Stars: Samara Weaving, Judah Lewis, Bella Thorne
Joseph McGinty Nichol is a 49-year-old white man who insists on referring to himself as ‘McG’. Well, all right then. Maturity isn’t a necessary trait in a person, and there’s something to be said for embracing your inner child. And you have to admire the consistency. This isn’t some fly-by-night mid-life-crisis decision. Be it the unwatchable ADHD of Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, the series-killing tedium of Terminator Salvation or his steady focus on producing TV hits like Supernatural or, err, Lethal Weapon, Joseph McGinty Nichol has always been… McG.
TV has been a constant concern, so the arrival of his latest feature, The Babysitter, as a Netflix Original makes a lot of sense. What surprises is how much it feels like a scrappy little debut. It’s low-budget, free of particularly notable names. And it’s a horror-comedy; one of the safest bets for a young upstart trying to get attention. If McG is in mid-life-crisis mode, it appears to be manifesting as a wholesale artistic restart. It looks the part, but does it act the part?
Starting with the weird sensation that its actual opening got deleted, McG approaches The Babysitter as though it were a cereal commercial. It’s bright, cutting is unnecessarily frantic, all the bases are covered to engender enthusiasm from a teenage audience according to the rule book. THIS IS A HIP YOUNG MOVIE, OKAY? So to the story, which centres on a sensitive, bullied kid named Cole (Judah Lewis) who, though learning to drive with his dad, still isn’t trusted to be left home alone (despite being a total nerd, obviously). So he has a babysitter, Bee (Samara Weaving).
Bee has been Cole’s babysitter for years, only now he’s going through puberty he’s started to see her in a different light (i.e. he starts at her tits and he stares at her ass). Weaving plays the role as written with extreme gusto and on this evidence she could have a healthy comedic career ahead of her, but the role here is something of a cliché; she’s the mega-hot babe who likes to act like a jock, knows her xenomorphs from her predators, quotes The Godfather Part 2 and wants nothing more than to hang out and be bros with a hormonal kid several years younger than her. She lets him do shots and says just the right things to boost his wavering self-confidence. Yup, The Babysitter is a teenage boy’s sexual fantasy made flesh with all the according subtlety.
When a school friend suggests that Bee has sex with random boys once he is tucked up in bed, Cole decides to test the theory, sneaking out of his room when he hears other people turn up at the house. He finds a group of seniors playing spin the bottle (they’ve all arrived in US high-schooler cosplay of course; there’s even a cheerleader). In this scenario Cole is recast as weedy senior Samuel (Doug Haley). When Bee has to kiss Samuel as part of a dare, Cole watches breathlessly, all fluttering expectations. And it is here that Brian Duffield’s script introduces it’s horror aspect; Bee kisses Samuel, but she kills him too, in service of a blood pact with the devil! And Cole is next!
So, we’re in comfortable teenage cult territory, but the metaphor for virginal apprehension is right out there on the table. Still, McG presents it all cleanly, never letting the relentless stupidity of the situation interfere with his workmanlike ability to keep the tempo up. As events escalate, the vino starts flowing. McG and his effects team pull off a few gore effects, nothing you’ve not seen before, and The Babysitter becomes exactly what you’d expect and not a film for 12-year-olds like Cole.
But the maturity level remains with him. So when cheerleader Allison (Bella Thorne) is shot, more or less in the heart, not only is she fine, but her main concern is that nobody will want to motorboat her boobs anymore. I know, I know; it’s a joke. I’m explaining the joke and I’m taking it too seriously. But my point is that the comedy isn’t funny; it’s inane. It’s childish. The Babysitter plays out like an R rated Home Alone, but one in which Macauley Culkin dispatches criminals with dumb luck; these seniors more or less extinguish themselves. Man, being in a cult with no clear objective really is for dummies.
So The Babysitter does feel like a mid-life-crisis in the sense that it doesn’t credit a young audience with any intelligence. It’s a film for kids (but not rated for kids), about kids, but it doesn’t know kids. And no amount of ‘HELL YEAH’s and ‘WHAT THE FUCK’s written in giant text on the screen is going to change that. When set beside something as witty, savvy and clever as Joseph Kahn’s Detention, for instance, McG’s movie becomes little more than a genre footnote, one that barely excuses its svelte 82 minute running time.
…And that’s okay.
Nobody expected this to make inroads into progressive teen horror. This was never going to be another It Follows. A movie like this one has no ambition. The only mandate is be stupid. Mandate fulfilled. You could argue that I needed to embrace my inner child here a little more, but even that kid’s embarrassed for The Babysitter.