The Babysitter

It’s common during These Uncertain Times to say that time is moving slowly. I generally agree. But as a counterpoint, I sincerely thought McG’s straight-to-Netflix horror comedy THE BABYSITTER came out recently, and that I would get to it eventually. Turns out it’s been three years since it came out and there’s already a sequel where the main characters have grown like a foot taller. So eventually has arrived.

Despite McG’s checkered past directing Korn and Smash Mouth videos, I’ve always had a soft spot for him. I enjoyed his silly, joyful, aggressively style-over-substance CHARLIE’S ANGELS movies. In the Ain’t It Cool Days I didn’t understand why people hated him so much, bizarrely taking offense to his name. What the fuck does it matter to you? You think it’s unprofessional? What are you, a dad telling his kid to tuck his shirt in for a job interview? Get over yourself.

I was really rooting for him to pull off TERMINATOR SALVATION, but I concede that he didn’t (even if I like more things about it than most people). I kind of stopped paying attention to him after that, although about five years later he did 3 DAYS TO KILL with Kevin Costner, which I seem to be about the only fan of.

With the THE BABYSITTER, I think McG has found the most perfect application of his style and humor since the C’s As days. It’s kind of like that universe’s version of a horror movie. He put a bunch of genres into his blender, poured in his excitement for the celebration of pop culture, and whipped those ingredients into a frenetic but sweet pre-teen comedy/violent satanic cult movie smoothie. He’s got the slick cinematography of Shane “Professional” Hurlbut (ACT OF VALOR) showcasing bright colors and beautiful people. He has a main character, 12-year-old Cole (Judah Lewis, uncredited young Johnny Utah, POINT BREAK remake), who’s funny in a very grounded and relatable way, but he’s surrounded by bigger performers and comedic actors, plus McG’s cutaway jokes, cheeky needle drops, onscreen text and visual gimmicks. It feels like he started this style and then got imitated for years and now he’s back to show the proper way to do it.

Cole seems exhausted but somewhat resigned to his life as a kid who jocks throw balls at and yell “PUSS-EY!” He looks like a kid who could pass for “cool” just by not wearing button up shirts and tucking them into a belt (he reminded me of a young River Phoenix), but he either wants to stay true to himself or can’t relate enough to the bully mindset to know how to handle them. When his primary harasser Jeremy (Miles J. Harvey, ROXANNE ROXANNE) sees him in his pajamas and says, “I like your pajamas,” Cole says, sincerely, “Thanks. My mom made them.”

and dad (Ken Marino, “Sequencing Technician,” GATTACA) are very loving, a little overprotective, and concerned that he’s too afraid of things. For example Dad brings him to a parking lot to practice driving, gives him a good pep talk, but is very understanding and supportive when he’s too panicked to do more than start the engine. (In his defense, they say he’s 12 years old, he’s got four years for this!)

There’s another grown up in his corner: Bee (Samara Weaving, Ash vs Evil Dead, MONSTER TRUCKS, THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING MISSOURI, READY OR NOT, BILL & TED FACE THE MUSIC), his long time babysitter and the coolest person he’ll ever meet. She seems sincerely excited to hang out with her young friend when she babysits him while mom and dad are out of town.

There’s obviously a little boy crush involved – Bee is otherworldly hot, and acts oblivious to the powers of her attention to a boy that age, much less being around him in Daisy Dukes or a bikini. But the emphasis is on their genuine friendship and the many fun things they do together, my favorite obviously being when they project BILLY JACK onto the side of the house and act out the famous kicking scene. Of course I’m a sucker for two generations younger than mine sharing a love for that particular artifact of a generation predating my own.

The horror twist comes when Cole is supposed to be asleep and Bee’s friends come over. Cole hides on the stairs and spies as Max (Robbie Amell, CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN 2), Sonya (Hana Mae Lee, the PITCH PERFECT saga), Allison (Bella Thorne, 109 credits on IMDb and I’m too old to be able to tell which one is the reason I hear her name all the time), John (Andrew Bachelor, Black Jesus) and out of place Melvin-Junko-esque nerd Samuel (Doug Haley, “Teenager #2” on a second season episode of Justified) play spin the bottle. Seems like innocent young people exploits until SPOILER Bee slams two daggers through Samuel’s skull because they’re actually a cult sacrificing innocent blood as part of a Faustian bargain to make their dreams come true.

Because of society’s enduring love for E.T. and THE GOONIES, it has become a cliche for filmmakers around my age and those influenced by them to say they’re trying to make Amblin movies, usually meaning a fun, high quality genre movie starring kids that’s very slightly scary but fun for the whole family. THE BABYSITTER is similar in that its young hero is layered and well acted, a smart, awkward, relatable kid who’s struggling to fit in. But also it revels in chopping off heads and spraying blood in people’s faces, so in that sense it’s more Troma than Amblin. Also the super horny lesbian makeout scene might’ve been a ratings problem if they tried to put it in BACK TO THE FUTURE or whatever.

There’s some well executed tension – Cole listening to the cult talk about him while they think he’s drugged, cat and mouse scenes getting chased with his neighbor friend Melanie (Emily Alyn Lind, who I didn’t recognize as Snake Bite Andi from DOCTOR SLEEP) – but it’s certainly more funny than scary. There are a ton of little throwaway lines that made me laugh out loud – John noting that Cole has a copy of The Secret, Sonya threatening him with “human self-centipede,” Cole expressing genuine confusion about Max’s constant shirtlessness. And there are great comedic twists like when Max pauses his attempts murder Cole because Jeremy is egging the house and he thinks he should stand up to him. And many of McG’s visuals just gave me a big smile – like when Cole gets in the car and a superimposed digital clock shows us his hands are at 10 and 2, as his dad taught him earlier.

Sometimes I like to make fun of the reverence with which entertainment journalists talk about “the Black List” – the yearly survey of what Hollywood people consider the best unproduced screenplays. They mention a screenplay’s Black List status as evidence of quality, even though movies like ABDUCTION and SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN get on there too. But in fairness THE BABYSITTER was on the 2014 list, and that seems to have panned out. Written by Brian Duffield (THE DIVERGENT SERIES: INSURGENT, JANE GOT A GUN, UNDERWATER), it has a quality I really love: a feeling of loose shagginess that turns out to be a carefully orchestrated machine. It organically sets up details and jokes and the geography of the house and stuff, makes them seem like fun instead of exposition, then brings them back at the exact right moments. For the best example I have to SPOILER the climax, so skip the next paragraph if need be.

In Cole’s first scene with Bee she’s giving him a ride home, and she asks about a pile of wood from his treehouse in the front yard. He explains that it’s getting old and falling apart, so he and his dad are working on taking it down. It’s thematic – he’s almost a teenager, he’s growing up a little slower than the other kids, afraid of things, getting made fun of, but trying to catch up, which includes things like giving up his treehouse. Later there’s a scene where Max chases Cole into the treehouse and sure enough it is falling apart, causing him to step through the floorboards. So it was characterization that also paid off in an action moment! And you’d think that would be all we’d need it for, but at the climax it comes together with some other previously established threads (Melanie’s dad’s mid-life crisis car, Cole’s fear of driving) with Cole purposely crashing a car into the house. He drives up that pile of treehouse lumber and it makes a perfect ramp to launch the car into an awesome corkscrew – fucking beautiful.

After READY OR NOT, if not earlier, I think most of the people in the world who watch these types of movies fell in love with Weaving, whose outsized hotness only enhances how funny and charming her characters can be. They really take advantage of that here, breaking Cole’s heart by showing him that yep, sure enough, she was too good to be true, as she switches from impossible dream girl/cool big sister figure to joyfully wicked demoness. But I think the much more difficult feat that they manage to pull off is making it a little more complicated than that. He’s not just trying to kill the bad guy, he’s genuinely mourning the loss of a friendship, and she seems to be too. It’s an unusually sincere and bittersweet conclusion for a horror comedy, and McG (being McG) somehow brings it home with a sci-fi reference and retro video game graphics. This is a good one.

P.S. McG tends to put some good soul songs in his movies – how perfect is it that he uses “The Babysitter” by Betty Wright?

This entry was posted on Monday, October 19th, 2020 at 9:37 am and is filed under Comedy/Laffs, Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

29 Responses to “The Babysitter”

  1. This rules but I really think McG blew it with the sequel. Ill have to give it another shot since I love this one a lot. In the second one he ramps up the McG-ness so far he loses a lot of the character and sincerity of the original. Still would love to see it continue as a franchise, since there are so few new horror franchises that are anything like this.

  2. This is my favorite Netflix Original. I know this because it’s the only one I’ve ever watched twice. The so-called MTV Generation of directors get a bad wrap, but at least they were always trying to keep your eyeballs locked on the screen. Nowadays you can pretty much watch a movie with a blindfold on and get the gist.

    I like that it’s a horror movie with an actual hero, not just a victim, and an actual villain, not just a killer. I’d seen Samara Weaving on the EVIL DEAD show, where I was already impressed by how much torment she was willing to withstand for her art, but this is the movie where I decided that she was my favorite actress of her generation. She can fit more personality and character into a smirk than these professional tear-jerks who get all the Golden Globe nominations can fit into a three-minute crying jag. Not only that, but she actually makes movies I want to see, which is far from a guarantee with actresses who get a little buzz. I don’t know if that’s an active choice on her part or if she just gets in where she fits in, but either way, she seems fuckin’ cool.

    I also really like the shirtless bad guy and how genuinely supportive of Cole he is. Yes, he is not going to rest until the little guy is dead, but he also wants to help build his self-esteem along the way.

    THE BABYSITTER: FULL THROTTLE is not as good but still a ton of fun. It gets bonus points for prominently featuring a Das EFX track in the year of our lord 2020.

  3. I haven’t seen this or its sequel, but they sound like fun. I greatly admired 3 DAYS TO KILL and wish Costner could do more of that kind of work.

    A couple of lockdown/pandemic notes though:
    1. I went out to see BILL AND TED FACE THE MUSIC on a big screen, as it was playing one night at my local theatre. It’s the least of the B&T movies and much too busy, but I expected that and I enjoyed it and the whole experience enormously anyway. I can’t work up the energy to worry about what diseases I might’ve been exposed to as there were about 12 of us in a 300 seater auditorium. Likewise, I cannot think I really exposed anyone to serious harm either: going to the store feels more risky. However, Samara Weaving is wasted in the movie, possibly even more than William Sadler – I wanted more Death. A rare film that could have usefully been 20 minutes longer.
    2. One of my lockdown diversions was all 5 series of Chuck, which is solid mindless TV done really well. I have no idea what an Executive Producer does, but McG’s name went by at the end of every episode’s credits as one, and for that I salute him. A quick look at IMDB suggests he has quite the career going as a TV producer.

  4. I watched this one right when it came out and remember thinking it was fun, but didn’t remember too much else about it beyond that it’s what I first saw Samara Weaving in. This review reminded me why I liked it in the first place, may have to revisit it now!

  5. Haven’t seen this one, but I remember that when it came out, an often heard complaint was that McG “ruined the script”. Seems like this was one of those screenplays, that were floating around Hollywood for a while and although I don’t know any details, apparently all of Film Twitter had read it and now was mad at McG turning it into a McG movie.

  6. grimgrinningchris

    October 19th, 2020 at 1:13 pm

    I’m so happy you reviewed this, Vern, and even happier that you liked it.
    I agree with every point.
    It’s silly and ridiculous and weird, but we care about every single character, even the ones we hate cuz they all have at least one ( and in several cases many) trait that makes us want to hang on…

    I watched this back to back with the sequel (which I also loved in more of a Pirahna 3D way) and had known Weaving from AvsED, Guns Akimbo and her totally against type giant dork character in Bill & Ted Face The Music. And yes, in this she is impossibly hot, but even as the villain, she has a personality and likability that you rarely see from these types of characters and actresses.

  7. Inspector Hammer Boudreaux

    October 19th, 2020 at 2:53 pm

    Personally, this didn’t hit for me. I have some strange criteria where horror and comedy interact which I can’t even explain to myself, and somehow it didn’t really mesh. Samara Weaving is obviously hot shit, however, and I liked READY OR NOT a lot more and am on tenterhooks to see her in something that kicks my ass.

    I just wondered if anyone else thought Robbie Amell, who played Max, looked crazily like young Tom Cruise, only more ripped. This was distracting to me during the movie, especially in the outdoors night scenes. Looking at photos online now it seems like a vague resemblance, but I found it uncanny at the time. This makes me mourn the early-period cheapie slashers Cruise was never in- what might have been! He’d be a jock that got picked off when he decided he was man enough to take on Jason, right? Also, somebody should make a Cruise biopic about the making of RISKY BUSINESS with him in the lead.

  8. IHB – I’d never thought about it before you mentioned it, but I can absolutely see Young Cruise there for sure.

  9. Wikipedia says Samara will be playing Scarlett in the upcoming Snake Eyes movie! Something to look forward to next year.

  10. I’ll catch this for 2 reasons:

    1) Just saw and enjoyed Samara Weaving’s performance in the glorious Love Child of GAMER and CRANK called GUNS AKIMBO.

    2) Unlike a seemingly vast majority of people, some of them my friends, I don’t regard McG as a blight on the cinematic landscape.

  11. Here’s the thing: “McG” as a rock video/commercial moniker, fine. But as a feature film director…
    I know, I know, it’s been his nickname since he’s been two or whatever (he released a 2000 word statement on the issue). But what’s wrong with ‘Mike “McG” Smith’?
    There’s Randall “Tex” Cobb. He doesn’t just go by “Tex” because he’s knows that would be lame. And he’s not lame, he rules. So take a page from Tex’s book, Mike.

  12. But why? We had one-named actors, musicians, sometimes both at the same time, and I know even at least one novelist who only uses one name *cough*, but a director has to use his full name? No nicknames or abbreviations allowed or we are can’t enjoy anything he does, because the spectre of his missing name hangs over his work? I don’t get it. It’s not like he fills out his tax forms with just “McG”. And even then it wouldn’t be our business, unless we work for the IRS.

  13. Ain’t no Roger Nelsons to be found in the UNDER THE CHERRY MOON credits.

  14. It’s his professional name. You don’t spend years making a name for yourself and then change it because some people need to lighten up. I’m sure plenty of rappers wish they’d put a little more thought about what they called themselves when they adopted their MC names and now they’re actors in their forties who have to go by something they thought was funny when they were 17, but now they’re stuck with it unless they want to be Yasiin Bey.

    Who is Yasiin Bey, you ask? Exactly.

  15. I watched this one last night and it was a blast. The highlights for me were the cheerleader and the shirtless dude. Both of those characters could’ve been insufferable but I thought they were great. Vern’s already mentioned Max giving Cole sincere advice, which I loved. I also liked the bit of Max saying he had no interest in the occult stuff – he just wanted to kill people. A psychopath with self awareness is a fun twist in a slasher. I thought Thorne did a great job at making Allison’s vapidness kind of charming. The biggest laugh from me might’ve been when she said she’d never felt so violated as when Cole punched her in the boobs.

    I agree with Vern that the shagginess overlying the machinations was very well done. He set the table perfectly. You knew when the mom was adjusting the pointy award on the table that someone was getting impaled on it and couldn’t wait to see it. But I LOVED the *SPOILER* fakeout of the knife in the dishwasher.

    It was just the right amount of McG. As soon as the blood shot out of that poor nerd’s head like a geyser I shut off my brain and sat back for the ride. I plan on watching the sequel but I’m nervous it’ll turn out like the CHARLIE’S ANGELS movies – the 1st one is totally ridiculous but fun. The 2nd one was so ridiculous it was insulting and actually made me angry.

  16. This site wouldn’t load for like two days, and when it does, it’s nothing but “McG” defenders.

    Yasiin Bey is Mos Def. Everyone knows that. See? Not hard. Didn’t even need to look it up. And this is coming from someone who owns zero Blakstar records, and probably can’t name any of their songs.

  17. The thing is Yasiin Bey’s original name is Dante Smith. Now I love Mos Def and Yasiin Bey, but if I were called Dante Smith I like to think I would’ve had the sense to stick with it.

    Good to have you back, Vern. I hope it’s not been too stressful.

  18. I think people should be allowed to call themselves whatever they want to call themselves. I only brought up the Yasiin Bey situation because it seems to have adversely affected his career, but he also doesn’t seem to give a shit about that so more power to him. (Also Mos Def is an objectively dope name and if I had convinced the world to call me that I’d never want to change it.) Thousands of showbiz professionals have been forced to change their names because of blatant racism and xenophobia (or, if they’re John Wayne, because they’re total fucking pussies) so I don’t see what’s unprofessional about a guy choosing to go by the name he thinks of himself as.

  19. Not to mention that I may never have checked out DEATH WISH had it starred some dude called Charles Dennis Buchinsky.

  20. I can’t argue with any of that, and I have, incidentally, no issue with McG. The move away from Mos Def seems to’ve been driven, a little like the move from Prince to the “love symbol” squiggle, by a rebellion against commodification. I’m not sure it worked though, as we inevitably end up with discussions like this one and descriptions of those people as “the artist formerly known as…” I guess it restored some sense of agency to them at the time.

    In FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY the part of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was played by Dwayne Johnson, which, tragically, makes perfect sense. No worries about commodification or agency for Mr. Johnson.

  21. Hoo ray, when the site got fixed, so did the comments RSS feed.

    I have nothing to add to the discussion of this movie as I have not seen it. I will say I think Rob Zombie sometimes regrets his stage name every time he tries to get a non-horror movie off the ground. I could be totally wrong, but I’d think many financiers are hesitant to pony up money for his hockey movie and Groucho Marx movie when the marketing partially hinges on ‘Come see this prestigious drama destined for awards from director… uh… Rob… ert… [really quietly] Zombie’

    Anyways, I hope he does get one of those off the ground one day though.

  22. KayKay, some of the Buchinsky movies – VERA CRUZ, APACHE, HOUSE OF WAX, at least – are well worth a watch, although probably not necessarily just for Buchinsky’s performance.

  23. KayKay: But mightn’t you have said the same thing about a guy with a total nerdlinger of a name like Arnold Schwarzenegger? In my opinion, the man makes the name, not the other way around. A Bronson by any other name would smell just as much like Mandom.

  24. My thing is, it’s not like his chosen moniker is “Snake” or “King Cock”, it’s “McG”. It just sucks. If you’re going to make up a cool name to go by, make it a cool name

  25. I agree it’s the person that makes the name, but there’s an instinctive, visceral thrill at hearing the name BRONSON. Just say it. B-R-O-N-S-O-N.

    Without possessing a shred of information about the movie or star, that name evokes steely resolve, menacing stares and a face chiseled out of solid granite. Buchinsky sounds like the 3rd clerk in the Accounts department.

    It all becomes irrelevant of course once you discover and enjoy the artiste’s work and there’s much I enjoy in the Buchinsky oeuvre

    All of which is a roundabout way to say I agree that an artiste should choose whatever name they think embodies their image or work best or just sounds cool. Like…c’mon say it again…..BRONSON

    And for your information Maj, Arnold is a total nerd name but is swiftly neutralized by the Teutonic magnificence of SCHWARZENEGGER which conjures up visions of a Viennese butcher with beefy arms and a bloody apron carving out sirloins.

  26. For the record jojo, I would TOTALLY check out CHARLIE’S ANGELS directed by KING COCK

  27. Borg9, also the name “The Rock” is owned by WWE and Vince McMahon, which is why he appears as producer in his early movies under that name, despite not having anything to with them.

  28. So “The Rock” actually is a commodity. Brilliant!

  29. Ah, a bunch of AICN dorks complaining about the name McG, most of whom sported much more ludicrous user names while doing so, like Weedy McSmokey and Danny Glover’s Dickblood. That takes me back. Some of these guys even appropriated their user names from mis-hearings of joke names on television shows like Arrested Development. So much silliness.

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