In He Said/She Said, critics Joe and Valeska dissect a film in a back and forth email exchange. First up: Netflix’s original horror film, The Babysitter (2017).
Synopsis: “When Cole (Judah Lewis) stays up past his bedtime, he discovers that his hot babysitter Bee (Samara Weaving) is part of a satanic cult that will stop at nothing to keep him quiet.”
Well, here we are for our very first He Said/She Said and what a cinematic masterpiece we picked for our first discussion! I have got to say that I’ve always enjoyed (admired?) the high octane visual energy of McG, even if his films more often than not veer off a cliff narratively.
Unfortunately The Babysitter, his first directorial effort in three years, didn’t do it for me at all. I should confess right off the top here that part of the reason may be that I spent most of the brief 85 minute runtime comparing it unfavourably to Chris Peckover’s much superior Better Watch Out (which just came out on iTunes and VOD last week and is a much more enjoyable experience). Even if Peckover’s film wasn’t a much more interesting inversion of familiar horror tropes, though, The Babysitter is just a really poorly plotted. Even at the end of the film I had no real idea why this group of twenty-something hotties showed up in poor Cole’s house looking to make not one, but two sacrifices. Sure, there’s a throwaway line about a virgin and an innocent, but what exactly is their motivation beyond “get everything you want”? It plays out more like screenwriter Brian Duffield had a great idea about a babysitter that tries to kill her charge, but never bothered to flesh out the concept. Considering that this was a Blacklist screenplay waaaaay back in 2014, I’m shocked that there isn’t more to it.
V, what were your overall impressions of the film? Did McG’s habit of literally visualizing action with written titles and phrases amuse or annoy you? And dare we wade into the murky gender representations?
It’s funny that you should mention Better Watch Out; I also spent much of my time wishing that I were watching Peckover’s holiday horror masterpiece, instead. (Check out my review here)
I agree with you about The Babysitter‘s abysmal plotting, which I’m sure is no surprise. I had a lot of issues with the script that extended far beyond the poorly articulated character motivations and improbable “twists”, but we can talk about that a bit later!
As for my overall impression of the film, I think that you’re spot-on with your assessment that the concept wasn’t fully fleshed out. For the most part, the cast did the best that they could with the material given (I was actually quite impressed with Judah Lewis), but the script was cobbled together using hollow archetypes and wince-worthy tropes, and the arcs were telegraphed from a mile away. Tonally and thematically, I feel that the film desperately wanted to be perceived as clever and subversive, but missed the mark by not actually subverting any of the tropes it introduced. Instead, I felt that it wallowed in the aspects that it was trying to lampoon, and the jokes weren’t funny enough for that approach to work.
I was okay with the visual gags. The bit where he stops to google “orgy” made me chortle aloud, and the Spin the Bottle introduction sequence was fine. I came into the film expecting that sort of thing, knowing that McG was calling the shots, so I was prepared to indulge him.
As for the gender representations … oy vey. This calls back to my comment about the tropes, because of COURSE we have to have a cheerleader as part of the group. In her uniform. With her crop top. I’m surprised they didn’t just have her carrying the pom-poms as well — it’s the one bit of restraint that the film showed. The girl-on-girl Dare kiss, while clearly filmed through the boner lens (which is my favourite new term for the male gaze, coined by @laura_hudson), made me hope that we would be given a truly subversive lesbian pairing between the two women, but, once again, I am denied a queer lady relationship in horror. C’est la vie.
Joe, how did you feel about the dialogue? To me, it felt less like a representation of real teenagers than a representation of how 60-year-old men who still talk about “surfing the web” think that teenagers speak.
You’re spot on about the dialogue, especially in supporting characters like Allison (Bella Thorne) and John (Andrew Bachelor). The Babysitter suffers most when it stands in the shadow of far superior slasher fare like Scream (Duffield is no Kevin Williamson) and you can see the genesis of that “desperate to be witty” phenomenon very clearly in both of those aforementioned characters. Neither of them have a purpose for existing and while I dig comic relief characters as much as the next guy, if you going to play the part, you need better material than these limp one-liners. I’m markedly outside of the target audience for Thorne’s particular kind of “celebrity,” but I fail to find anything remotely funny when Allison repeatedly bemoans her deflated boob. Ha ha?
Desperate all of its shortcomings, I do feel the need to give the film a little credit for a few decent kills. When Allison is initially shot – literally blown across the room – I may have cackled a little (this would have been more enjoyable had she simply stayed dead, but I suppose you don’t hire Thorne solely for the cheerleading outfit and the Cruel Intentions foreplay). Similarly John’s death down the stairwell and onto the glass shard was impressive. Here McG’s penchant for shooting action plays to The Babysitter’s advantage – it’s ridiculous, but lively.
Unfortunately that’s where it ends for me. In particular, the middle section of the film drags…badly. While I have residual goodwill towards Pitch Perfect actress Hanna Mae Lee, Sonya’s death doesn’t make any sense to me. How do fireworks + bug spray = an exploded basement (with no impact to the rest of the house)? And I would never complain about a shirtless Robbie Amell running around, but the extended detour when Cole tries and fails to stand up to school bully Jeremy (Miles J. Harvey) not only doesn’t work as comedy, it derails the momentum of the film. It’s only after Max and Allison are dispatched with that things pick up again, which to me is a testament to how important the interactions between Samara Weaving’s Bee and Cole are to the film. Their interactions and easy camaraderie make the early parts of the film enjoyable and accessible. When Bee disappears for the entire middle section, The Babysitter flounders because it depends on underdeveloped secondary characters with hazy motivations.
V, do you agree that the Bee and Cole interactions make and break the film? And what did you make of how Cole’s school crush Melody (Emily Alyn Lind) comes and goes with little consequence?
We may as well call this review They Said, because once again we’re in total agreement. I don’t know a single woman who talks about her own breasts as frequently as Allison does in this film. I wasn’t a fan of the writing for Andrew Bachelor’s character, John, either. This film can never be accused of subtlety or nuance.
And the scene where Cole and Max have their after-school-special moment about standing up to bullies? No. Just, no. That made zero sense for the plot or for Max’s character. And why would Cole go along with it instead of running down the street screaming for help? He may be a coward, but he is not a dumb kid. We spent the entire first act establishing that. In no way is he going to try to confront his bully John Wayne style while a murderous psychopath is watching from 15 metres away, and I guarantee that Max wouldn’t allow him to have an extended conversation with Jeremy under his watchful eye. Come on, guys. I think I rolled my eyes for the entire second act, though you’re right — some of the kills were fun and I did laugh aloud at several of the jokes.
And yes, the film lives and dies by the chemistry between Cole and Bee, which is the saving grace of the film. Their early scenes together veer close to magical — I especially loved their choreographed dance, sci-fi game, and backyard screening. Judah Lewis really sells the heartbreak when Cole discovers Bee’s dark secret and betrayal.
As for Melody, she definitely needed more screen-time! She was a little too precocious and insightful at times, but she was a tremendously likeable character and her presence on-screen was a soothing balm on the brain-rash I suffered from putting up with Bee’s idiot friends for so long.
I guess you could say that I am not the biggest fan of The Babysitter. I’d give it a 4 out of 10, how about you?
Sadly it’s definitely not worth the time or effort. 4 out of 10 seems more than fair. Perhaps I’d better let you pick our next flick because this was a misfire.
Want more snark and criticism?
- Follow Valeska @bitchcraftTO and check out her kickass female-run, queer-positive horror and lifestyle site Anatomy of a Scream
- Follow Joe @bstolemyremote and be sure to join the Bstolemyremote FB group for daily TV and film updates