Sigh – yet another Friday the 13th comes around, yet for the eighth bloody year in a row we still don’t have another Friday the 13th movie. Okay, I’ll accept that perhaps not all readers will be as bummed about that as I am, but I also know that I’m not alone in missing the simple, time-honoured pleasures of that most simple of horror franchises. But what do we have in the meantime? A Netflix original horror comedy which twists the classic slasher format by making the beautiful teenage babysitter the antagonist, rather than the final girl? Okay, I’ll buy that for a dollar. Or, y’know, £7 a month or whatever it is now. Although it turns out McG’s The Babysitter has less in common with the standard slashers than you might initially expect.
I’ve spoken at length in the past about my deep affection for the kiddie horror movies of the 1980s; movies with the tenacity to cast minors as the heroes and pit them against genuinely sinister threats. We have of course seen a bit of a resurgence in that format this year, with the hugely successful first volume of IT. Now, The Babysitter carries on that tradition with something rather more light-hearted and jovial, which may not skimp out on the viscera, but remains just that bit gentle enough to not alienate the younger viewers at whom it is clearly targeted. It might not win over all the oldies among us, but The Babysitter seems very likely to become the new favourite horror movie of young teenagers everywhere.
Cole (Judah Lewis) is your standard awkward young male on the cusp of adolescence. Routinely picked on at school and very low on self-confidence, he’s also the only kid his age still left with a sitter when his parents go out. However, as the sitter in question is smoking hot high school senior Bee (Samara Weaving of Ash vs Evil Dead and Mayhem), Cole doesn’t consider that such a bad thing. In fact, Bee seems to be pretty much his best friend, never belittling him, sharing in his interests, teaching him to believe in himself, and not getting too weirded out by his obvious schoolboy crush on her. However, when Bee stays over one Friday night while his parents are away, Cole – at the urging of the girl across the street, Melanie (Emily Alyn Lind) – stays up to see what his babysitter gets up to once he’s in bed, on the suspicion that she might have a boyfriend around to, y’know, do it and stuff. But it turns out Bee’s doing a lot more than that: she has a whole bunch of friends around, and what at first seems to be a raunchy game of spin the bottle turns out to be some kind of Mephistophelian blood rite. Yes, Bee and her cool senior friends aren’t just a clique, they’re a devil-worshipping cult: and what does any good cult need like a pure-blooded young virgin – i.e. someone just like Cole – for a sacrifice.
Don’t get too invested in the Satanic angle, as it’s not something The Babysitter dwells on in any particular detail; we have no arcane symbols or chants, nor even a single pentagram to be seen – nor, before anyone asks, do the cult members go in for any of that ‘skyclad’ business, aside from the perpetually bare-chested Robbie Amell (who does look quite uncannily like his cousin Stephen, the dude from Arrow). Indeed, while sex appeal might seem central to proceedings thanks to the poster art above, and the attire of our antagonists – Weaving in tiny Daisy Dukes, Bella Thorne in the classic sexy cheerleader outfit – The Babysitter is in fact a rather more chaste endeavour than you’d perhaps expect. This, again, reflects how the film is primarily geared toward a younger audience. Our hero is a 12-year old boy, and his struggle to survive is the key focal point. We’re repeatedly shown that sex is still something very alien to him: he has to Google the word ‘orgy,’ and in a slightly lame running joke the word ‘prostitute’ is repeatedly mixed up with ‘protestant.’ As such, the overt sexuality of the older characters is what sets them apart as monstrous, the musclebound Amell in particular being a pointed contrast to the smaller, less developed Judah Lewis. This also means there’s an agreeable innocence to the burgeoning romance between Lewis and Emily Alyn Lind’s characters; any scenes which feature flirtation between pre-teens threaten to get a bit creepy, but thankfully the right tone is struck here. All this having been said, The Babysitter doesn’t mollycoddle the audience: we still have a ton of swearing and plenty of OTT gore – the vast majority of which, I hasten to add, looks to be good old-fashioned practical FX. Such a relief that CGI splatter seems to be falling out of favour.
I’m aware that director McG has long been deemed cool to hate, and while I understand the reasoning behind much of this, I have to say he isn’t a filmmaker I have any great problem with. While there’s no doubt that he ballsed up Terminator: Salvation (although that looked like Citizen Kane next to Genisys), I freely admit to whole-heartedly loving the Charlie’s Angels movies – and that same bubblegum pop culture overload approach is very much at play in The Babysitter. There are moments that feel a little overkill – a choreographed disco dance routine, a reenactment of a confrontation from an old western – but all in all it balances out nicely to give us a horror comedy which isn’t super-scary or super-funny, but is always great fun, and has the good grace to be over and done with in barely 85 minutes. Again, older horror fans might feel like they’ve seen it all before, but The Babysitter clearly isn’t for the likes of us: it’s a film custom-designed to be watched at sleepovers, with Mountain Dew spilling on the sleeping bags and Dorito crumbs between the toes of the entranced fledgling gorehounds for whom this will doubtless prove a major gateway movie. And given that the final moments leave things open for a sequel, I wouldn’t be too surprised if there’s more to come.
The Babysitter is available to watch now on Netflix.