Ed. note– This was released on a Friday the 13th in October. Happy Tuesday the 24th!– P. F.
Given that the title makes it sound like a sleazy 1970s exploitation flick, I went in expecting that type of movie from THE BABYSITTER. Even Netflix’ description makes it sound that way (don’t read it; it’s a major spoiler). What I got was an over-the-top, funny splatter flick that is quite a joy for a while, but starts to drag about two-thirds of the way through. That’s a shame, because it’s got two strong leads who play well off one another, but even they can’t help the flick maintain its crazy verve once the one hour mark hits.
Bee is the babysitter every boy wants. She’s a hot blonde who’s cool as the other side of the pillow, and has no problem beating up a bully in protection of her young charge. She and 12-year-old Cole have a special bond, because he can be himself with her and doesn’t feel awkward. When his parents head off for a weekend and Cole’s cute classmate tells him he should sneak downstairs and spy on Bee and her friends, he discovers some dark stuff that will lead him to a fight for survival.
That likely sounds like a sleazy 70s exploitation synopsis, and it could easily have been, but for the approach. Director McG and writer Brian Duffield have put together not exactly a spoof or parody, not exactly a horror comedy, but certainly a flick with a sense of humor as well as horror. Sure, there’s an intense makeout session between two girls, a child at peril at the hands of bloodthirsty teens, a huge car crash and even a subplot about a grimoire, but it’s all played more for laughs than chills. And for a while, that actually benefits the flick. While McG’s name on a product usually makes me cringe, he produced Supernatural for a long time, and the balance of jokes and kills worked for me for a few seasons there. For about an hour it works in THE BABYSITTER as well, and then it runs out of gas.
It works at all mostly because of Samara Weaving and Judah Lewis as Bee and Cole. Lewis is great as the nerdy, picked on kid who has to rise to the occasion if he wants to see 13. He’s not strong, not even the brightest of kids (as pointed out by a very funny scene in which he tries to cut through ropes that are binding him), but he’s a good kid, and one worth rooting for. Bee sees the good in him, and treats him like a person. Weaving is warm and inviting, even after things go sideways for Cole. Their relationship works on the strength of the acting. They also play the comedy really well, and near the film’s end they make it an emotional affair with some weight to it, which came as quite an effective surprise.
Once it becomes a kill count movie, though, it starts to drag, and a major part of that is that Bee drops out for a while as other teens try to kill Cole. Some of these scenes go on forever, such as when a shirtless hunk stalks Cole. It expands through a re-introduction of an earlier bully, when the hunk counsels Cole on facing off against those who pick on him. Even Cole finds this outlandish, given the source. The problem is, this extended stalking scene could’ve been cut drastically, especially that part with the bully in the middle, and it would not only have made the pacing better, but would have torqued up the tension greatly. These other teens are fairly stock characters, written that way to poke fun at those stereotypes I’m sure, but that doesn’t make them any more appealing. The Black guy gets some funny lines early, including one that references CARRIE, but even he wears thin pretty quickly. The only standout in the group is Bella Thorne as the cheerleader who gets shot in the boob and bemoans throughout how this will ruin her social standing. Thorne relishes in this, and it’s funny stuff. Her return at a later point in the flick is at least welcome, even if it doesn’t exactly drive the plot forward. This flick would have been a lot better at 70 minutes than 85.
A few other changes would have also improved it. I don’t ever need to see phone graphics on the screen alongside a character using a phone again, as they take me right out of the movie. It’s a lazy technique. Also on my never list, please never have a character jump out of the shadows to stab/ shoot/ gore/ beat/ slash an unassuming character right before the end credits break onto the screen; I know you want to make a sequel. You don’t need to set it up with a cliché. And you actively insult my intelligence when you feel you have to show me flashbacks to understand how they play into future plot points. Give me some credit, goddammit. I know THE BABYSITTER isn’t the second coming of Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN, but we need not roll into stale, overused tactics.
Fortunately, “stale” and “overused” are two adjectives I wouldn’t apply to most of this flick. Sure, it’s throwaway entertainment, but I wasn’t screaming about wanting my 85 minutes back at its end. I probably don’t ever need to watch it again, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch it a first time. Weaving and Lewis have a sort of magic together, and you’ll likely laugh several times before you hit that 60 minute mark. There’s also plenty of gore for you to enjoy—what other movie with a grimoire involved also involves a character blowing another’s head clear off with a shotgun?—and if you’re not rooting for Cole to make it through the night, your heart is clearly dead and black. And if that car flip at the end would fit perfectly in a 70s exploitation horror called THE BABYSITTER, there’s that too.