They shoot babysitters, don't they? Thomas Bair and Sarah Bolger in Emelie
Babysitters have long been popular subjects in horror. From old urban legends about creepy phone calls and “turkeys” roasted in ovens to teens getting stalked on Halloween, they’ve been cast as both protagonist and villain in all manner of stories. Halloween series producer once said he responded to the original film’s pitch because “every kid in America knows who a babysitter is.” The taboo of children in jeopardy is a potent one: it inspires both protective instincts and, possibly, repressed animosity.
In Emelie, a pitch black entry in the “Midnight” section at Tribeca this year, a suburban couple allows “Anna,” a first time sitter to watch their kids because their usual choice cancelled last minute. She’s cute enough to catch dad’s eye and seems sweet and agreeable to mom and the children. Jacob (Joshua Rush), the oldest, isn’t as keen to hang with her as his younger brother or sister, but he’s eleven, so he’s In That Phase. She scores some points by tossing him his confiscated handheld video game and both excites and scares him in an unorthodox bathroom encounter. Without giving away too much, strange decisions and comments i.e. “It’s okay to destroy things for fun sometimes” soon give way to increasingly disturbing games. At least one critic walked out of the screening I attended, probably because seeing kids getting disturbed is too disturbing for many. And the thing is, when he left he hadn’t seen *nothing* yet.
Emelie has a strong and powerfully unnerving script, and it benefits tremendously from top tier performances by Sarah Bolger as Emelie and Rush and the other juvenile actors. Children are notoriously difficult to elicit believable performances from, but all do well here, especially Rush as a convincingly morose, then heroic, pre-teen. The fact that Thomas Bair-- the child playing the main focus of Emelie’s fixation—is totally adorable only adds to the film’s effectiveness. Director Michael Thelin manages to pull off this supremely f’ed up movie with nary a hint of exploitation or cheap scares. If you can get past the uncomfortable idea of kids threatened by a psycho you’ll find a lot to appreciate here. P.S. Stick around through the credits for a hauntingly awesome Blondie cover.
Emelie screens tomorrow, April 24 at 10:30pm for free at Regal Battery Park City as part of the Tribeca Film Festival Free for All Friday.
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