So here’s a little tidbit about me: normally when I get ready for one of these pieces, I give myself a couple of viewings before I start to make any sort of notes. I like my first time down whatever Netflix journey I take to be totally immersive. Some reviewers can take notes the first time and that’s awesome; basically it’s whatever works for the person going through the adventure. So believe me when I say that after I watched the first fifteen minutes of The Babysitter, I had to pause and take out my Chromebook. I had to write down these notes and get these thoughts out right away because goddamn. And readers, and to the film itself, these are not words of endearment (and side note: the ‘g’ and ‘h’ keys on my laptop are broken so it looks like a bunch of bitter chicken scratch—-but it had to be done).
The next question is, does it stay the course of those fifteen minutes?
The Babysitter has a plot that’s engaging enough: Cole (Judah Lewis) is a barely a freshman in high school, and he’s also barely surviving. His stunning reputation as a world-class wuss follows him everywhere. Even though he has a best (and only) friend in Melanie (Emily Alyn Lind), he truly finds comfort in Bee (Samara Weaving), a 20-something weirdo that’s popular for her beauty and personality. Cole doesn’t get any respect from his parents, and they still feel he needs a babysitter whenever they go on their sex outings at hotels for the weekend. But that’s fine with Cole and Bee; neither one of them find anything weird with their relationship. They’re sort of kindred spirits. All of that gets thrown into a chopper the night that Cole decides to stay up late to see what his soul friend does after she thinks he’s out like a light: she and her friends perform murder in the name of a Satanic act to get whatever their dark hearts desire. Cole chooses fight over flight (in a sense), and tries to stop them one way or another.
Let me be up front about this: There are some worthwhile things in The Babysitter, but the first act in this short film is an endurance test, full of cringes and groans. Thus, the conflicting exam, and really as well as the film as a whole, rests with director itself. The direction of McG has been around since his music video days in the mid-’90s, and now with the release of this horror comedy, it’s just clear to me that the man is capable of finding quality somewhere, but as far as his own voice? It bums me when I think of his filmography. The lack of confidence in himself has been getting lost more and more in the passing years. The course of that first act is like a poor attempt to channel the film through other filmmakers that did this kinetic style better. I won’t name names and I won’t state the film’s title, but The Babysitter feels like it tries to be the sister sequel of another film that when you see it, you’ll know it and realize that you’d much rather be watching that film.
McG broke out with two Charlie’s Angels films, and while they’re not cinematic gems, they’re both a lot of fun, and it was an indication of his own style: fast, lively and maybe even a little messy. But still lively! From that point on, it’s been a ride filled with a lot of bumps, ranging from mediocrity (We are Marshall) to crummy (Terminator: Salvation) to…no, just no (this is the only time I’ll ever mention This Means War ever). The man can find high points, and the film honestly feels like his attempt to go back to the glory days. I don’t blame him for using Brian Duffield’s screenplay as the catalyst; it was featured on The Blacklist back in 2014. The script itself has some good ideas, some playful back-and-forth between predator and prey, and an ending that’s actually impressive. The Babysitter is built on solid foundation. The horror comedy subgenre is a tough nut to crack. The comedy has to be the supplemental to the horror, not the other way around, and while the screenplay didn’t quite accomplish that, it’s pretty close, and it has a blast along the way. It even has a pretty solid ensemble cast. But unfortunately, McG’s confidence in himself was still lost at the start, and what we end up with half of a what could’ve been a contender.
It’s not all bad news, though. In fact, if anything I should take this time to thank the filmmakers for introducing me to Weaving, who is not only the best about The Babysitter, but is clearly the film’s heartbeat. Every time she’s not on the screen, her absence is missed. She’s fantastic here, and clearly having the best time. At some point during filming, McG must’ve realized this, and I’m guessing that without her dynamics present in the end of the second act (the aforementioned absence), he realized that he needed to gut up and find it in him to stop simulating what other recent filmmakers have done before and just be himself. Basically, I feel like he decided to make an actual film. The last act of The Babysitter is the best part, and in some ways it makes up for the insufferable kickoff. It’s touching, tense, and absolutely ridiculous (there’s one part that reminded me of his Charlie’s Angels antics, and it made me cheer a little). The goofy texts are gone, the elements kick up a notch (especially the cinematography, done by the infamous Shane Hurlbut) and even the acting gets a little better, as if the cast knew they had to match up with Weaving’s quality at the right time.
I wish The Babysitter could’ve been the complete package. The first half nearly plays out like an adaptation of “Hyper Filmmaking for Dummies” complete with slapdash attempts of style, humor, and just plain randomness (why did the film go full-on POV that one scene?). The second half is all about McG throwing away that damn book, catching his breath, and calming down. He truly delivers at the end by taking the enthusiasm (the only other consistent thing in the film) and molding it to a semblance of confidence that results in a payoff that does need to be seen. Now, will McG take the experience of this film with him on his next adventure? I hope so. A confident McG firing on all cylinders could be a sight to behold. Good luck on your trek, good sir.