Following on from her turn in the Australian psychological thriller Bad Girl, Samara Weaving is once again hiding evil intent under a welcoming, not to mention sexually alluring, facade in the Netlfix original horror comedy, The Babysitter.
Weaving is Bee, teenage babysitter and object of both affection and desire to her 12 year old charge, Cole (Judah Lewis). And why not? For one thing, she looks like Samara Weaving, positioned as a very American kind of adolescent sex dream via director McG’s exceedingly male-gazey camera, all short shorts, perfect teeth and honey-coloured hair. For another, she’s the kind of “cool girl” who can go answer for answer at sci-fi trivia games and quote along to a cult movie like Billy Jack (screenwriter Brian Duffield might be indulging in a little wish fulfillment here, bless him).
But she’s eeeevil, and plans to use Cole as a blood sacrifice in a magic ritual, along with the help of her hunky and hot high school coven (Bella Thorne, Robbie Amell, Andrew Bachelor, Hana Mae Lee). And so we’re off on a horrific Home Alone riff (the film even openly acknowledges the debt via dialogue at one point), with Cole trying to stay out of the cult’s clutches as the body count rises and the claret is spilled with gusto.
The Babysitter sits right at the crossroads of Passable and Problematic – if McG’s lens leering at Weaving and her co-stars is a dealbreaker for you, it’s best to steer clear (to be fair, Amell spends most of the film shirtless – a concession for those whose tastes run to beefcake). There’s some business about Cole undergoing a rite de passage, but it never hits home enough to give the proceedings any real emotional heft. We do get some fun gore gags, though, from one hapless character taking a fire poker through the eye socket, to another straight up exploding in a welter of gore.
McG has never been the most restrained of directors, and even here he doesn’t trust the guileless material to connect with the audience, peppering the already OTT story with jarring freeze-frames and to-the-audience captions – think Zombieland, but not as sly. Still, he handles the action well, which is the main KPI in something like this.
The Babysitter is not going to set anyone’s world on fire, but strong, engaging performances, a brisk pace, and a cheerfully perverse, juvenile attitude to boobs and blood means there’s definitely an audience who will groove to its undeniable but still limited charms.
Like its lead characters, Bad Girl, from writer/director, Fin Edquist, is somewhat beguiling. Tearaway teen, Amy (Sara West), has been dragged begrudgingly to live in the Aussie country by her adoptive parents; the theory appears to be that a new start and fresh air will suppress her need to constantly kick against the pricks. Running away from her new home almost immediately, she comes into contact with Chloe (Samara Weaving), who takes her under her doting wing.
There’s a clear sexual chemistry between the two, told through neon drenched daydreams, which Amy is more than happy to delve into, but Chloe seems uninterested initially, though she at least tries to help Amy find her real parents. So far, so teen drama. However, the truth is unleashed, and Edquist’s film becomes an arresting thriller driven by two stellar performances.
As Amy, West captures someone losing their footing whilst trying to maintain a perfectly stylised façade of teenage rebellion. Weaving’s Chloe is utterly disarming, and appears to be one of the few people who can actually get through to Amy. When an act of vandalism leads to sex between the two, a part of Chloe is exposed that Amy initially didn’t notice. Or didn’t want to at least. Edquist doesn’t allow the film to rush to conclusions, preying upon his audience with little morsels before finally dropping a big dollop of exposition in the final act that sees Bad Girl mutate into a teenage Fatal Attraction. Admittedly, the histrionics at this juncture dangerously veer towards smothering the nuance and subtle dread that the director has built up throughout, fuelled in part by Bad Seed, Warren Ellis’ ominous score. But once we’re in the throes of it, Bad Girl still manages to be unbearably tense.
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