Stars: Bella Thorne, Emily Alyn Lind, Jenna Ortega
Three years on from his apparent career-restart and McG hasn’t gotten very far maturing. 2017’s The Babysitter had gusto going for it, but not a lot else. Like Steve Buscemi asking how his fellow kids are, it came off as trying a little too hard, rocking a script steeped in buzzwords and Buffyisms, but with the inanity dialed up to the max as it fawned over the Snapchat generation.
Not quite to the max, it turns out, as this sequel does its damnedest to gun it even harder. Coming at you like 100 minutes of TikTok videos sandwiched together, that means even gaudier colours, more zany cut-aways than an episode of Family Guy, and a lot more swearing to impress the teenage audience. The Babysitter: Killer Queen smacks of not only committee-meeting authorship, but also good old desperation.
It’s been two years since Cole (Judah Lewis) barely escaped a demonic cult intent on sacrificing him. Since then he’s told his far-fetched story to any and all who will listen. Now his parents want to medicate him and he’s become a social pariah. Bless him, he dresses like a little Wes Anderson (it probably doesn’t help).
When a girl named Melanie (Emily Alyn Lind) invites him to a nighttime gathering on a boat, Cole takes the opportunity to improve his popularity and buck his parents’ expectations. Also in the hopes that he’ll get close to the pretty blonde. He does… but the cult who terrorised him once before haven’t quite finished with him yet; its original members brought back from hell to finish the job they started. Cue a long and lazy variation on Scary Movie as The Babysitter: Killer Queen drags itself through any old horror movie reference available in its thirst for comedic currency.
Last time around Samara Weaving embodied the male teenage fantasy; the babe who just wants to drink beer and quote movies. This time the whole cast seems to call out with this voice, even the parents, who stay at home taking bong hits and playing video games. New girl Phoebe (Jenna Ortega) drops Film Twitter hot-takes like Scream didn’t happen… or only happened yesterday. Ortega has a welcome Tessa Thompson-esque energy, but she’s one of the few positives in this obnoxious endurance test. With bad guys outnumbering the good, this quickly becomes an all-out assault. Who can grate hardest. The result is all noise. The best thing about most of the derivative death scenes is that it usually means someone will finally shut the hell up. ‘Ironically’ lazy bloody effects echo better work in everything from Silent Night, Deadly Night to Piranha 3D.
At least McG acknowledges the strained artifice of it all. Where the first movie confined itself largely to one locale, Killer Queen roams the edges of a woodland lake (yes, someone calls it Camp Crystal). As various characters boat it back and forth, McG frames them beneath a starlit sky comparable to Paul King’s Boosh-era handcrafted fantasy sets. The too-bright lighting and music video fog add to this fabricated aesthetic. It’s far less charming than King’s efforts, granted, but at least it signifies that McG’s cartoonish folly is intentional. One imagines he’s aiming for the swift, youthful flex of Edgar Wright circa Scott Pigrim. Instead – at best – he’s operating at a level akin to Turbo Kid or that half-hour ninja thing that came out years ago.
Weaving cameos throughout in a way that suggests she only had a day or two spare. That’s good news for her. Anyone who caught last year’s exceptional Ready Or Not knows that she’s used The Babysitter to springboard to better things already. One hopes the same for Ortega, and it’ll probably happen for Lind, too (already very good in last year’s Doctor Sleep).
The protracted finale dabbles with injecting a little heart into things, but its a half-measure and not nearly enough to forgive the agony of getting there. And then it’s capped with a hard reminder that this semblance of sincerity itself is the real deep fake. The only thing harder to pull off than a truly great horror is a truly great comedy. The marrying of these two can be nigh-on impossible. I guess it comes down to a question of taste, and maturity. McG remains the Peter Pan of pop culture.