A newlywed couple, move into a new house across the country, only to find out that their marital issues are the least of their problems. Unbeknownst to them, their grim and lascivious landlord has been spying on them from day one.
A couple's replacement babysitter comes highly recommended. After the parents leave, the children begin to suspect that she is not the person she claims to be when she subjects them to a series of twisted activities.
Led by the committed performance of Sarah Bolger, 'Emelie' unfolds as a creepy and atmospheric slow burn through the first hour or so, then it shifts into a kinetic, violent thriller. It never quite becomes what I consider to be a horror flick, though certain moments will evoke horror in viewers, as the twisted babysitter torments the three siblings in increasingly unsettling ways.
The music sets the tone early - right from the opening scene. A girl mentions to her friend on the phone that she isn't happy that she's been roped into babysitting tonight, then she's abruptly kidnapped by a passing car.
Cut to a dad picking up a different girl and driving her to his house to babysit, and we immediately suspect that this "babysitter" is not who she claims to be.
At first, she plays nice with the kids (two boys and a girl), returning to the oldest boy the game that his mom took away and letting them all paint on the wall. But her façade only holds up for so long. After she subjects the children to a particularly scarring video, they become suspicious of her, and I become suspicious of the film's concepts.
The babysitter's goals and the film's goals are not in harmony. She wants something and needs to behave normally to get it, but the film wants to scare us, and to do that she must behave abnormally. At some point the film leans too heavily toward the scare efforts, which makes the babysitter's actions and plan far less believable.
The first hour or so sets the mood. It's creepy and unnerving in a tame way that's particularly effective, but this approach is then abandoned in favor of one that resembles a more conventional violent thriller. Then we see the classic tropes: Characters make illogical, flat-out-dumb decisions and viewers are ambushed by a few jump scares.
The stylistic turn mostly works but is nonetheless disappointing. The early moody creepfest had me so uncomfortable that I had to watch through the partially obstructed view of my fingers. It was cringey to the maximum. Though the second half of the film contained more action, I felt less suspense. The reveal was far less affecting than the eerie unknown.
Perhaps if the filmmakers put a bit more effort into the babysitter's backstory and plan, the entire movie would have held together more effectively. A few alterations could have lifted this from a watchable thriller to a terrific one.
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