half here as the setup reveals an immediate threat but then takes its time with the details. We know Emelie is up to no good from the start, but rather than jump into some manner of slaughter she toys with three kids in increasingly twisted and perverse ways. Her disdain is clear and at times we feel just moments away from seeing one of the tykes bite the dust, but those moments of suspense and discomfort come to an end once Emelie’s motivations come clear.
It’s not that her motives are bad – they’re actually sound and grounded in something real – but they make little to no sense when paired with all that came before and all that comes after. Her end goal is clear, but her path to achieving it is utterly nonsensical. Now, to be clear, Emelie is a bit off the deep end, but she’s not stark raving mad, and the control she exhibits is highly at odds with the specifics of her plan. Her barely-glimpsed partner fares far worse in our eyes though, and while young Jacob’s actions are equally questionable at times he at least has the excuse of being a pre-teen prone to stupidity.
The highly illogical nature of Emelie’s actions hurt the back half of the film as they leave viewers both without the power of the unknown and dismissive of her plan. It’s a testament though to Bolger’s performance that the film remains as engaging as it does through to the end. There’s a false sense of innocence about Emelie, but Bolger sheds it like old skin once the parents are out the door to reveal the mad, seductive truth beneath. She shifts easily between showing a fierce focus and displaying a dangerous indifference, and her driving force becomes an alluring threat.
Emelie survives mainly on the power of its lead performance, but there are enough unsettling beats to make it worth a watch for genre fans (and to make you think again before hiring a babysitter sight-unseen.)
The Upside: Sarah Bolger gives a strong and creepy performance; some fun suspense early on
The Downside: Reveal deflates most of what happens; certain elements under-developed