Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directed by: Michael Thelin
Written by: Rich Herbeck
Starring: Sarah Bolger, Joshua Rush, Carly Adams, Thomas Bair, Chris Beetem, Susan Pourfar, Elizabeth Jayne & Randi Langdon
The babysitter from hell trope has been used as comedy many films and TV shows, but it gets the horror treatment in EMELIE. This movie’s premise is simple, but scary. The execution leaves a lot to be desired. EMELIE has solid performances from the titular villainess and a preteen protagonist, but everyone else seems like they’re straight out of community theater. Though there are a couple of effectively creepy scenes in the first half, most of EMELIE’s script is rather pedestrian and bland. This horror-thriller is in one ear and out the other.
The Thompson siblings have been left with a new babysitter whilst their parents are on an anniversary date. Though their usual babysitter is M.I.A., the kids seem to enjoy the company of fresh-faced Anna (Sarah Bolger). Sally (Carly Adams) and Christopher (Thomas Bair) play imaginary games with Anna, whilst preteen Jacob (Joshua Rush) takes a liking to her devil-may-care attitude and her pretty looks. However, Anna is not who she appears to be. First, some damage is done to the house. Then, an experiment with a family pet goes horribly wrong. Things only get progressively weirder from there. Jacob soon realizes that he and his siblings are in very real danger from the cool new babysitter…and engages in a tense battle of wills with the dangerous teenage girl.
Clocking in at 80 minutes, EMELIE doesn’t have a lot of time to spare in terms of character development or pacing. Though the atmosphere of the film is similar to that of a slow-burn chiller, the plot runs pretty fast as events play out with the viewer never fully getting a ton of time to care about them. The evil babysitter’s background is given through a cheap exposition dump, aided by cheesy flashbacks. To be honest, her motivation feels forced and ripped straight out of a stereotypical Lifetime Channel original movie. I was expecting the story to play things a little smarter and it was about as dumb as they come. The causes for EMELIE’s blandness don’t exactly fall entirely on the shoulders of messy pacing and mediocre writing though, because the performances are mixed across the cast.
Three child actors are front and center, with two of those performers feeling like annoying kid actors who try too hard. Only one of them actually seems up to the task of bringing believable emotions and knocking his performance out of the park. Far be it from me to ridicule a child’s acting, but there are many horror films that pull brilliant performances out of prepubescent actors and actresses (e.g. HOME MOVIE, THE CHILDREN, OCULUS, etc.). EMELIE is not one of those films. Joshua Rush and Sarah Bolger (as the psycho babysitter) are the only two solid performances worth noting and that includes the adults.
Though it may sound like I’m trashing this film, there are redeemable qualities that almost balance out the bad and make this into something worth watching. The opening scenes show promise and generate a thick sense of unease. There are a couple of scenes with the babysitter from hell inflicting psychological tortures upon her young prey that are messed up to say the least. Two big moments stick out and I won’t go into specific details about them, but they are chillingly effective. If EMELIE relied more on scenes like these and less on a made-for-TV storyline that’s been seen a hundred times before, then this film could have been a disturbing winner.
As a whole, EMELIE doesn’t necessarily do anything horrible, but it doesn’t do much that’s great either. It falls into a strictly middle-of-the-road experience. This killed 80 minutes and didn’t leave me with much of an impression, other than it’s so-so and a waste of time. That’s a real shame too, because this premise is rife for a freaky thriller. Though a couple of mean-spirited moments and two performances stick out, EMELIE is a mostly forgettable horror flick that seems to avoid doing anything new, twisted, and (least of all) scary.