As a father to be, perhaps it wasn’t the wisest choice to watch a movie about a babysitter who is evil and spends the entire movie being terrible to children and putting them at risk. It maybe would have been fine if she was secretly a demon or a witch or a ghost or a skeleton or a dragon or something. I could more easily deal with it if she were some sort of supernatural monster. She’s not though. She’s a regular human being who should not be trusted with children who, through no fault of the parents, ends up being trusted with children. This movie gave me anxieties I didn’t even know I had. That could be me! I mean not anymore because fuck hiring a babysitter forever, but still!
I already touched on the core plot up above, but let’s go a little further. There’s this mom and dad and they have three kids. The oldest and youngest are boys and the middle is a girl. This mom and dad want to go a restaurant and escape their nightmare kids, a common parental sentiment I understand, and their usual babysitter, Maggie, is unable to make it. So in her place they hire this girl Anna. Unbeknownst to them because they didn’t see the opening scene of the movie like we did, Anna has been abducted and replaced with this girl Emelie (Sarah Bolger). Maybe Emelie is good people right? Maybe she is just super passionate about babysitting and was misguided in her method to take Anna’s place? Oh wait no, she’s letting the kids use a gun and seems to be completely out of her mind. Well shit.
Emelie works by tapping into a primal fear that everyone, including people like me without kids yet, can relate to – there’s a weird stranger alone with your kid and you have no idea that it’s happening. You are also automatically on their side because they’re just children! They don’t deserve to have to deal with this nonsense! Even the older kid who is a bit of a prick doesn’t deserve this. Plus the parents seem like good people too. I kept waiting for this movie to reveal that the couple is having marital difficulties and that’s why they need the night out together. Nope. They are clearly very happy together and just wanted to have a fun night out. It’s a small touch, but an appreciated one. All this to say that we have ourselves a likable core group, even though yes putting children in danger is kind of the cheapest/easiest way to immediately create tension. It just works!
This is only an 80-minute movie so they don’t have a whole lot of time to mess around. This does mean that we don’t spend too much time with Emelie before it’s made very clear that she is up to something bad. It does decrease some of the tension of wondering when things are going to go bad, but they use that to their advantage in a different way by using the innocence of the children and making the audience wonder when/if these kids are going to catch on that maybe this babysitter is a stone cold crazy lady. At first she seems awesome because she’s letting them eat all the cookies they want and draw on the walls and such. Shit kids like to do I hear. Then all of a sudden she’s asking the oldest to fetch her tampons and busting out sex tapes for them to watch. Shit kids don’t really like to do I hear. Much of the suspense comes from waiting for the kids to make the realization something is up, although even then what the hell could they possibly do about it?! They’re tiny little people these kids! They can’t take on an adult! That’s just physics!
The middle stretch of the movie is definitely the strongest, when Emelie starts to let down her normal exterior and revel in the crazy. A scene involving the family pet was particularly hard to watch, and they ratchet some effective suspense out of the standard situation of someone dropping by the house, not knowing about the dark shit going on inside. Also, I found that they delivered Emelie’s backstory in an interesting way, adding depth to a character that could have been insane for no reason, while also not taking away from the threat by over explaining things. Unfortunately, the first and final acts can’t compete with this middle section, making for a disjointed experience.
This is a good time to call out the performance of Sarah Bolger who plays Emelie. She’s fantastic, switching effortlessly from the dream babysitter to the nightmare. She manages to make the character borderline sympathetic once we realize why she is there and what she is up to. The kid’s fare ok. The oldest, Jacob (Joshua Rush) fares the best, while the other two are good enough to not be distracting. That seems like faint praise but in the world of child acting, I think that is actually a pretty high compliment.
Emelie is a quick and effective thriller with a great central performance by Sarah Bolger. It does fizzle out a bit in the third act, unable to maintain the level of suspense it presents so effectively for the middle half hour of the movie. At the very least it has ensured that I will be showing this movie to every potential babysitter we may hire and yelling at them “You gonna try and pull this shit?! You gonna pull an Emelie?! I’m on to you god damn it!”