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IFI Horrorthon 2015 Review - EMELIE

A last minute replacement babysitter is not what she seems.


Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Michael Thelin

Starring: Sarah Bolger, Joshua Rush, Carly Adams, Thomas Bair, Randi Langdon


"The middle section, during which Bolger and Rush excel in their characters' psychological game of cat and mouse, elevates Emelie above Lifetime movie of the week territory, but it's ultimately a frustrating movie that could have greatly benefitted from another couple of passes at the script."





Sarah Bolger is an Irish actress who bears more than a passing resemblance to her compatriot Saoirse Ronan. Curiously, both actresses came to prominence in 2008 by starring in young adult fantasy movies - Butler in The Spiderwick Chronicles, Ronan in City of Ember. While Ronan has gone on to high profile roles, Butler has found herself relegated to second rate horror fare like The Moth Diaries and The Lazarus Effect, and a recurring role in TV show Once Upon a Time. She seems to have become typecast as a wide-eyed innocent in genre fare, but with Emelie, Bolger is given the chance to play the villain, and boy does she make the most of it!
Director Michael Thelin opens his film with an unsettling single take, filmed from a voyeuristic vantage point as a teenage girl is bundled into a car against her will on an average suburban American neighbourhood street. We're then introduced to the Thompsons - Dan (Chris Beetem) and Joyce (Susan Pourfar) - who are heading off to a restaurant in the city to celebrate their 13th anniversary. Their usual babysitter has bailed at the last minute, but her replacement, Anna (Bolger), seems just perfect.
Their parents away, Anna is left in charge of 11 year old Jacob (Joshua Rush), nine year old Sally (Carly Adams) and four year old Christopher (Thomas Bair). At first it seems Anna simply has a more liberal approach to babysitting, allowing her charges to create a mess and eat more cookies than is healthy, but it doesn't take long before she's displaying some seriously creepy behaviour - asking a highly embarrassed Jacob to help her out with a 'woman's matter', indulging in some horrifying animal cruelty and making the kids watch one of their parents' "private" home movies. Realising this is no ordinary babysitter, Jacob decides he's going to have to grow up quickly in order to save his siblings.
Countless horror movies have employed virginal female teenage protagonists to add a psycho-sexual dimension to their narratives, and babysitters have been terrorised since John Carpenter's Halloween. What's most interesting about Emelie is how it reverses this trope, making the babysitter the villain, and giving us a young male protagonist in the midst of puberty. Over the course of the movie, Jacob both literally and metaphorically 'becomes a man', and young actor Rush does some excellent work here, particularly when portraying a young boy's fear of female sexuality and all its mystery.
Bolger is terrifying as the child minder from hell, and the film's gradual escalation of her particular brand of crazy makes for a highly effective slow burning thriller up to the point when the full extent of her motivations are revealed. It's at this stage that Emelie retreats into mediocrity, delivering a finale that plays too close to Home Alone to be taken seriously. At a mere 80 minutes, the climax feels all too rushed, and the film could greatly benefit from another 10 minutes or so of build-up. A sub-plot with Jacob's friend next door is redundant in its contribution to the overall narrative. It's the middle section, during which Bolger and Rush excel in their characters' psychological game of cat and mouse, that elevates Emelie above Lifetime movie of the week territory, but it's ultimately a frustrating movie that could have greatly benefitted from another couple of passes at the script.




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