Writer: Brian Duffield
Producer: McG, Mary Viola, Zack Schiller
Stars: Samara Weaving, Judah Lewis, Hana Mae Lee, Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne, Andrew Bachelor, Emily Alyn Lind, Leslie Bibb, Ken Marino
A bullied boy must summon new skills and strength to survive when he uncovers his babysitter’s sinister secret.
McG is to comedic action what Rob Zombie is to horror. As in, both men are popularly maligned more for preconceived pretension projected by fans than they are criticized for their creative output. Zombie takes heat for his grungy image of a musician trespassing as a genre filmmaker. McG similarly causes disapproving eyes to roll for, well, going by the name McG.
What naysayers are afraid to admit, or can’t see through intense dislike of behind-the-scenes personas, is that whether one likes the results or not, Zombie and McG are skilled cinematic craftsmen. Their material might miss the mark, but the spectacle putting it onscreen always overflows with energy. “The Babysitter” couldn’t be a better example. McG’s madcap tear through the tale of one kid’s crazy night with his babysitter is sometimes slow, often silly, but always ready to rouse eyes and ears with hyperactive visual style.
Cole’s quintessentially nerdy introversion finds the 12-year-old boy perpetually nursing Woody Allen-like neurosis about nearly everything. When not being hit in the head by a bully’s basketball, Cole pines a pinch for Bee, the sultry, movie quote-quipping babysitter who exhibits all the cool confidence Cole wishes he had.
Sure, Cole is too old for a babysitter. He doesn’t mind though, not yet anyway, since Bee is the closest thing to a best friend he has. With his parents out of town for the weekend, Cole and Bee settle in for a night of pizza, movies, geeky conversation, and ritualistic murder, one of which Cole definitely wasn’t expecting.
When Cole’s neighbor Melanie texts him with a dare to find out what Bee does when he is asleep, Cole takes the bait. What he discovers is Bee inviting her pals over for an occult ritual requiring a blood donation from Cole. Once that cat comes out of the bag, Cole inadvertently kickstarts a nightmare survival scenario of Kevin McCallister meets Three Stooges proportions.
What works best about “The Babysitter” is the same as what won’t work for many others. Namely, the movie counts on charisma, both in its characters and in its atmosphere, to carry entertainment all the way through to the end. Substance to the story becomes a secondary concern what with explosive outrageousness stealing the spotlight every chance it gets.
Although they retroactively make thematic sense once the film concludes, the first twenty minutes only peripherally set up a plot. Most of these scenes are standalone vignettes showcasing colorful personalities and the relationships they have to Cole. Quirky bits include Melanie’s divorced dad visibly experiencing a sexually-frustrated midlife crisis, Cole’s own dad doing speedway donuts since his son is afraid to drive, or Bee pondering the roster of her intergalactic dream team using sci-fi superstars. They might not mean much outside of the moment, but the charm in these scenes comes from a high-energy cast effusing a smart balance of humor, heart, and slyness.
Samara Weaving merges fantasy babysitter beauty with big sister badassery to forge an unusually enchanting murderess. Judah Lewis breaks out even bigger as Cole, never overplaying comic moments with wide eyes while also summoning appropriate amounts of sad sympathy, childlike cowardice, and bumbling courage as required. McG aims for a precise tone of satanic splatter, Spielbergian whimsy, and self-flagellating laughter, and skillfully dials everyone into this uniquely frenzied frequency.
If McG could find a practical use for a kitchen sink, he would have worked one in to show he knows “The Babysitter” overloads on production and post-production flair. Name the technique, “The Babysitter” uses it. A weird first-person camera comes into play when Cole says goodbye to his folks and welcomes Bee. In lieu of a montage, a sped up scene whisks Cole through an all-night binge watch of “Mad Men.” Then there is the camera harness keeping Cole centered while the background whips or freezing the frame for a text blurb to “bam!” onto the screen.
Honestly, I can’t decipher if narrative value exists in any of the above. I can only confirm they keep attention spans engaged in a manner that is distracting in an entertaining way.
That same sentiment applies to production design. Cole and Bee go through the trouble of disco decorating the living room for a dance party, making their own pizza from scratch, and setting up an outdoor projector for a movie when any normal people would just order delivery and turn on the TV. Maybe McG means to say something about the effort these two are willing to expend on complicating something simple. Or maybe the only motivation is to keep “The Babysitter” rolling.
And “The Babysitter” is preferable when it is rolling. Whatever choppy waters act one encounters from its construction and “look at me!” interruptions, it’s better than the speed bump hit when act two becomes an extended hide and seek chase. Long lulls are spent stuck in a crawlspace or listening to Bella Thorne express the wrong fears regarding a bullet in her breast.
Yes, “The Babysitter” cluelessly clubs low hanging fruit in instances where it is unclear if the film means to lampoon insensitivity or simply doesn’t see borders bending. Perhaps it doesn’t matter, as this is a movie meant for stylized snickers and thrills driven by unpredictable people put in improbably precarious positions. On that value scale, “The Babysitter” earns her rate for a full evening of satisfying work, even if you’d think twice about recommending her to friends.
Review Score: 75