When looking back fondly on old films from the 80’s and even further back, we should take care that the rose-colored glasses we’re seeing them through don’t blind us to the obvious. Too often now, I’ve read/heard complaints online about how much new movies “SUCK ASS”, because the filmmakers, who grew up on the same old classics you did, try too hard to imitate what they saw, rather than try and duplicate the warm, fuzzy feelings that these films leave you with. Which is impossible AND unfair, since there’s very little that can give you the exact same thrills you experienced through an adolescent’s brain.
Another good thing to remember as well: what are considered to be ‘classics’ now, weren’t all perceived that way when they were first loosed onto the world’s big screens. Many of the films we hold dear were nothing more than ‘cannon fodder’ – things the studios cranked out to keep a good-sized amount of inventory, that could then be fed into the TV broadcasting/syndication systems once the box-office potential waned.
It’s hard to believe that the people who made THE MONSTER SQUAD, THE LOST BOYS, FRIGHT NIGHT, PHANTASM and the like weren’t aiming to make timeless classics back then. A lot of them are NOT bullshitting you, when they say that thirty, forty years on, they never expected their ‘little’ films to have the kind of longevity they have now. They were simply doing what they loved, but also did it to try and make back what it cost to see those visions through.
And now that I’m down off my soapbox, here’s Exhibit A of Netflix’s latest bid in the horror-comedy sweepstakes, (aka their version of “movie cannon fodder”): THE BABYSITTER. Or “Don’t Tell Mom That The Hot Babysitter Who’s A Pop Culture Nerd Trapped In A Victoria Secret Model’s Body, Is Also A Satanic Sociopath.” And nope, not a spoiler at all. The trailer, as trailers do these days, tells you pretty much the entire setup in advance.
Uber-nerd Cole (JUDAH LEWIS) is going through the motions of enduring high school hell (something movies have now documented ad nauseum), with only two bright spots in his hopeless existence: his best gal pal at school, Melanie (EMILY ALYN LIND), and his insanely hot babysitter, Bee, (SAMARA WEAVING, niece of THE MATRIX’S own ‘Agent Smith’, HUGO WEAVING), who is as uncharacteristically smart and sarcastic as she is stunning.
The first act of the film is basically a run-thru of how tightly bonded Cole and Bee are as ‘babysitter’ and ‘charge.’ It’s enough to make you wish, gay, straight or otherwise inclined, that you’d had a babysitter as cool, crazy and ‘crush-able’ as Bee. Things between them are so good, and even Cole’s otherwise-preoccupied parents – and are there any other kind in these movies? – here played by KEN MARINO (BAD MILO!) and LESLIE BIBB (TRICK ‘R’ TREAT), don’t seem to mind Bee’s Playboy model looks, or the effect that might have on their pre-pubescent son.
It all seems too-too, very-very awesome. So much so, that you KNOW it can’t possibly last.
On the night when the story takes place, Melanie dares Cole to stay up after bedtime and see what kind of naughty babysitter things Bee gets up to, after he’s ‘asleep’. (Anybody who’s seen HALLOWEEN once knows what Melanie’s talking about.) After ditching a little ‘nightcap’ Bee tries to give him to knock him out, he does indeed sneak to the top of the stairway to observe the goings-on down below.
It’s Bee and her crew, playing a nice little game of ‘spin-the-bottle.’ It includes hot, conceited senior jock Max, (ROBBIE AMELL, brother of ARROW’S STEPHEN AMELL), bitchy/sexy diva Sonya (HANA MAE LEE), That One Black Friend In Every Horror Movie Nowadays, John, (ANDREW BACHELOR), lava-hot and airheaded cheerleader friend Allison, (played to a fare-thee-well by MTV’S SCREAM series star BELLA THORNE), and one extra player: a kid named Samuel (DOUG HALEY), who looks like he could be an even bigger nerd than Cole, if possible, and whom Cole has witnessed getting a little too chummy with Bee for his liking.
In any case, the game commences, and it’s everything a growing boy needs to achieve wet-dream realness, including a steamy make-out sesh between Bee and Allison, (Bee is dared by Max to kiss everyone in the group.)
Once she gets to Samuel, who is as scared as he is turned on, it’s a moment that we and Cole spend wishing we could take Sam’s place.
That is, until in the middle of sticking her tongue down his throat, Bee does something unexpected and totally horrific. I won’t say what, but again, go watch the trailer for the spoilers if you like.
Needless to say, Cole spends the remainder of the movie doing the “HOME ALONE” thing, trying to evade Bee and her Satanist crew, who want Cole’s ‘innocent’ blood to complete a ritual that’s supposed to give them everything they ever wanted. Which is a complete McGuffin, of course. The real ‘meat’ of the movie is Cole’s coming-of-age, and getting his nerd cherry busted by taking on five much bigger teens, whose main objective is to make sure he stops breathing.
Okay, so here’s the part that may have you rubbing your hands together in anticipation, or running screaming from the room. THE BABYSITTER is directed by…McG, from a script by BRIAN DUFFIELD, (INSURGENT). If you know anything about McG at all, you know that he has always embraced his MTV video origins, and will pull out every visual trick in the book to “razzle-dazzle ya!” You know his big screen work pretty well by now: both CHARLIE’S ANGELS movies, THIS MEANS WAR, TERMINATOR: SALVATION. It’s a good thing that BABYSITTER’S demented sense-of-black-humor aligns well with McG’s own often off-kilter wryness, so that aspect works well.
But the visual tricks and gags, (some pretty much cribbed from movies like CRANK and SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD) and the rest of that aforementioned “razzle-dazzle” can produce diminishing returns after close to an hour, if the performances and script aren’t worth a good damn. Thankfully, that’s where the cast comes in, and they pretty much hit it out of the park.
Weaving is definitely going places, if she nails everything the way she does Bee. Besides a temptress who’s down with the Devil, she makes Bee so engaging and likeable, our hearts break with Cole’s, when it turns out that his best friend is also “the big bad.” Oh, Bee…if only you’d gone over to the light side!
Amell, whose ripped torso becomes a snarky in-joke, hits the right notes as the murderously psychopathic, yet somehow twistedly sympathetic Max. Lee and Bachelor do what they can with roles straight out of Central Casting – bitchy, homicidal Asian chick with a kinky streak, and comic black actor who gets the funny lines, respectively. They’re not terrible, and Lee even gets to shine (and uhm…’sparkle’) in a key scene with Lewis.
The revelation here – at least for me – is Thorne. Not being real familiar with her other work, as Allison, she’s the ‘soul-sister’ of GLEE’S equally ditzy cheerleader “Brittany”…except with a thing for butcher’s knives. Her comic delivery provides some of the funniest parts of the movie, and now I want to see her in more projects! (I’ll have to go back and check out her other work.)
Special notice needs to be taken of MILES J. HARVEY, who plays Cole’s chief school bully, Jeremy. There’s something they could have done with the interplay between him and Cole at the end; a potentially schmaltzy, Hollywood-y moment that could have completely destroyed the movie’s snarky, smart-assed spell…but they did NOT go for it! I’m all for high-fiving McG, Duffield, or whoever it was that made the call on that.
So, overall, I am gracing Netflix’s THE BABYSITTER with three-and-a-half out of five very enthusiastic stars. And by-the-way…DON’T leave right when the end credits start…(You’re welcome.)