Sarah Bolger is the perfect evil babysitter in this horror film.
Every parent will tell you that the idea of something terrible happening to their child is one of their worst fears. From injuries to kidnapping to death, these are the sorts of things that keep parents up at night. Movies then that focus on crazy babysitters who are out to somehow cause injury to a minor play directly to fears of adults and kids alike. This gives the Michael Thelin directed Emelie a leg up on other horror competition, but it’s isn’t an advantage the film is always able to cash in on.
The movie stars Sarah Bolger as Emelie, although when the audience first meets her she is going by Anna. This is because Anna is the name of the babysitter Emelie and her co-conspirator have kidnapped so that Emelie can sit for the Thompson children, Jacob (Joshua Rush), Sally (Carly Adams), and Christopher (Thomas Bair). In fact, the movie opens with the kidnapping and it sets up all the dread that is to follow with some skill.
From these first moments continuing throughout its entire run, Emelie excels at offering a great, tension-filled, atmosphere. Regularly, the camera acts as an interloper, whether it’s inside the Thompson house as things go downhill, or watching the parents, Joyce (Susan Pourfar) and Dan (Chris Beetem), as they are out at their anniversary dinner. There are definitely moments when slightly brighter lighting would have increased the dread as some scenes are hard to make out, but the fear still exists in the shadows.
If one went by atmosphere alone, Emelie would be a homerun. Bolger carries the movie, oozing a sense of evil that is barely concealed under a seemingly benign surface. As that surface is stripped away, the character never goes too broad, maintaining a close to realistic feel even as her plan unfolds.
As constructed, however, that plan feels just a little silly and the attempts of Jacob, the oldest child, to thwart Emelie are equally foolish. Some of these moments could hypothetically be defended by arguing that of course Jacob’s attempts to stop the evil babysitter aren’t great, he’s 11, while obviously her plan is less than intelligent, as she even notes in the film, she’s “cracked.”
Avoiding a discussion of specific incidents as knowing what’s to come will only dampen anyone’s enjoyment watching the film, it should suffice to say that there is more than one moment of standard horror movie mistakes that have to be excused for each character and at some point, especially for Jacob as Emelie’s goals are drawing ever more near, the excuses don’t cut it.
Other sequences in the film, particularly questions about the issues within the parents’ relationship, feel like they’re remnants of what used to be a much more in depth, involved, storyline. They do little but serve to remove the viewer from the ever-growing menace inside the house.
It is approximately halfway through the movie that the audience finally learns of Emelie’s motivations and it is only after that point that she really starts pushing towards her end game. Not coming to her reasons until that moment is fine, but not every action of hers seems like a way to achieve her goal (some of it is more just general evil stuff). The audience here again is pulled out of the film, questioning how (or if) those earlier moments are a part of her larger plan or exist just to establish Emelie’s overall nature and her general, apparent, desire to see kids do bad things.
This last item is no small part of Emelie’s repertoire and provide more than a few of the film’s chillier moments. However, these moments also have a tendency to pit the kids against each other in ways that never feel true, instead the kids’ interactions feel as though they are there to serve the film. That is, as with much of the film, the moments are individually well-crafted but don’t always work in the context of the movie as a whole.