Movie Review: “The Babysitter”

   Smashing the “play” button on a Netflix horror title is what I call living on the edge. Will it be so good you’d have been happy to float a loan and take a date to the movie theater to risk sitting on the last guy’s forgotten nacho cheese cup? Or will it be so bad you toss your bag of Doritos at the flat screen and scroll Reddit for two hours on your phone?

   I put The Babysitter on my list upon release, but avoided it for a long time. However, after viewing such gems as Mayhem (2017) and Ready or Not (2019), I realized leading lady, Samara Weaving, had some serious scream queen chops, and helmed by the guaranteed good-time high-octane Charlie’s Angels (2000) director, McG. It occurred to me that the moderately-positive reviews could be indicating a diamond in the rough, here.

   They were.

   Young, innocent Cole (a boy of 10) struggles with self-esteem issues, bullies, and parents who still think he needs a babysitter. Thankfully, his babysitter is the epitome of cool. Bee has the body of a supermodel, primo taste in action and science fiction films, rocks out, AND… she thinks Cole is pretty cool. What could possibly go wrong?

   Name one kid who wouldn’t love for the hot bad girl in cut-off shorts, flowing blonde locks, and ruby red lips to come to their rescue when the bullies get the upper hand. I don’t know what Bee whispered in Jeremy’s ear, but by the end of the flick, you’ll have a pretty good idea of why it was effective. While the first 20 minutes of the film might seem a little kitschy, I feel it’s important to note how seamlessly the chemistry between Judah Lewis and Samara Weaving sets the stage for a bond shared between hero and villain that I’ve never seen so effectively conveyed in a campy horror/comedy. It’s this thin strand of empathy that subliminally gives grace to the predictable open-ended conclusion, and subsequent sequel.

  Bee can’t possibly be this perfect. So, advised by his best friend and neighbor, Melanie, Cole decides to stay awake past his bedtime that night to spy on Bee, anticipating at best, a boring night; and at worst, an orgy. What he got was surprisingly far beyond the imagination of any pre-teen boy. A group of teenagers performing satanic rites with Bee as their formidable leader.

   Many critics panned the stereotypical characters and camp nature of the film. Personally, I find these to be insignificant gripes when taking into consideration, the unexpectedly dark and uniquely intense tone. We have: The ultimate bad girl, the jock, the cheerleader, the token black guy, the token Asian girl, a nerd, and a virgin. You don’t get much more stereotypical than that. But I see the merit in this. We all know there’s nothing new under the sun in media. It’s the voice of the creators that give these old tales new life. McG and writer, Brian Duffield (known for 2020’s Underwater and 2015’s Insurgent), had no intention of reinventing the campy horror film. They did us one better: they shot it up with steroids.

   Devil worship isn’t one of the more popular subgenres of horror film, and rarely falls in the category of camp. Usually, these films have a dark and sinister tone that remains steadfast, thus losing the attention of younger horror fans and attracting the more seasoned connoisseurs of the genre. Or… they just fall flat. Not the case with The Babysitter.

   The original screenplay was slightly less high-octane, but no less edgy and engaging. It was featured on Blacklist in 2014, which is a list revered in the screenwriting community as a list of the “most liked” unproduced screenplays – a wellspring of up-and-coming talent and trends in the industry. McG had been attached early on, even as the script sat on the Blacklist. It was always intended for theatrical release. But the usual politics held things up until Netflix swooped in, always hungry for theatrical-quality original programming. I can see why.

   Things get sticky as over-the-top slapstick humor mixes with outrageous gore and the obligatory girl-on-girl action every stereotypical B-Movie requires. You’re also served a hefty heap of the signature balls-to-the-wall directing style of McG and Duffield’s archetypical characters with actual grit. In this particular horror film, the usual victims become the villains. How is that possible, you ask? By the grace of good writing, comedic timing, and notable performances from Judah Lewis, Robbie Amell, Hana Mae Lee, Bella Thorne, Andrew Bachelor, and of course – horror’s new reigning scream queen supreme – Samara Weaving. I feel the only thing missing was what these baddies were getting out of their deal with the Devil. After all… the Devil is in the details.

   These details do eventually come to light in The Babysitter: Killer Queen, the sequel recently released on Netflix in September, 2020, in which almost all original cast members reprise their roles. But we’ll conjure that one up at a later date.

   For now, young Cole faces the fight of a lifetime, and oddly enough, his attackers embolden him to grow a pair and kick some ass, even as they make every attempt to kill him and drain him of his precious, pure virgin blood. The Babysitter is a must-see coming-of-age film for teenage boys who need a good reason to tell their parents that they don’t need a babysitter anymore – no matter how hot she is.

   As for those of us with puberty way back in the rearview mirror of life, The Babysitter is the perfect energy shot to revive their youthful curiosity in the late-night cable horror movies and dusty titles on the bottom shelf in the horror section of their favorite video store on Friday night. And it’s right there at your fingertips if you subscribe to Netflix streaming.

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