VOD film review: Emelie
Bolger's star-making performance9
Thelin's suspenseful direction8.5
Matthew Turner | On 14, Mar 2016
Director: Michael Thelin
Cast: Sarah Bolger
Watch Emelie online in the UK: Amazon Prime / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Xbox / Sky Store / Rakuten TV / Google Play
How well do you know your babysitter? That’s the question posed by this genuinely creepy and disturbing thriller that will make you think twice about that planned night out away from the kids.
The feature debut of music video and concert director Michael Thelin, Emelie begins with a bravura single-take sequence, framed in long shot, in which a young woman is mysteriously abducted off a suburban street at night. Shortly afterwards, parents Dan (Chris Beetem) and Joyce Thompson (Susan Pourfar) discover that their regular babysitter is unavailable, so they hire her friend, Anna (Sarah Bolger), to look after their three young children (Joshua Rush as Jacob, Carly Adams as Sally and Thomas Bair as Christopher), while they go out on an anniversary date.
However, though the kids initially warm to their new babysitter and her enthusiasm for the power of imagination, it isn’t long before Anna begins acting strangely, first by being oddly inappropriate (e.g. asking Jacob to fetch her a tampon, while she sits on the toilet in front of him), but swiftly progressing to acts of outright cruelty, such as forcing Sally to watch her beloved pet hamster, Admiral Wobbles, get eaten by a snake. Becoming suspicious, Jacob checks Anna’s driver’s licence and discovers that she isn’t who she claims she is. But what’s she really up to?
Possessed of an unsettlingly chilled quality throughout, Sarah Bolger delivers a star-making performance as the world’s creepiest babysitter, calmly messing with her three young charges by telling them things like “Sometimes it’s okay to destroy things for fun”. The children are equally good, putting in convincing, naturalistic turns that are a long way from the usual smart alec or super-cute standard of Hollywood child actors.
Thelin’s mastery of suspense is extremely impressive throughout, ratcheting up the tension with everything Anna says and does, so that you’re anxious about what’s going to happen next – by the time she’s encouraging the younger kids to play with a loaded gun, you’ll have your fingers over your eyes. This is made all the more effective by the degree of restraint in the script, so that Anna doesn’t immediately go over the top and her ulterior motives remain tantalisingly unexplained.
Admittedly, the third act does descend into more familiar territory as Jacob takes it upon himself to fight back, Home Alone-style, in scenes that have the feel of a test-audience-dictated rewrite. However, that’s a minor quibble at best, as Thelin sustains tension and excitement until the very end. Highly recommended.
Emelie is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.