The Babysitter: Killer Queen: How not to make a horror sequel
3 youngest leads doing what they can7
Sabotaging the first film2
Josh Slater-Williams | On 31, Oct 2020
Cast: Judah Lewis, Emily Alyn Lind, Jenna Ortega, Ken Marino
Watch The Babysitter: Killer Queen online in the UK: Netflix UK
Warning: The following review contains spoilers for both The Babysitter and The Babysitter: Killer Queen
In humour and topsy-turvy aesthetic, McG’s The Babysitter proved a surprise word-of-mouth success for Netflix. It was bolstered by a few key notes of merit. The first is that it was undeniably a crucial stepping stone for the star ascent of Samara Weaving, whose first major American role – at least in terms of filming date, more on that later – was as the eponymous character, a loving guardian for nervous pre-teen Cole (Judah Lewis) who turns out to actually be the leader of a devil-worshipping cult, looking to use her innocent ward’s blood for a ritual that will supposedly grant one’s deepest desires.
Second was a theoretically interesting theme concerning how, to kids on the cusp of puberty, older teenagers can have this air of terror, intrigue and incomprehensibility about them that is hypnotising – part of how Cole gets himself into the mess he does is because he wants to see what cool babysitter Bee gets up to with her friends when he’s supposed to be asleep.
Third, peppered throughout The Babysitter was a genuinely quite sweet subplot about Cole’s developing relationship with his best friend and neighbour Melanie (Emily Alyn Lind). In the final half hour of The Babysitter, Cole flees to Melanie’s house as Bee fires at him with a shotgun she swiped while disposing of a cop car and the bodies of two police officers her crew killed. Melanie’s own father is reportedly away on a date with a “protestant”, so, with no adults around to defend them, the pair end up hiding from Bee trying to find them in Melanie’s house.
Once she’s left, Cole tries to make sure Melanie is safe before he goes back to his house to face Bee and his fears. Melanie kisses him, telling him: “Just because she’s a psychopath doesn’t mean women are evil.” Boosted by this romantic development and Melanie’s suggestion they should make out next time, Cole heads back and takes out the remainder of the cult. This includes returning to swipe Melanie’s dad’s car to drive into both Bee and his own house, something the film shows Melanie supporting both as and after it happens.
Fast forward to The Babysitter: Killer Queen, the 2020 sequel with a title that seems to have been chosen on the basis of whatever the most expensive song on the soundtrack was, rather than much to do with the story. Despite two police officers called to the scene that night going missing (you’d think that would be a big deal), no one in the film’s world believes anything about Cole’s account of the first film’s events, except for Melanie who at least witnessed Bee brandishing a shotgun around her house.
A more fantastical film that confirms all the ritual business is real, Killer Queen brings back practically everyone from the first outing, including the deceased cult characters played by Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne, Andrew Bachelor and Hana Mae Lee, who are resurrected from limbo for another chance at performing the ritual, something that can apparently only happen every two years. Samara Weaving’s Bee is also back, eventually, but since she’s become a much bigger deal of late and was filming both Bill & Ted Face the Music and the currently delayed GI Joe spin-off Snake Eyes when Killer Queen was being shot, adjustments had to be made for this direct continuation.
Of course, they could have just not made this film if the title character wasn’t going to be available, especially since McG and company seem to want to just ewplay all the hits from the first in a different location – by a lake and mountains instead of suburbia. Robbie Amell’s Max is once again shirtless for some reason and strangely supportive of target Cole asserting himself with confidence; Hana Mae Lee’s Sonya once again has a thing for dishing out cookies; Chris Wylde’s Juan, father of Melanie, is once again a neglectful parent who cares more about his vehicle than his daughter’s well-being; and Bella Thorne’s Allison is once again shot in the boob.
The other thing they want to carry over between instalments is the surprise element of Cole being betrayed by the object of his affection. And despite the truly woeful humour, incoherent visual homages and attempts to be down with the kids in the writing, that betrayal element manages to be Killer Queen’s biggest insult, especially with how it filters into the rest of the film-making. Many horror sequels tend to be bad, but very few go out of their way to actively ruin one of the main emotional threads of the preceding movie. (Alien³ loathers, pipe down.)
In one of the most galling instances of character derailment and retconning of any recent film of relatively high profile, Melanie, roughly half an hour in, is revealed as the new murderous cult leader. The same girl who was cheering on Cole defeating Bee last time now suggests she’s been called in from the bullpen because “you guys screwed up the last time”. Her given reasoning for betraying her best friend of many years? “You know I wanna be an influencer.”
This is not established in either film before that line of dialogue. It’s like the characterisation received as much thought as the one ADR-ed reference to Joe Exotic, the existence of which sends the viewer down a rabbit hole of trying to work out if Killer Queen takes place during or after the Covid-19 pandemic, if characters are dropping nods to Netflix’s own Tiger King, a show primarily famous for being what a lot of people were latching onto near the start of multiple countries’ lockdowns.
The Melanie development is a cheap shock value move at the expense of any genuine warmth and humanity to be found in the first movie. Brian Duffield’s script for The Babysitter appeared on the 2014 Black List of the best unproduced scripts in Hollywood. Around that same time, McG’s production company, Wonderland Sound and Vision, bought the screenplay, going on to co-finance its making. Principal photography for The Babysitter began in October 2015, back when the film was originally set up to be released by New Line Cinema. Late in 2016, Netflix acquired full distribution rights from New Line, premiering the film on the service in October 2017.
Launching on Netflix in September 2020, Killer Queen arrives almost a full three years after its predecessor, but, crucially, was filmed four years after the first movie was actually shot, in autumn 2019. Stars Judah Lewis and Emily Alyn Lind were both around 13 and 14 when they made The Babysitter and have gone on to make several notable films since: Lewis has another Netflix franchise on the go with the Kurt Russell-led The Christmas Chronicles, while currently 18-year-old Alyn Lind is set to co-lead the Gossip Girl reboot and was especially memorable in the role of Snakebite Andi in Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep. They’re very engaging screen presences with bright careers ahead of them, and none of Killer Queen’s problems are down to the performances they’re giving, despite some of the biggest flaws relating to the writing of their characters. They handle themselves very well with what they’re asked to play and the same goes for new addition Jenna Ortega as Cole’s new ally and love interest.
What Lewis and Alyn Lynd are not, however, is plausibly 14, and this is the age they’re supposed to be in the film, going by its own story-setting. The Babysitter unambiguously frames Cole as being 12 in a line of dialogue during a showdown with his tormenters, despite the weird plot point of his dad helping him learn to drive in empty car parks. Killer Queen’s early narration from Cole explicitly states that it is taking place just two years after the first film’s events. Despite looking a lot older now, both actors might have been able to play 14 going on 15 had anything about the second film’s screenplay – attributed to four screenwriters, one of them McG and none of them Brian Duffield – actually supported the time jump it establishes. But instead, so much of the story hinges on the apparent absurdity of Cole being a virgin, set up at the start by an authority figure at school saying that he just needs to get laid to solve his anxiety. At 14.
To poach a quote from Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales, teen horniness is not a crime, and teen-centred horror films can often focus a lot on sex as a rite of passage. But there’s usually real-world rhyme or reason to using it as a plot point and, as such, it generally doesn’t tend to involve teens who are under-age. Some of this part of Killer Queen is curiously reminiscent of Hocus Pocus, where lead character Max being a virgin is used as an odd running gag with adults he encounters (and in a Disney movie at that), but in that film Omri Katz is at least framed as playing 16-ish. The writers of Killer Queen didn’t have to set their film just two years later. They could have gone three to four into the future. They chose this option but didn’t write any of the rest of the film around their own world’s status quo made explicitly clear at the very start. (Melanie also drives her dad’s car, but since you can apparently get a permit in some American states at 14, this point can slide.)
You may be thinking that this is excessive nit-picking and, well, yes, it is. But here’s the thing: the lack of consistent thought put into what age the characters are supposed to be written and performed as makes the film’s active leering over Emily Alyn Lind – who was 17 when it was shot – even creepier. Once it’s revealed Melanie is evil, so much of the dialogue concerning her – either from her own mouth (“Plan B is more than a pill I take on Saturdays”) or someone like her onscreen father saying he’s going to take away her IUD – slips into references to an apparently very active sex life as both punchlines and a suggested sign of wickedness that people should have clued into sooner.
This bizarre slut-shaming thread is paired with McG and cinematographer Scott Henriksen’s camera ogling Alyn Lind through how things are staged and blocked, particularly once Melanie, for no apparent reason, dresses down into a different outfit for the film’s latter two acts to go hunting for Cole, when none of the other cult members do – something that seems designed to sexualise her, given the gaze incorporated throughout. Again, a then 17-year-old actor playing a character roughly aged 14.
The third act has a more boring kind of retconning with the Bee character, setting her up as having been mostly good after all, allowing Samara Weaving to crack a winning smirk or two during a glorified cameo she’s otherwise sleepwalking through between shooting much bigger projects. There’s a palpable sense of potential contractual obligation to her entire appearance, and not just because she’s clearly wearing a wig. Both the babysitter and the kids growing out of the enterprise nearly half a decade on probably should have been a sign to just let Bee be.
The Babysitter: Killer Queen is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.