Cast: Samara Weaving, Judah Lewis, Robbie Amell, Hana Mae Lee, Bella Thorne, Leslie Bibb, Ken Marino, Emily Alyn Lind
Plot: Twelve-year-old, Cole Johnson (Lewis) suspects his attractive babysitter (Weaving) has sex in his house after he has gone to bed. It turns out she is a devil worshipper and uses the house for human sacrifices. Easy mistake to make…
When you think about it Home Alone is essentially Die Hard. One protagonist, trapped in an enclosed location, is attacked by multiple bad guys and must use the location and his wits to his advantage. Sure, Home Alone’s Kevin McCallister might make more use of wacky gadgets than John McClane, but the premise crosses over more often than not. It could be argued that McG took that concept and just made the missing link, a movie that references that imagined middle ground between the two movies.
What we get is a surprisingly fun slice of action comedy with unlikely characters. The movie’s main character is a likeable twelve-year-old (the last five years have seen some outstanding child actors step up to the plate), Cole Johnson, pitted against a group of satanic followers, comprised of handsome teenagers. McG’s biggest trick up his sleeve is keeping the lengths to which he is willing to go to make his movie original. The movie initially paints itself as a typical teen drama (okay, they’re twelve, but I don’t quite know an alternative phrase to use here), but filmed with that zany film-making from the Edgar Wright/Adam Wingard train of thought. There is a pulpy, comic-book feel to the narrative, which keeps it from slipping into the ordinary. Samara Weaving enters the screen dramatically, coming across as a neat blend between a Tarantino sex icon and hip badass role model. There are neat comedy cameos from Leslie Bibb and Ken Marino as the expressive, cool parents. They don’t hang around too much, but make the most with the time they’ve got, even if their character arc is limited to ‘really, really awesome people’. The soundtrack is also appropriately great. I also admired the use of the romantic couple being in the twelve-year old age range. It comes across as cute, rather than a forced narrative point. Emily Alyn Lind is a great find, charismatic even when given the bare minimum of a character. While she might be stuck with the love interest angle, their age makes that conventional plot point fresh and steered away from the over-sexualised nature of most on-screen couples. They are just two people that really like each other, never losing its way from that initial starting point. These points and more keep proceedings ticking over, until the real fun starts. Lind convinces Judah Lewis’ Cole that babysitter Samara Weaving waits until he goes to sleep and then has sex with men in his living room. Hitting that age where he wants to unravel the mystery that is sex, Cole fakes falling asleep and sets himself up to spy on them. Cue the best scene in the film (and there are a lot to choose from). The scene features some impossibly attractive twenty-something actors (Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne – and, of course, Weaving), playing the spin-the-bottle. The scene starts playful, divulges into the kind of sexualised content the older audiences are praying to see from this kind of movie and then twists into something shocking, horrible and, ultimately, brilliant.
The rest of the film is best left unknown, but it evolves into a nail-biting thriller that is heavy on the small in-jokes, visual gags and bloody execution. There are some nail-biting scenes that make for pulse-pounding viewing. The Babysitter is only a horror at a stretch, no sign of any ghoul or traditional monster, but there are scenes where cold sweats will be squeezed out of you. The film is more interested in being good old-fashioned fun than anything else. It is both a satisfying action, with a few scenes that are ripped gloriously out of a big-budget action (that final kill!), and the film always finds new ways to surprise you. Maybe a certain death just hits a height you never expected this film, that opened with two twelve-year olds unsure how to ask each other out, to go for. Maybe it is how neatly the comedy is blended with the other genres. When the film threatens to be too much for the weak-of-heart, a joke will bring you right back into comfortable territory. Perhaps the comedy is the one angle, where things aren’t quite as smooth. It is a question of taste, at the end of the day. One scene where a killer stops his slaughter to advise his victim on the proper way to handle a bully felt too surrealist for my tastes, but then again, some might appreciate the inventive humour. Or perhaps they felt the line was crossed much earlier. However, a few jokes missing the mark aside, the writing is consistently clever. If it isn’t trying to make you laugh, it is ingraining important information into your subconscious, so details you don’t realise are in the back of your mind, are strategically placed for later. It makes certain reveals come across as mini-twists that you surprise yourself that you didn’t see coming. “Oh, that’s why that joke was told earlier…” The end result is a smart indie surprise from Netflix, that clocks in at a brisk pace, never feels stale and is likely to be an outside bet for your favourite film of the year.
Final Verdict: Smartly-written with a charismatic cast and a director who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty.