When Dan (Chris Beetem, "Mr. Popper's Penguins") and Joyce Thompson (Susan Pourfar, "Irrational Man") try to get out for an evening, they take on a new babysitter Anna (Sarah Bolger, "In America," "The Spiderwick Chronicles"), a friend of their regular Maggie (Elizabeth Jayne, "Life After Beth"), to watch their three kids. That seemingly simple decision will prove anything but in "Emelie."
This feature debut from director Michael Thelin and writer Richard Raymond Harry Herbeck crosses the coming-of-age film with a psycho babysitter for a horror film with more on its mind than jump scares. From our introduction to the (unseen) titular character dispensing with the real 'Anna' to the point where we learn just why she's done so, Thelin turns the screws, escalating tension with a series of increasingly disturbing set pieces. That they all also comment upon the character of their perpetrator as well as the oldest Thompson kid, Jacob (Joshua Rush, "Parental Guidance"), is evidence of smart writing. Unfortunately, Thelin and Herbeck stumble in the last act, the film devolving into conventional tropes, but getting there is worth the trip.
Mom makes it quite clear she doesn't think Jacob's mature or responsible enough to care for his siblings without a sitter. He takes to his walkie talkie to complain to next-door neighbor pal Howie (Dante Hoagland, "Fading Gigolo"), but when 'Anna' arrives, he's intrigued by her immediate rapport with younger sister Sally (Carly Adams) and four year-old Christopher (Thomas Bair). As soon as mom and dad are out the door, Anna reveals her cool in her disregard for parental rules.
Things take an unsettling turn when Jacob finds Anna during a game of Hide 'n Seek, her request for assistance with a female matter beyond inappropriate. Things ramp up quickly, the children subjected to seriously creepy life lessons they are far too young to absorb. But no sooner have we witnessed Dan and Joyce discussing their son's readiness for 'the talk,' he boldly begins to take a stand.
Bolger's Emelie is a canny mix of irreverent fun and cold withholding, key lighting giving her eyes an icy sheen. She creates a formidable opponent, the adult holding all the power. Rush, never too precocious, wavers with uncertainty until clear danger is introduced, stepping up to save his siblings. It's too bad, then, that the filmmakers back themselves into a corner once they've drawn their battle lines, Emelie's motivation as old as the hills, the cross cutting climax an over cranked jumble of desperate parents trying to reach home as Jacob tries to escape it.
The blu ray's only extra is a making of featurette, but it's a good one, the producer, director, writer and stars analyzing various aspects of the film.
Robin gives "Emelie" a C+.
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