Horror. The messiest genre. Too simple – boring. Too clever – unbelievable (in the bad way). Too funny – annoying. Too gory – off putting. And so on, and so on. It’s a hard balance. But the balance itself isn’t even the most difficult part. The tricky part is understanding the balance that the film is trying to strike.
Netflix’s 2017 comedy-horror ‘The Babysitter’ received mixed reviews. Viewers split between loving the 80s throwback in the modern age, or finding it stupid, unfunny and contrived.
This is where genre comes in.
Horror gets slated for everything. Not scary enough, not smart enough, not realistic enough, bad special effects, bad acting, too predictable. The list goes on and on and on.
But the point has been missed by many. This film is clever in it’s own way. It’s an inside joke for horror fans. It knows what it is and how to do it well. It’s not trying to be an arthouse horror or an elevated one. It’s not even trying to be a classic slasher or completely original either. It’s successful in being a funny, campy, energetic, satirical, gory teen horror film and it nails every beat it wants to hit.
McG sets the foundation with a simple premise. A trip for the ‘rents, whilst 13 year old Cole (Judah Lewis) and babysitter Bee (Samara Weaving – side note: Icon) have the house for the weekend. Cole stays up past his bedtime and gets more than he bargains for when it’s revealed Bee and her besties – an eclectic mix including Bella Thorne, Hana Mae Lee and Robbie Amell – are in a demonic cult who make sacrifices in the living room.
The best part about the premise? The execution. No, not in that way. The plot is executed well. It’s got a great cast, the effects are so over the top it’s ridiculous – looking at you, trophy death – and they even manage to have a romantic side plot in there! The pacing is good, the characters are archetypes in the best way possible and let’s be real, meta is always the key to a great satire – The Babysitter is meta to the max. It’s like Final Girls…except actually engaging.
The film progresses and the plot weaves its way through a variety of set pieces, each with gorier, and more unbelievable deaths than the last – it’s so fun, just brilliant. There aren’t slow, bone-chilling shots that make you beg for the characters to just bloody do something – that’s Hereditary. There’s no scanning the screen, waiting for something, damm anything, to move – that’s Paranormal Activity. There’s no one trapped in a camp cabin as the killer approaches – that’s Friday the 13th.
Instead, there’s jokes, a flying car, explosions and so much fake blood. It’s a survival, coming of age film. A fun comedy that’s a modern slasher and knows that. It doesn’t try to be more than that.
Now the IMDB rating for this film is 6.4/10 and that’s pretty good for a horror-comedy, Ready or Not (also starring Samara Weaving) is rated 6.9 and Happy Death Day sits at 6.6. Now depending on how you rate your films (individually or in the grand scheme of every film you’ve ever seem you may agree or disagree with this rating.
What is interesting, though, is that most of the criticisms of this film argue that the film is something along the lines of “Really stupid”. It seems that those unimpressed were expecting more in some way from the film. But on the other hand, those who loved it appreciated the balance of the film. Now, as this article is pro-The Babysitter, lets focus on the latter. The film knows what it wants to be and isn’t trying to be overly gory in a nasty way, or overly funny in a silly way.
Horror as a genre is often frowned upon, looked down on and seen to be ‘less than’ and ‘the other’. Horror rarely wins awards, is often snubbed at award shows or called a ‘thriller’ to take the edge off. Especially when a film isn’t made for mass appeal or is a straight to streaming film – as The Babysitter was.
So, when a new horror crops up, it’s important to look at what it’s trying to be and then watch the film’s terms. And, that’s where the babysitter shines. It knows it’s terms and works best when watched according to them.
For fear of repetition, this is the closing statement: watch The Babysitter on Netflix for a fun, campy, slasher comedy. Try not to take it too seriously, and enjoy what you want to enjoy.
PS: there is now a sequel which isn’t quite as good as the first as it doesn’t quite capture the coming-of-age-charm in the same way, but it’s always an option if you’re looking for something slightly trashier than the original.