With the release of The Witch in 2016, it seemed that the title of “best scary movie of the year” was already settled. However, the recently released Emelie could give any frontrunner a run for its money as far as I’m concerned. Clocking in at just under 90 minutes, this limited release film is equal parts familiar and unsettling, leaving a lasting discomfort within viewers long after the credits roll.
Emelie is the story of the Thompson children and their unfortunate night in with a new babysitter, Anna, as their parents go out for an anniversary dinner, unaware of the horrors that await their precious threesome. Anna, as it turns out, is twisted and disturbed, forcing the children to participate in antics that become increasingly more perverse as the night goes on.
As someone who has babysat for many different families, the concept of a babysitter gone berserk is troubling, to say the least. To then put myself in the shoes of a parent who has trusted a babysitter to take care of their children, only to learn that the sitter is off her rocker — well that’s enough to make me never trust a babysitter again.
Directed by Michael Thelin and written by Rich Herbeck, Emelie delivers as a film that is not alarming, but also hits close to home. Similarly to the 2009 film Orphan, much of this film’s horror effect comes from the fact that the psychopath has been willingly let into the home — in fact, invited in, and trusted to keep it safe. And, while we know that something is sure to go wrong, it takes a while for us to know exactly what. Writer Herbeck even cleverly tricks us into thinking we know Anna’s intentions from the get-go: there is a brief interaction that seems to imply a sexual attraction between the father and Anna — setting up a classic storyline of the sexy babysitter and the adulterer dad. This possible trope is quickly dispelled, however, as we realize that Anna’s true plot is far more evil.
Though Anna’s behavior with the children — oldest brother Jacob, middle sister Sally, and youngest brother Christopher — seems innocently irresponsible at first, her games and punishments take a sharp turn for the twisted. Her relationship with Jacob initially carries intimate overtones, as she appears to be sexualizing herself in order to make him trust her. Her relationship with Christopher, on the other hand, is more maternal, as she seems to find great joy in his curiosity and resourcefulness, and awards him with kisses and hugs. Of all the children, Sally is certainly the one Anna likes the least, as she mocks her and tells her to “stop being so dramatic,” even after she delivers a family pet to an untimely demise.
As Anna’s bizarre playtime activities become more and more inappropriate and uncomfortable for the children, Jacob becomes more distrustful of her. Recognizing this shift in allegiances, Anna sets her plan into action. We now find out that Anna is not who the Thompsons think she is — and that it is not accident that she is the person who has come to babysit them tonight.
Without revealing too much of the plot, suffice to say, things get worse. When the usual babysitter shows up to check on the kids, Anna’s role moves from merely disturbing to violent and dangerous. With the children restrained and now aware of their capture, Anna discloses her intentions, describing to the terrified trio her own experience of motherhood, and the tragedy that befell her, leading her to this point.
Meanwhile, as the night at home becomes more and more perilous, the film takes the audience to the restaurant where Mr. and Mrs. Thompson are out to dinner, flirting and laughing, and completely oblivious to what is happening across town. Though the events of their respective nights do eventually collide, the division of scenes, emotions, and trauma is effective in creating a dramatic irony that has viewers covering their eyes in a fit of parental empathy.
As the last third of the movie unfolds, the Thompson parents and children are subjected to even more shock, all calculated by Anna in pursuit of her final goal, one that intends to leave the family broken, if not entirely destroyed. As the scenes become enveloped in darkness and the music plays to the key of despair and uncertainty, the eldest child finds himself in the role of protector — but it is too late for him to keep his family safe?
Expert in its juxtaposition of ignorant bliss in the form of the parents’ date and absolute terror behind the locked doors of the family home, Emelie will leave a pit in your stomach and your heart skipping a beat, especially the next time you think about leaving your kids alone with a relative stranger. Though the ending is perhaps a bit more rushed than I would have hoped, and Jacob’s acting could use a bit of work, overall, Emelie is suspenseful, uncomfortable, and straight-up scary.