The Babysitter has landed on Netflix just in time for Halloween and, by all accounts, it’s the perfect type of movie to be indulging in this holiday season. It’s quirky, it’s colourful and it’s ultra violent. In fact its entire production design reeks of Halloween, even though it’s set at an undetermined time of the year.
Twelve-year-old Cole (Judah Lewis, Point Break) is the only kid in his neighbourhood with a babysitter. But he doesn’t mind because she’s a super cool, totally hot teenager who has his back when local bullies bring him down. Her name is Bee (Samara Weaving, Ash vs Evil Dead) and on this particular weekend she’s tasked by Cole’s parents to look after him while they’re away. After Cole’s bedtime she invites a group of friends over, who participate in a game of spin-the-bottle, and with Cole spying on them from the top of the stairs, their night takes a sudden turn that sets in motion a night of murder, mayhem and gore.
The details of the carnage and how it all unfolds are not for me to say, nor would I want to spoil the fun for you. It’s the type of movie that feels stock-standard at first glance, but reveals itself to be an unexpected and spirited comedy-horror. Suffice to say, The Babysitter is full of surprises, and it throws back to familiar movies of the past while tweaking the tropes to its advantage.
The production design is striking, and with its clean – almost sanitised – cinematography, the film nods to the wonderful work of Joe Dante in the late 80s, as well as winking to the likes of John Carpenter, Fred Dekker and Wes Craven. It certainly is an inspired movie, and with the production’s pristine tree-lined streets, colourful foggy suburban landscape and director McG’s (Charlie’s Angels, We Are Marshall) frivolous sense of adventure, it’s Dante’s ’89 film The ‘Burbs that comes to mind first. And once the mayhem begins we are hurled into the sort of frivolous nightmare that Night of the Creeps gave us three decades earlier.
The Babysitter was written by Brian Duffield (Insurgent) and collected dust for several years on Hollywood’s infamous blacklist (a collection of the industry’s most popular unproduced screenplays), and despite similar teen-themed titles such as All Cheerleaders Must Die and Jennifer’s Body paving the way for this brand of movie, Duffield’s script managed to fall by the wayside. That is until New Line Cinema scooped it up and Netflix secured its distribution. It is a cleverly written script with a clear understanding for the genre. The pacing is tight and the balance between comedy and horror is about as precise as can be. I would assume that much of Duffield’s childhood was spent raiding the shelves at his local video store, because his love for “old school” is clearly worn on his sleeve.
The cast is made up of a strong ensemble with Australian actress Weaving (niece of Hugo Weaving) assuming the title role. Hot off of a stint in Ash vs Evil Dead, she comes to the party fully seasoned in the ways of splatter, and her presence on screen is wonderful. She understands the material and invests a great amount of commitment to her role, and with her character being a chameleon – of sorts – she gives a diverse and impressive performance. Her main co-star is young Lewis, who is given the almighty task of headlining the whole damn thing, and despite Weaving’s character being the movie’s namesake, it is Lewis who drives it home. He belts his performance out of the park and exudes confidence and charisma while navigating an environment of goo, gore and slime. He also hits a few unexpectedly emotional chords, which lend the story a touch of endearment.
Right now we are experiencing a tidal wave of retro-centric horror, whereby film and television are recapturing the brand of entertainment previously enjoyed by 1980s audiences, and with Stephen King’s It and Stranger Things taking the world by storm this year, there’s no better time to be pitting a twelve-year-old kid against murderous maniacs.
Here is a strong example of style married with substance. With its insatiable desire to entertain, The Babysitter will hit the spot with most genre fiends and should give newcomers one hell of a bloody good time. I sure as hell didn’t expect it to be this good and you can bet I’ll be going back for more.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★★☆