“Emelie” | Sarah Bolger, Joshua Rush, Carly Adams, Thomas Bair, Susan Pourfar, Chris Beetem | Writer: Rich Herbeck | Director: Michael Thelin
In a world where everything is basically sanitized and insulated for our darling precious little ones, there’s very little parents do that’ll intentionally cause harm to their children save for one lasting tradition: hiring a babysitter. Even if it was their grandmother who raised five kids on her own, folks would likely think thrice about having someone else take care of their own child for a few hours. Regrettably, in this day and age, folks can no longer rely on good word of mouth. After viewing Emelie – director Michael Thelin’s feature debut – every irrational worry a parent conjures from the æther will be thoroughly justified. Although the film’s premise would be far too difficult to achieve in reality, Dark Sky Film’s latest release will evoke all the horrors that linger in the back of a parent’s mind.
After a disturbing opening that isn’t fully explained until halfway through the movie, Emelie sincerely begins inside a turbulent yet happy home as a pair of parents haplessly relinquish their responsibilities over to a woman named ‘Anna’. Sure, they don’t really know her but if she claims to know their usual sitter, where’s the harm in that? Everyone’s word is their bond, right? No need to double check anything! It’s only during their date night do both feel concerned about their children. Way to go, guys. Way. To. Go.
Anna initially has the children in her favor, giving them free rein around the house. After a belly full of cookies and using the walls as their personal coloring books, the kids slowly realize the increasingly disturbing behavior Anna is exhibiting. The eldest child Jacob (Joshua Rush) was critical eye of his new babysitter from the moment she walked through the front door, and his concerns for his sister and younger brother are confirmed in little time.
Everything you ever worry about in employing an emergency babysitter is made manifest in Sarah Bolger’s portrayal of a deceptively cunning lunatic. While her performance for the most part was rather subdued, there was no mistaking a predator lurked among its prey, prodding at their interests and seeking out their vulnerabilities. There are no boundaries to her depravity – notably in one short, yet unsettling scene that elicits a sexual awakening in Jacob. It is the first of some intentionally protracted scenes with the kids that simply feel wrong. Anna’s veil of cheeriness eventually fades and her disposition towards the children becomes adversarial and finally combative, revealing her true nature as a scheming, fatalistic sociopath.
The performances from all the children – especially Thomas Blair, who plays youngest sibling Christopher – are surprisingly believable during such a seriously horrid scenario like being held hostage in one’s own home. Conveying an authentic mix of innocence, whimsy, and tenacity from a child actor is a difficult effort to achieve in most circumstances; for three young stars to achieve this in a somber thriller like Emelie is an accomplishment that shouldn’t be overlooked. Although Jacob, middle child Sally (Carly Adams) and Christopher have no means of coping or interpreting the psychological trauma Emelie puts them through during the night, it is Jacob’s ingenuity and natural sense of skepticism that partly deters his creepy babysitter’s heinous designs. Unfortunately, many of his better opportunities to stop Emelie evaporate into thin air thanks to Christopher, who takes a disturbing interest in his new babysitter.
What tends to happen in Emelie, for lack of a better term, are a series of jumps. One moment everything is serene, almost to the point of pallidness, then tension is ramped up for a split second, only to plateau once more. Those beats where the film really flies and has a more lasting impression are few and far in between. Emelie eventually reveals her identity in a manner the children certainly don’t grasp initially, but it is the final act that unleashes this domineering figure who will stop at nothing to get what she desperately desires.
By the time Emelie feels like it’s hitting its stride, the film has rapidly come to its conclusion. With a runtime of 80 minutes, the final act of the film is staged like the usual trope that’s been pounded into our psyches since the first horror film we watched in secret as kids: The last survivor, essentially frightened into becoming more resourceful, attempts to subdue the seemingly unstoppable monster. It’s a bit of a disappointment given the divergent path Emelie began to take in its second act. The flashes of imagery used to make viewers uncomfortable while the children experience very adult scenarios was discarded for an ending that was far too pedestrian for what Thelin and Herbeck had set up for most of the movie. While the ending lost some of the bite this film had a majority of the time, Emelie will leave a dark impression on one’s soul. Not to mention it’ll likely drive one to be more discerning about who is invited into their homestead.
Emelie – produced by Uncorked Productions, Sandbar Pictures and ULTRAMEDIA, and distributed by Dark Sky Films – will be available on DVD on Blu Ray on May 3.
Emelie = 7/10