Emelie

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Emelie
"It's likely to be most appealing to people just too young to be officially allowed to see it."

Emelie begins with a long shot. A car pulls up beside a park; the young woman walking there stops to offer directions. She is casually asked her name; on giving it (Anna), she is struck over the head and dragged into the car. It's a curious hit on a teenager who doesn't give the impression of being rich. Who can benefit from this? The clue is in the nature of the shot. Anna is distant from the core of the plot, incidental to those who have taken her. It's her name that's the thing. That name is given by another young woman on arrival at a middle class home. Anna, Maggie's friend. Maggie is unavailable so recommended Anna as an alternative babysitter. The name gives access to the home, the parents go out, and the trouble begins.

It begins slowly. Bedtime is nine o'clock, the parents have said; the kids have had a busy day so they should go down easily. Perhaps this is what the false Anna (Sarah Bolger) is waiting for. She plays a pretending game with the two youngest children, Sally (Carly Adams) and Christopher (Thomas Bair), telling them that pretending can let a person be anything they want to be. But she's not as good at it as she might like to think. Even when she's trying to be convincing, he petty cruelty towards Sally and her flirtation with tweenager Jacob (Joshua Rush) makes it clear that something is wrong. As she begins to suspect that they suspect, the babysitter's behaviour gets more extreme; the parents, celebrating their anniversary in a restaurant, suspect nothing, but we begin to wonder if the children will still be there when they get home.

Despite the neat framing, this isn't really a new idea. The babysitter's principal motivation is somewhat twee and rooted in poorly substantiated ideas about female function, desire and emotional fragility, but her behaviour towards Sally adds a more interesting dimension to this, suggesting deeper-rooted issues. There are hints of what Bette Davis achieved in The Nanny, creating a monster every bit as vulnerable as the children. Adams' intense performance as the bullied girl assures us that, however events may turn out this isn't the kind of experience children recover from.

Jacob, whom we first encounter when he is being asked to go downstairs and help with his brother, is torn between his instinct to run for help and the feeling that he must stay in the house to protect his siblings. Rush handles this well and is particularly good at showing us the acute discomfort a boy whose sexuality is just developing feels when pornographic fantasy threatens to become reality and the babysitter starts sitting to close. It's a subject rarely explored from a boy's perspective and it lends the film much-needed depth. Overall, the film is at its strongest as a coming of age tale, and it's likely to be most appealing to people just too young to be officially allowed to see it. The message that it's possible to be smaller and weaker and less sure of oneself than an adult but still fight back when things go wrong is a positive one which will mean a lot to young people dealing with aggression in their ow lives.

Where it does fall back on formula, Emelie is sufficiently well made to hold viewer attention and it succeeds in maintaining a degree of creepiness throughout. There's some wasted potential here but overall it's a film that horror fans will enjoy.


Emilie is available on Digital HD and VOD from Frightfest Presents, from 14 March.

Reviewed on: 08 Mar 2016
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A replacement babysitter seems to have sinister intentions towards her young charges.


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