2017 | Unrated (R equivalent for graphic violence) | starring Samara Weaving, Judah Lewis, Bella Thorne, Leslie Bibb, Ken Marino | directed by McG | 1hr 25mins |
2017 Halloween Horrorfest Finale (#12)
Every time McG’s goofy name pops up on anything it prompts an exasperated sigh from me. Despite it’s indie streaming release, The Babysitter is very much a McG movie. It’s got the blue and yellow color pallet of Fastlane and the cartoonish, aggressively obnoxious sense of humor of a Michael Bay-lite movie and the tone-deaf tonal clashes that are distinctly McG. But Babysitter isn’t the worst thing he’s done. In some spots, it’s even the best. It’s invention-inspiring low budget, game cast and lack of tie to an established franchise give the film a little bit more wiggle room for weirdness and gruesome dark comedy.
The logline premise here is that a young, but not too young kid named Cole (Judah Lewis) stays up past his bedtime and sees what the hot babysitter really does at night – and she’s a virgin-sacrificing satanist. However the heart of the movie that I’m sympathetic too, the beats that stars Samara Weaving and Lewis lean into, is the connection between babysitter and babysat. The geek who gets bullied at school who is afraid of seemingly everything, develops his first crush on the babysitter who befriends him and teaches him how to stand up for himself. Weaving plays babysitter Bee as the Gillian Flynn Cool Girl dialed up to a 10 and young Cole’s wistful impossible fantasies that the two of them will run away and conquer the world together are sweet and feel real. McG and the screenplay don’t give this thread the payoffs it deserves, but Weaving and Lewis’ performances commit and the hints that Bee still cares for Cole while requiring him for a satanic ritual give the movie a beating heart where another McG movie just has a cold storage chamber. It’s cute and I definitely enjoyed the last act of the film more than the first act.
Anyway, that’s the good stuff. The movie is very tightly scripted, almost suffocating so, dividing exactly in half between setting everything up and paying everything off. Every single moment in the first half of the movie is then referenced or paid off in the last half. It is, you could argue, a script of maximum efficiency, with McG keeping the running time to a tight 85 minutes. On the other hand it is SO scripty that it feels artificial, without any room to breathe and too clever by half. Also, a regular motif with McG, the soundtrack is obnoxiously on-the-nose. Bee is first introduced with “Boys Wanna Be Her” potting up in the background and Cole takes charge set to “My Way”.
McG is going bonkers with the camera work. It’s a hack, style-less everything-and-the-kitchen-sink visual approach from regular shots to first-person POVs and that Darren Aronofsky chest cam all for no narrative reason other than I can only assume McG thought it looked cool. He drops a bunch of visual text on the screen like he’s making a Zombieland sequel that thinks the audience are children which also takes me out of it – although in fairness a bit where Cole visualizes a clock on the steering wheel when learning how to drive was kind of cute.
That’s my word for this movie – kind of cute. Probably not what McG was anticipating given the what-the-hell-it’s-Netflix degree of blood and violence it doles out with horrific head explosions, double knife impalings and boob shots (the movie can’t get enough of this bit). The film’s bizarre tonal dichotomy from cartoonish immature gags to bloody violence also extends to Cole himself, who one minute is so childish he doesn’t know what a prostitute is or that a door might lock from the inside and the next knows quotes from The Godfather II. When we are introduced to Bree’s brand of cultists they are a colorful group that divide out like usual slasher movie victim tropes from The Cabin in the Woods – the jock, the whore, the fool, the virgin. Maybe the victim to villain flip was an intentional subversion, but as it goes on it becomes less of a satantic cult movie and more of a chase film that is going to navigate Cole through confronting every one of his worldly fears.
I really enjoyed the relationship between Bee and Cole. The movie gets away with Bee’s Cool Girl excesses in the first half because it plans to flip the too-good-to-be-true fantasy on it’s head and into young heartbreak. Samara Weaving is pretty good with both of Bee’s sides. McG, of course, can’t get out of his own way here. The Babysitter excessively draws attention to itself, it’s hues, it’s camera-work, it’s music, it’s weak jokes, every other piece of the filmmaking pounding us over the head. He keeps it from being the ridiculous B-movie gory horror/comedy/killer hot babysitter movie it could have been.
That said, and this is very faint praise, but it’s the best movie called The Babysitter ever made too.