Emelie, the feature debut of concert-film director Michael Thelin, offers a clever take on classic babysitter-in-peril horror. Thelin packs the not-quite-eighty-minute runtime with tense, creepy set pieces, and it’s the babysitter who’s evil.
Anna (Sarah Bolger) is a last-minute substitute caretaker for the Thompson family’s three cute children, Jacob (Joshua Rush), Sally (Carly Adams), and Christopher (Thomas Bair). Early on, she calls Jacob into the bathroom and asks him to bring her a tampon — it’s the first of many cringe-inducing moments, and Bolger, with her round blue eyes and calm, purposeful delivery, manages to sell it without the scene coming off as too preposterous.
Things only get worse from there; a scene in which Anna calls the kids down for a movie and puts on their parents’ sex tape practically merits a trigger warning. The majority of the action takes place in the house, with periodic cross-cutting to the parents enjoying a fancy meal, oblivious to the horrors unfolding back at home.
Thelin relies too heavily on a dark palette as a means of generating scares, with the shadowy interiors straddling the line between spookiness and frustrating disorientation. Psychological thinness aside — Anna is a disturbed woman, but we get little of her psychology beyond some flashbacks of her with an ill-fated baby and a mysterious man — Emelie does create a menacing atmosphere and provide an interesting response to the “Final Girl” model that has long been the horror standard. Though fierce and uncomfortable, Anna’s determined creepiness is ultimately engaging to watch. If only the end credits could roll to a better song than a turgid cover of Blondie’s “One Way or Another.”
Directed by Michael Thelin
Dark Sky Films
Opens March 4, Cinema Village