I think every geek these days has a contentious relationship with the work of McG. His contributions to film aren’t always the most well-received, but they’re undoubtedly skillful in their execution, leading to interesting failures like Terminator: Salvation or underdeveloped successes like Chuck. The sad thing about this is whenever he works on a project, especially television, he brings a frenetic style that works well for the small screen. His pilots for the numerous shows he’s produced are excellent, and despite that, his sensibility doesn’t translate well to the silver screen. It’d been a while since McG had released anything notable and his new film The Babysitter looked like the kind of fuel injection a fledgling film career could use.
The Babysitter is your basic high school crush/coming of age movie, mashed up with a satanic cult movie. I genuinely suspected this could have been the verge of a new turn of his, where he takes a hard left into homage based genre filmmaking, which is popular these days. So this is the part where I tell you it’s actually directed terribly, and he’s let me down. The thing about that is, that’s only half right.
The real culprit here, the truly hidden menace, is the script by Brian Duffield. I understand a film is a composite medium, made out of the work of many individuals working together, and that all scripts are living documents that are subject to changes on the whim and impossible to predict improvisations that ultimately prove necessary due to some practical limitation. What I’m saying is, I’m VERY forgiving to bad horror movie scripts, but the part of me that’s most critical of all is my taste in comedy. This is where there’s almost a schizophrenic divide between director and screenwriter that results in a rollercoaster ride through tonal dissonance. It’s a paradoxical mix of unintentional and self-aware that has jokes stupid enough to literally be spelled out onscreen for you but manages to pack in a few clever sight gags that would fit right in a Mel Brooks film. Or maybe a James Gunn film. There’s an attempt with nearly every line of the script to create a sense of quotability, and the bonding and development between Cole (Judah Lewis) and Bee (Samara Weaving) are rushed and superficial at best. The script actually shines the most during the first act of the film, which is coincidentally the most basic and structural part of the movie, heavy on the establishment despite nauseatingly over styled direction.
Entire scenes of people talking, giving basic exposition, and Cole walking through his house are so over-directed, it becomes comical. A family of people discussing plans in a foyer shouldn’t include jump cuts, whip pans, and crash zooms to illustrate how a… family talks? It’s like McG is making a parody of himself in the first act, purposely using as much frenetic filmmaking as possible despite the actual content of the scenes themselves being incredibly mundane. This changes rapidly in the second act, and the horror movie part of the script starts to kick in, and the movie flips itself upside down. The direction now becomes standardized and basic, flat even. The scripting meanwhile, goes absolutely nuts, and not in a fun way. It frankly starts to rapidly oscillate between grating, groan-inducing joke, and genuinely hilarious joke, at a rapidly diminishing ratio. Eventually, all that’s left is the hollow skeleton of an idea that’s been thoroughly cannibalized to create this shambling husk of an homage film. If that sounds harsh, it’s because the hardest movies to accept are the ones that are just almost there but never quite click into proper place.
There are a few saving graces, as quite a few jokes did make me laugh, but they were sandwiched in between things that were cliched, predictable, nonsensical and ultimately derivative. I suppose if you were 12 years old like Cole, a movie like this might totally blow your mind. It could very well be this movie just isn’t for me, and I’m a grumpy old man who doesn’t understand the audience this movie is actually for at all. It’s entirely possible its audience is twelve years old right now and they will really love this. Perhaps there was a version of this movie at one time where the scripting was tighter, or the jokes more even and fluid. There is a kernel of a good idea here, and I kinda want to see how the film would have been with a few more re-writes and a few less improvised jokes and intertitle gags.
As it is, I really am just left to wonder what-ifs about the production that made the film so wildly uneven. It could just be a really ineptly written film that’s overdone with directorial style to cover up its weak structural faults and laziness? Or maybe McG actually does understand all of that, and just directed this entire movie, but sarcastically? It kinda makes it his best film in that way. That’s my explanation now.
Geek Grade: D+
Source: My eyes, Netflix