Awkward, insecure but bright twelve year old Cole (Judah Lewis) is delighted when his parents (Ken Marino and Leslie Bibb, making those of us that remember her as the high school princess in TV's Popular feel very old) take off for the weekend leaving him in the care of his gorgeous and super-cool teenage babysitter Bee (Samara Weaving). They spend a wonderful evening together bonding over Billy Jack movies (do teens really care about Billy Jack?) and sci-fi trivia. Bee kind-heartedly encourages Judah to have more confidence in himself. Later that night, urged on by best friend and cute girl next door Melanie (Emily Alyn Lind), Judah sneaks out of bed to spy on what Bee gets up to at night. Only to recoil in horror when he finds Bee in the midst of a grisly blood sacrifice. Turns out Bee heads a teen satanic cult made up of shirtless stud Max (Robbie Amell), vacuous cheerleader Allison (former Disney star turned professional click-bait Bella Thorne), chic goth chick Sonya (Pitch Perfect (2012) star Hana Mae Lee) and wisecracking John (Andrew Bachelor). All of whom are determined to stop Cole from exposing their dark secret.
Screenwriter Brian Duffield, who went on to pen the Kristen Stewart aquatic monster movie Underwater (2020) and the superior Love and Monsters (2020), has a knack for crafting witty genre movies that double as a commentary on the complexity of romantic relationships. Duffield's deft touch is only glimpsed sporadically throughout The Babysitter. Among a slew of genre films to bear that title, it slots into a recent mini-wave looking to subvert the old babysitter-in-peril horror formula: e.g. The Night Sitter (2018) and Better Watch Out (2016). Its lengthy set-up less resembles a horror movie than a family-friendly entry in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and takes welcome time and care crafting a disarmingly tender and sweet relationship between Judah and Bee. So that Bee's eventual unmasking as a Satan-worshipping she-devil genuinely stings. In its brighter, more contemplative moments that are admittedly few and far between The Babysitter serves up a fairly smart allegory for adolescent sexual anxiety (Judah is simultaneously intrigued and afraid at the thought of what his hot babysitter does at night) and heartbreak (Judah's dream girl falls short (make that way short!) of his romantic ideals). Of course given the film is only to eager to flip the script on its hitherto engaging central relationship for the sake of a sick joke one might be giving it too much credit.
The bulk of its runtime plays like a gorier Home Alone (1990) with Cole on the run from assorted homicidal teenagers then employing creative methods to dispatch them. Once the film switches to full-on silly splatter comedy mode, director McG plays it cute with gross-out gore gags, zany camera angles and sarcastic onscreen text. Meanwhile the script indulges in half-baked satire of the Instagram generation along with attempts at teen slang that are, like, totally dated. Yet the film's occasional lapse into bad taste, including a throwaway tone deaf Black Lives Matter joke, are offset by moments otherwise genuinely witty or insightful. It benefits enormously from a talented cast, particularly the central duo of Samara Weaving and Judah Lewis. Weaving, looking like she stepped out of an Eighties rock video as an adolescent wet dream personified, layers her ambiguous anti-heroine with a surprise element of empathy for Cole’s plight. Her role here obviously lay the groundwork for her current status as a genre favourite: e.g. Ready or Not (2019), Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020) Snake Eyes (2021). Meanwhile Lewis essays an intriguingly quirky young hero whose relationship to both his former lust object-turned-ostensible (?) adversary and the world at large proves multilayered. Of the supporting players Robbie Amell's psychotic dude bro leaves an impression, Bella Thorne seems like she's doing a dress rehearsal for her role in Assassination Nation (2018) and young Emily Alyn Lind is immensely likable as Cole's best buddy-cum-love-interest. Only a few years later Lind would herself play a satanic nymphet to devastating effect in Doctor Sleep (2019).
Unexpectedly teen horror comedy proves the ideal genre suited to McG's glossy yet tacky sensibilities. While The Babysitter often verges on losing sight of what made its set-up so engaging, sheer verve, momentum and an engaging relationship ably portrayed by its leads keep the film consistently watchable. And frankly kind of fun.
American director whose flashy promo work for bands like Smash Mouth and Sugar Ray led him to helm 2000s big-screen update Charlie's Angels and its 2003 sequel, along with a blockbusting Terminator sequel. This Means War was an expensive flop, and 3 Days to Kill did not quite revitalise Kevin Costner's stardom. Also worked on the trashy TV show Fastlane. Real name Joseph McGinty Nichol.