The 1980s seem like a magical time, at least in retrospect. The music, the hair, the bad yet oh so good horror movies. It was an era, if only in our minds, where guilty and pleasure might as well have been synonymous. That’s also what Netflix’s The Babysitter is certainly yearning for as a modern day streaming ode to movies about streams of blood trickling off nubile young bodies. And when it is about its bloodletting, The Babysitter has moments of splattered splendor.
As a whole though, McG returns to behind the camera for his first feature in three years with a confirmation that any of the vitality and playfulness imbued in his first Charlie’s Angels film has rushed out of him like the red geysers exploding from the many stock stereotypes present here. In the place of any semblance of life is a cynical and empty husk of a horror movie that’s animated by hackneyed humor, teen titillation, and an entirely rote series of set-pieces only freshened up when the special effects guys get to blow up somebody’s head. Otherwise this Netflix original—unlike two recent Halloween charmers in Gerald’s Game and even Little Evil—is not that original at all.
Amiably playing into the most base of pubescent male fantasies, the film is all about one kid’s relationship with his babysitter. A babysitter who is so cool and perfect in every possible way that she just has to be an angel sent from above… or that other place. The said siren calls herself Bee (Samara Weaving), and she is so down for hanging out with her favorite kid Cole (Judah Lewis), he nor his parents ever seem to have a discussion about young Cole being old enough to not need a babysitter.
Indeed, the 13-year-old kid is as sweet and innocent as they come, chatting about his favorite Star Trek captains and Ellen Ripley with Bee over dinner, and stealing only a fleeting glance at her devilishly red bikini when they play in the pool. And since his parents are gone for the whole weekend, Cole has Bee’s affections to himself, at least until bedtime. After thinking Cole is passed out, she invites over all her stock friends: there’s the stuck-up cheerleader Allison (Bella Thorne), the alpha male quarterback Max (Robbie Amell), their black friend John (Andrew Bachelor), who is relegated to screaming and overreacting a lot, the weird and goth-y Sonya (Hana Mae Lee), and Samuel (Doug Haley).
Samuel is a nerd, so it’s a bit weird that he’d be hanging out with any of these fine folks, but they have fun and games planned for Sam. It starts with a spin the bottle kiss and it ends with Bee stabbing two daggers into his skull to commence a ritual. See, Bee and her cliquey little cult are all in on this Satanist fad this week. And to make a pact with the Devil, they need the blood of the innocent like Samuel… and Cole. So if the young lad wishes to survive the night, he is going to have to outwit and escape all of these folks in one gruesome slaying after another until it’s just him and his crush left.
With The Babysitter, McG and company attempt to recapture the raunchy joy of ‘80s teen movies so oblivious that they would have thought the term “problematic” referred to a prop getting in the way of the camera catching a girl-on-girl kiss being immortalized with the most indulgent of slow-motion close-up shots. And yes, there is plenty of that here too. But one does not have to look back to kitsch horror movies from the past to find raunchy humor like this still works. Judd Apatow has built a comedy empire on such high school fantasies being made tender flesh.
Unfortunately for this movie, the attempts at humor and horror alike land with a deadly thud. For here is a movie with a screenplay by Brian Duffield that puts more effort into explaining why Bella Thorne is in a cheerleader outfit than it does into rationalizing why young Cole would run back in the house to Home Alone the Devil worshippers after already escaping; it is ultimately a case study in half-hearted banality. Even the dialogue never exceeds the demoralizing groans of “he shot me in the boob!”
Of the performers with the unenviable task of trying to find a spark in this narrative black hole, Samara Weaving alone comes off as engaging. Admittedly asked to be little more than the seductive “cool girl” who then turns into the seductive “cool Satanist,” the Aussie actor brings a little bit of wryness and irony to the material, which may be a bigger achievement than it initially appears, given how flat and shrill the performances from Amell, Thorne, and Lee appear. As the lead, Lewis is serviceable and does better in his scenes with fellow young performer Emily Alyn Lind (she’s the girl next door) than with the adult actors, likely because the humor there is derived from something other than racial or gender based low hanging fruit.
There are a few good “death scenes” where bodies shatter and necks break to comic effect, but it all just kind of sways limply in the air by the end. For those who seek only the most basic diversion of blood and curvy stimulation, The Babysitter might fit the bill this Friday the 13th, but this intended trashy fun is really just trash, period.