Everyone who’s worked as a babysitter has had that one job where everything goes wrong. I know I have…
…Making its world premiere at this year’s FrightFest, writer/director Kohl Glass’s horror-comedy written with Julie Auerbach and Kevin Tavolaro, Babysitter Must Die, is about just such a job, though this time the problem isn’t the child they’re caring for, but the pack of violent cultists that invade the home to hunt down a secret hidden within its walls. The premise grabbed my attention immediately and the 75-minute runtime wastes no time jumping into the thick of things, successfully maintaining a fast pace from beginning to end.
We open on a symbol slowly coming into view and a woman’s voice talking about a group of people hidden among us. They bag our groceries, teach our children, fight our wars. They are The Divide, and they are everywhere. They have been searching for a long, long time, and tonight they will claim the unholy and unspeakable power that’s rightfully theirs. A power that has been hidden from them beneath a “house of lies.”
Cut to beautiful landscape shots of a car driving down long winding roads surrounded by trees as we watch Josie Jane (Riley Scott) and her mother on the way to Josie’s babysitting gig at the secluded home of a wealthy family. It’s the holiday season and Josie has been invited to a Christmas party, but chose to take the job instead. We quickly learn that this isn’t the first time she’s avoided a social situation, and as someone that’s evaded many parties, I instantly found her a little too relatable.
The family’s house is huge and beautiful, and when Josie arrives, we meet Sofia (Scarlett Hazen), an adorable young girl that loves her babysitter and enjoys nothing more than a game of hide-and-seek.
Sofia’s parents, Jen (Kristen Marie Jensen) and Rick (Robert Scott Smith), eventually return home with their friends, Patch (Alexander Woods) and Sadie (Kalli Therinae). From there things get deliciously awkward. Starting with Patch blundering into the house saying, “Let’s rock out with our-“, stopped just in time by Jen motioning to young Sofia. His response? “Oh shit, sorry, what are we drinking?”
It only gets worse from there when we learn that the group went to elementary school with Josie. Patch teases her and makes mean jokes about her being “childlike”, but Sadie seems kinder and more genuine in wanting to get to know her again, which isn’t surprising when we learn that they had actually once been best friends. We’ve all had moments of running into people from our pasts who are no longer a part of our lives, and it’s always an uncomfortable experience.
When Sadie sees the belt of camp badges Josie made herself, she calls her a badass, and I have to agree. From them we discover she knows cardiology, stealth and concealment, and even ventriloquism. As it turns out, Josie was a mustard scout for ten years, and is now a camp counsellor, so while she may seem childlike and be bad at sticking up for herself, she’s still incredibly skilled and competent.
The parents returning home doesn’t stop Josie and Sofia’s game of hide-and-seek, and this time it’s Josie’s turn to hide. Moments after she locates the perfect hiding spot, the home is invaded by three cultists who quickly begin to tear apart the house and torment the family. They have no idea Josie is there, hiding, trapped inside the dark, sprawling, isolated home with them. She has two choices: Stay hidden and hope to survive the night… or strike back from the shadows, defeat the cult, and save the family. Armed with only the skills she learned in childhood, Josie fights the cult—and her own fears—through a long night of terror.
Josie was a brilliant main character and incredibly easy to root for. Not only was she likable, at times she was way too relatable. I love an awkward character that learns and grows but doesn’t lose who they are in the process. It made her arc not only satisfying to watch, but a little more believable, considering how surreal the story was at times.
Scott’s performance was terrific, she was so entertaining to watch, whether it was the awkward social interactions that were more nuanced, the humour that was sprinkled deftly throughout the story, or the moments of badassery that required much more of her energy and emotional skill.
The cultists are simply listed as The Intruder (Nathan Stevens), The Brute (Nic Fitzgerald), and The Woman (Melinda Yeaman). The Woman appears to be running the operation. She keeps the others in check and she’s absolutely ruthless when it comes to getting what she wants. The performances from Stevens, Fitzgerald, and Yeaman were great. Each brought their own style to sinister and challenged Josie in unique ways. I particularly enjoyed seeing Scott and Stevens’ chemistry with one another throughout the story. They held the film’s focus and were an engaging watch together.
Neil Fernandez’s cinematography perfectly captured the tone of the film. The beautiful house and stunning landscape shots make me miss winter getaways. But one of the things I appreciated most was that slowly, throughout the film, the colour palette changed. At the beginning it was warm and vibrant, but as night fell and the story became more intense, it got colder and darker. There were times when the dialogue didn’t necessarily work for me or moments when I knew where the story was going, but it didn’t once detract from the film. It was a fast paced and fun ride, with some awesome kills and moments that were so tense they had me holding my breath. The humour was dark and the story was full of heart.
I had a good time with this one and it’s the sort of film I’d recommend watching with friends.
By Dani Vanderstock