Let’s get this straight from the get go: if you are a parent don’t bother watching Emelie. It will ruin what little social life you have as you will never hire a baby sitter again.
For everyone else then there’s a lot of fun to be had here. Oh no, well no that’s not true, there’s very little entertainment to be had from watching children in peril. Personally I spent the entire film with my hands pressed to the sides of my head, mostly to hold the distress in.
Sarah Bolger plays the less than trustworthy baby sitter who looks after three siblings whilst their parents go out for an anniversary meal (their 13th no less, surely they should have realised that was a bad idea). What helps set up Emelie‘s tension so well is that we know from the opening shot that Bolger is not the new babysitter Anna that she says she is: we’ve just seen her getting bundled into the back of a car. So while the parents obliviously go off to try and rekindle some romance in their relationship, we know that their children are basically fucked.
Fortunately, although Emelie the fake babysitter is clearly insane Bolger downplays everything in such a way that at first she seems kind of liberating to the children. She lets them draw on walls, eat all the cookies and dress up in their parents clothes. However even from early on its clear she is not a good person: she constantly picks on the middle child (and only girl) Sally and asks the oldest boy to fetch her a tampon when he discovers her sitting on the loo. Having been an eleven year old boy I can tell you this would be way beyond an awkward moment. By the time she’s fed Sally’s hamster to the pet snake and then made the kids watch their parents’ home made pornography even the children know something is up.
So far the tension has been slowly building up nicely. Unfortunately we’re then suddenly hit with an incredibly clunky moment where she reads a story to the youngest which explains exactly who she is, why she went mad and what her intensions are. It’s fine you know, but really unnecessary. What’s wrong with a little mystery. Besides, its pretty obvious what her plan is shortly after this moment because of her actions and what she says. And we don’t need to be told that she has lost her mind, that’s pretty obvious when she, and I cannot over emphasise this enough, asked an eleven year old boy to get her one of his mum’s tampons (the green one in case you needed to know).
Its only one scene though and we’re soon back on track. Other than that one hiccup of exposition the script is really excellent, not only in its portrayal of children but also in its structure – there are lots of little moments which set up what will happen in the back end of the movie.
In fact Emelie is a well made film all round. Everything is meticulously crafted from slow tracking shots to the subtle but unnerving music. The child actors are particularly good. Tiny Thomas Blair as Christopher is hilarious and so natural as the youngest of the children that you get the feeling that he’s not so much acting as having a whale of a time on a film set. Actually, I’m not sure how they even made this film with child actors having the restrictions on working hours that they have, but they pulled it off. The oldest Jacob (Joshua Rush) has to tackle the bulk of the action as he is the one who has to grow up and take responsibility for his siblings and Rush is a great adversary for the much older and more experienced Bolger.
But it is Bolger herself who really makes Emelie work, mostly due to her subtle and understated performance. Even when things are clearly going wrong for her she underplays things beautifully. Having such an open and kind face (something children are always drawn towards) just makes her contrary character work even better. It would have been easy (and okay) to have Emelie as a raving nut job but by doing things differently Bolger elevates the film into something much more grounded in reality, and so something genuinely frightening.*
This is why parents should not be allowed to watch this film – because Bolger, with the rest of the cast and crew backing her up -make you believe this could really happen. And there’s nothing more horrifying than that.
* Not SO frightening for me, not having children. I have a small French Bulldog called Mylo, and whilst I am always convinced someone is about to snatch him away from me, I can’t see anyone making a horror movie about it. Unless you include this.