Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Movie Review: The Babysitter (2017)



www.thegaia.org
The plot: Shy and meek kid Cole (Judah Lewis) gets picked on by a lot of people in his life. The only major exception is his babysitter Bee (Samara Weaving), who is his best friend. However, when he decides to stay up late one night to see what Bee gets up to when he goes to sleep, he discovers that Bee isn’t quite what she seems and unless he can keep on his toes, he may end up being sacrificed in the most literal way possible.






Lewis is one hell of a badass lead, balancing how much almost everyone in his life puts him down with a conviction that is kind of scary to witness. Well, scary and damn cool, a recurring feeling where this film is concerned. Weaving, likewise, is amazingly cool, playing what should be a standard black widow temptress and giving it so much personality that it kind of sucks that she’s the bad guy. Like, I don’t think I have wanted so badly for a face-turn in a movie all year; that’s how good her performance is. Robbie Amell is incredibly effective as the psychotic jock, absolutely reveling in his character’s skin and bringing some serious primal drive that is quite thrilling to see in action. Bella Thorne, to be perfectly honest, pulls off what should be impossible: She makes a stereotypical Valley Girl entertaining to watch. That might not sound like much to most audiences, but as someone who hates this character archetype, some actual Satanic shit must have gone down to make this happen for me. Andrew Bachelor, like the rest of the main group, is playing to a stereotype, in his case being the token black guy, and while he’s honestly the weakest out of the core group, the guy still leaves a definite and positive impression by film’s end. Hana Mae Lee basically gets to act out all of her hushed dialogue from Pitch Perfect for real, having a lot of fun playing the unhinged goth while letting the audience along for the ride.

McG has always been a rather inexplicable director. For a filmmaker who specializes in action, his method for staging action scenes is rather sloppy, and as someone who got his start making music videos, his song choices in his films are often facepalm-worthy with how obvious they are. In terms of the latter, there are definite traces of his music video stylings to be found here, like a scene with Cole and Bee dancing to I Just Want To Make Love To You or a rather gratuitous lesbian make-out session undercut with I Want Candy. That is a literal 2000’s sex comedy move and it’s easily the weakest moment of the entire film. However, I have to admit that, overall, the music for this is pretty good if a bit inconsistent. Composer Douglas Pipes functions in two modes here: Soulless trap beats and Western-flavoured rock music. The former stops turning up at around the halfway point, while the rest features welcome portions of the latter. There’s also a really, really good licensed song pick near the end. I won’t dare spoil it but… I can’t believe I’m about to type this but McG taps into Edgar Wright levels of fitting soundtrack with a song that basically encompasses everything Cole is. And what he is is awesome. As for McG’s approach to action scenes, that doesn’t really apply so much here as it seems that he is stepping into new territory: Splatstick. I’d be more perplexed by that decision if it weren’t that this film proves that the guy has some potential with it. The gore effects are really damn good, showing a pretty solid understanding of how excessive blood can be used for comedic purposes, and the kills can get very creative.

This is a self-aware horror comedy. Just those few words is enough to rile up some people and I can’t say I blame them. Even considering my own liking for genre-savvy films, I still get that this style can be rather annoying if it’s pushed too far. Well, this is nothing if not genre-savvy. The main cast is comprised of high school stereotypes, from the nerd to the ‘cool girl’ to the goth to the cheerleader to the jock to the token black guy, and they all drop references to other movies. Some of it is kind of sweet, like Cole and Bee connecting over their pop culture dream teams, while some of it is weirdly hilarious, like the jock taunting Cole by doing Friday The 13th sounds. The references themselves are fine but the film’s awareness of its own components leads to something even better than surface quipping. Not only is every character here based off of an archetype, writer Brian Duffield pushes for exaggeration as comedy with all of them and, between the sharp writing and the abilities of the cast, it all works. It even takes that same sense of “we’ve seen something like this before” with the references and applies it to the audience, as there’s more than a few moments that are designed to mess with audience expectations. Just because it’s full of seemingly predictable characters doesn’t mean it won’t keep you on your toes.

So, beneath the genre worship and the gore and the gratuity and all the other stuff that is likely meant to appeal to a male young-adult demographic (hence the lesbian kiss, one of the oldest tricks in that particular book), is there something beyond style to this? Well, ostensibly, it’s a coming-of-age story. It’s a look at a kid who is belittled by everyone around him, and even the one person he trusts turns out to be something else entirely. He is forced, in rather blunt and humourous fashion, to face every fear he has and leave his life as a child behind him. As the film progresses, you get a real sense that Cole is going through some literally life-changing events, encapsulated in an action hero one-liner that closes out the film that Lewis pulls off immensely well. Where this gets even more interesting is that the villains of the film? They actually help him out in a few moments, and I’m not just talking about Bee here. The characters may be basic but there’s still some surprising complexity to be found among them, something that makes the deaths and the story feel like it’s not as cut-and-dry as the cartoonish presentation would have us believe.

All in all… okay, this is directed by the man who gave us Terminator: Salvation and This Means War, and it’s scripted by the co-writer of Jane Got A Gun and fucking Insurgent: How is this movie this much fun? It’s genre-savvy without being annoying, it’s gory without being pointless, and between McG finding his legs in a different genre, the terrific cast and the nimble writing, it’s a fun slice of splatstick comedy. McG made a good movie; it seems that the year isn’t quite done messing with my expectations yet. It ranks higher than Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, purely because I’m still kind of shocked that these people were able to make a film this good. Captain Underpants, despite the high-concept idea at its core, was kind of a given as a solid film. However, as much fun as this is, it still doesn’t wow me as much as Thor: Ragnarok, objectively one of the best comedies I’ve ever covered on this blog.

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