If you’re looking for a twist on the ‘babysitter and child’ trope in the thriller genre, look no further than Emelie. Directed by relative newcomer Michael Thelin (whose previous credits are mostly live band films), the film follows the events that take place on a night that three children, Sally (Carly Adams), Christopher (Thomas Bair), and Jacob (Joshua Rush), are left at home with the babysitter, Anna (Sarah Bolger). As it turns out, Anna isn’t actually Anna, but Emelie, a woman with a dark past and nefarious plans for the children.
Though taking a while to start up, the film teases the unsettling elements of Emelie from the beginning. Crossing between the anniversary dinner of the kids’ parents and the events taking place back at home, the film does well to build the tension as events unfold on both sides. The intriguing aspect of the thriller genre in general is that, because of its well versed tropes, the audience is always going to be looking for things that aren’t quite right, in order to avoid the ever terrifying jump scare, for example, and Thelin does well on playing on this. You’ll become hyper-aware of seemingly mundane things, finding yourself on the edge of your seat without realizing it.
The eldest brother, Jacob, becomes one of the more central focuses of the film as he takes on Emelie. Seeing the squabbling brothers and the mother tirelessly trying to discipline them at the beginning of the film shows how quickly he is forced to grow up from the situation he is thrown in. Emelie’s bluntness does well to serve against Jacob’s naivety and the character chemistry works nicely to build suspense.
The cinematography and framing are used to great effect, making the audience aware from the opening moments that Emelie isn’t quite normal and teasing the audience for a majority of the film by refusing to make clear what her exact motivations are. There are also some great moments of humour and one-liners that do well to break the tension.
Unfortunately, a number of moments deliver shock for the sake of shock, an often-unnecessary decision, leading to a number of scenes that are just uncomfortable, more than thrilling. The complete naivety of Christopher and Sally (they are quite young) make you even more uncomfortable with some of the darker themes explored.
Emelie has shining moments throughout, but tries too hard to add something new to its ultimately basic premise. That being said, Bolger does very well at playing with the duality of her character and Emelie is incredibly intriguing as a concept if you have a strong stomach, can deal with darker/problematic themes and adore the thriller genre. As a casual watcher of thrillers, Emelie wasn’t exactly the film for me, but I appreciated the cinematography and the performance of each cast member.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10