Emelie Blu-ray Review: Strong Performances Elevate Generic Horror

From the Tudors to terror, actress Sarah Bolger shines as an unhinged babysitter.
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The horror genre cannibalizes itself, and I'm not talking about movies about cannibals. Unlike other genres, horror stereotypes are so ingrained in the collective consciousness that it's near impossible not to watch a horror movie through the lens of a previous one. Emelie immediately conjures up similarities to The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and that's not a bad thing in my book, being one of my favorite "rogue babysitter" films. Sarah Bolger and the child actors assemble work wonders with a script that tries to avoid the pitfalls but never sticks the landing.

A couple's anniversary sees them hiring a babysitter to watch their three children. Anna (Bolger) arrives, but things aren't what they appear. Anna holds a dark secret and the children in her charge will have to band together to avoid ending up in serious peril.

Emelie isn't going to win any awards, but what it lacks in prestige it makes up for in entertainment value. Emelie's fun is watching the slow deterioration of the family unit at the hands of our unhinged caregiver. Emelie, or Anna as she's known to the family, looks like a typical teenage girl and starts off doing the typical things you'd seen in a weird '90s babysitting feature - she lets the young boy read violent comics and watch her use the bathroom. Eventually her hostility comes out towards the little girl, Sally (Carly Adams) leading to the unsettling demise of "Admiral Wubbles." I'll let your brain intrepret that.

Former Tudors star Sarah Bolger shows a flair for the horror genre as Emelie/Anna. The reveal of her madness never devolves into screaming hysterics, and Bolger covers the flaws in the storytelling through something passing for affection, even if it manifests in disturbing ways. Her interactions with the children are different - representing rebellion to the eldest, Jacob (Joshua Rush), an evil witch to Sally, and a delight to young Christopher (Thomas Bair). Bolger has proven herself adept at serious drama, but her work as Emelie/Anna belie an inner turmoil that's great fun to watch blossom out. Because she always remains firmly in control of her emotions, the character, despite its devolution into stale character stereotype, has a slight air of unpredictability.

Bolger's complimented by a trio of child performers who aren't annoying or insufferable, or are at least so through character than actual acting technique. Rush, Adams and Bair have distinct personalities and each presents a valid reason to the audience for wanting to see their sucess or failure. Each child should resonate with audiences whether you were the awkward eldest child, the snooty know-it-all, or the baby who got away with everything. The story doesn't give a valid reason for Anna's antipathy towards the children who aren't her intended prey - the only explanation is they're in the way - but Anna caters her torture to their specific fears, heightening the terror and our resolve to watch these children make it out. And, like other movies in the independent horror vein, the children here don't fall into the typical traps. Rush, as Jacob, comes up with several ingenuious attempts to get help. I'd expect most children would just pee themselves and lay down, but these kids act like humans, not characters.

It's frustrating, though, that the script doesn't give equal weight to the strong acting work displayed. The script has such fun introducing the crazy babysitter conceit that it doesn't conjure up a compelling reason for why Anna is crazy. A stray look at her license, and middle name, immediately gives away Emelie's motivations which are generic and overused, particularly in movies about lunatic ladies. This all leads to an overwrought backstory that ends up falling apart by the end. In this case, with Bolger's acting, less would have been more. 

In spite of the missed landing there's a lot of fun within Emelie. Bolger and the children create a taut atmosphere of suspense and intrigue that, though conventional by the denounement, yields entertainment in abundance. This won't be one of the year's best, or most memorable, in the horror genre, but it shows what great acting can pull off.

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