by Sandra Courtland
Sort of like Funny Games crossed with Adventures in Babysitting with a touch of Home Alone thrown in, Michael Thelin’s thriller is constantly enthralling thanks to its pacing and lead performance by Sarah Bolger. The film opens with a blonde girl walking from school and on her phone. She can’t do anything tonight because of a babysitting gig. When she’s stopped by a woman in a car, who asks for directions and confirmation that her name is Anna, she is grabbed and pulled into the car. Later that night a brunette waiting outside of a house is picked up by Mr. Thompson (Chris Beetem). Back home Mr. and Mrs. Thompson introduce their three kids Jacob, Sally, and Christopher to their new babysitter Anna (Sarah Bolger), a last minute replacement when the Thompsons’ usual sitter can’t make it on the night of their anniversary. At first the kids take an instant liking to Anna, who allows them to do things they wouldn’t normally be allowed to do. But as the games Anna plays with the kids become increasingly sadistic they realize that she might not be who she says she is.
All the performances are great and the kids especially standout, able to perfectly convey the allure as well as the sinister that Bolger balances with her performance. The interactions between her and the kids start out interestingly complicated. She doesn’t care if they play fair, rewarding them if they don’t, and yet hurt feelings can be mended by letting them eat whatever they want, but they have to get the juice on the top shelf themselves. Things start out innocently enough like letting the kids draw on the walls, purposefully ignoring Jacob who has drawn her name to focus on the youngest Christopher. But as the film goes on she continuously escalates what she wants the kids to do, like watch a “private video” of their parents. Like Haneke’s film, Thelin doesn’t show much, but uses sound and especially reaction to squeeze all the uncomfortable drops from each moment.
Every now and then the film will switch over to the parents and their anniversary dinner, being watched by Emelie’s accomplice. Not much information about the kids is gleaned from these bits which mainly serve to create suspense as to whether the parents will make it back home in time or at all. Because not much during these scenes inform how we watch following scenes with the sitter and the kids, the plot pushing forward aspect of these moments really start to show.
Eventually we come to find out Emelie’s reasons for doing all of this, and while it moves the story forward, some of the anxiety from the “intruder-amongst-us” vibe gets lost. But the film knows not to overstay its welcome, especially when the reveal is had, and it also knows that the real arc of the film is for the oldest kid Jacob (Joshua Rush). Writers Herbeck and Thelin know when to switch perspectives and how to pace the introduction of new elements into the situation. The finale might seem a little rushed when compared to how confidently they allow Emelie’s initial interactions with the kids, and Jacob’s mounting suspicions of her, to be developed. Emelie is a lot of tense fun and Sarah Bolger’s performance is the epitome of an adolescent boy’s femme fatale.
Emelie plays Thursday, November 12, 9:30 pm; Friday, November 13, 11:30 pm; Sie FilmCenter.
Sandra Courtland is a contributor to Cinema Adrift. She is currently saving up to go back to Italy for holiday.