The Babysitter (2017)
85 min., rated TV-MA (equivalent of an R).
If Elisabeth Shue’s Chris Parker of 1987’s “Adventures in Babysitting” turned out to be a Devil-worshipping sexpot, the result might look a little like “The Babysitter,” a spirited and insanely fun horror-comedy that could become a sleepover favorite for teenage boys and even adult men in their jammies. Not to be confused with the 1995 Alicia Silverstone vehicle of the same name, “The Babysitter” is, without insulting bubblegum or pre-pubescent boys, a bubblegum romp through the eyes of a pre-pubescent boy. Finding a balance between horror and comedy can be tough, but director McG (2014's "3 Days to Kill") and screenwriter Brian Duffield (2015’s “Insurgent”) mostly straddle it well. The horror is bloody and over-the-top, the comedy is broad and raunchy, and the violence rarely sours the cheeky ‘80s-style vibe of it all. It belongs in the same stratosphere as 1985's “Fright Night” and 1988's “Night of the Demons,” and that’s rather good company to be in.
Bullied 12-year-old Cole Johnson (Judah Lewis) is tired of being scared of everything. When his parents (Ken Marino, Leslie Bibb) need a weekend away at the Hyatt to work on their marriage, Cole gets excited to spend the night with his babysitter, Bee (Samara Weaving), who’s like every junior high boy’s dream — she’s cool, confident, sexy, and a sci-fi movie fan. When it comes time for bedtime, Cole decides to stay up and find out what babysitters do when their charges go to sleep. After the doorbell rings close to midnight, he watches as Bee plays a game of Spin the Bottle with a group of people, until one of them is stabbed in the head and the others drink his blood. Can Cole learn to be the man of the house and stand up to Bee and her cult of Satanists?
By sheer coincidence, “The Babysitter” shares similarities with the most recent “Better Watch Out,” a wicked Christmas horror-comedy. They both involve a pre-teen, a hot babysitter, and a progression into violence, and both feel a bit inspired by “Home Alone.” With that said, this one plays more as a coming-of-ager that then corkscrews into a pre-teen boy's nightmare with its tongue planted firmly in cheek. Besides being helmed with a good deal of hyperactive energy and becoming action-oriented in the end with pyrotechnics and stunts, it is hard to believe “The Babysitter” is from the same McG who directed the “Charlie’s Angels” movies and other action fare. Comparatively, this is his most micro-budget effort, most likely spending more money on music rights for pop songs. Too often, though, McG busies up his frame with graphics that fill the screen like a stylized wink but come off obvious and unnecessary, like the words “WHAT THE FUCK?” sprawling across Cole's face as he witnesses Bree’s sacrifice or “POCKET KNIFE” when Cole grabs his…pocket knife. It’s always appreciated when a film at least pays off its setups in the tradition of Chekhov’s Gun, and Brian Duffield’s script does just that with a knife being placed in the dishwasher, Bee teaching Cole how to defend himself with a move, and the protagonist’s fascination with aerodynamics.
Newcomer Judah Lewis (2016’s “Demolition”) makes Cole an endearing young hero, the kind of innocent who confuses “prostitute” with “Protestant,” and quite convincingly transforms into a big boy ready to save the day. Samara Weaving (2017’s “Monster Trucks”) is deliciously magnetic and scene-stealing as babysitter Bee. She is established as Cole’s badass guardian angel who also happened to make a deal with the devil for selfish reasons. It’s the fun relationship between Cee and Bee that does give the film a surprisingly sweet heart, as well as a youthful romance between Cole and the girl next door, Melanie (Emily Alyn Lind). Early on, there’s an odd but endearing moment where the babysitter and her charge watch 1971 western “Billy Jack” on a projector screen in Cole’s yard and act out a scene. The colorful supporting characters are also memorable. Robbie Amell and Bella Thorne (together again after locking lips in 2015’s “The DUFF”) stand out as perpetually shirtless jock Alex, who never explains why he doesn’t wear a shirt for most of the film, and dippy cheerleader Allison, who sobs in a corner after her boob deflates. Hana Mae Lee (speaking in a regular voice following the “Pitch Perfect” movies) and Andrew Bachelor round out Bee’s followers as the beret-wearing Sonya, who gets off on death, and token black guy John, who seems to be the target for every victim’s geyser of blood, and they, too, get room to shine and amuse within the horror-comedy tone. Ken Marino and Leslie Bibb are gone for a large part of the film, but they still make their scenes count in the beginning.
John Hughesian with a Satanic cult added, “The Babysitter” rarely takes itself seriously and plays out most of the absurdly bloody mayhem with a guffaw, even when a fire poker is harpooned through an eye and a breast catches a bullet. As bloody and perverse as it gets, “The Babysitter” retains a sense of fun, and that a film like this can somehow slide past smarminess—Weaving and Thorne do give Sarah Michelle Gellar and Selma Blair from “Cruel Intentions” a run for their money with a lip-biting French kiss—and find a likable charm in itself is something of a minor accomplishment. Even if it is several scares and laughs short of being the next best horror-comedy of the 21st century, it nevertheless carves out a niche for itself as a good time on a Friday night.
Grade: B -