New thriller EMELIE starts with a lot of promise. A young woman stops to offer directions to a stranger, only to find herself forcefully abducted and tossed into the back of the car. The scene unfolds from a voyeur’s perspective, with the camera placed in some nearby trees as it follows the events as the unfold. This cold opening hints at the potential for a nasty bit of exploration fare.
The first half of EMILIE lives up to that promise. Desperate for a sitter, harried married couple Dan and Joyce hire “Anna” (Sarah Bolger) to watch their three kids: Jacob, Sally and their youngest Christopher so they can enjoy a much needed night out to celebrate their thirteenth anniversary. Anna charms the parents with no trouble, even remembering to ask if she needs to consider any special medications or allergies for the kids (trust me, as a parent, no sitter ever asks that and it’s always a relief to have someone that committed to caring for your kid). However, the minute Dan and Joyce shut the door behind them, the girl’s true nature begins to rear its head. She allows the kids to gorge themselves on junk food, ignores Christopher concocting a makeshift climbing ladder that’s a surefire one way trip to the emergency room with a broken neck and let’s the kids run roughshod with their parents prized possessions and valuables. Before long things take a turn for the nasty. Anna preys on Jacobs nascent puberty by allowing him to watch her pee and insert a fresh tampon. A family pet meets a gruesome end. She introduces the kids to the birds and the bees by popping in mom and dad’s homemade sex tape. Before long the kids are terrified of the sitter and the film hasn’t even hit its midpoint yet.
At this point EMELIE could have gone in one of two directions. It could continue to have Anna/Emelie one up her antics while allowing the audience to fill in the blanks to her reasons. The other way it could have gone would have been to offer up a rationale for the young woman’s behavior and then see if she could pull off her plan or if the children could escape peril. Unfortunately the film chose this second route, and the decision blunts all the momentum of the first half dead in its tracks. It’s not that Emelie’s reason for impersonating a babysitter is a particularly poor one. In fact, it makes a good deal of sense, considering the fragile condition of her “cracked” psyche. The problem is the way the woman goes about executing her plan adds at least a dozen unnecessary steps that only exist in order to pad out a great short film concept into a feature length movie. While I’m all for any rescue attempt scenario that has kids thrown into a trash can and wheeled across the lawn, the route it took to get to that point is so nonsensical that you might find yourslef completely sucked out of the movie from the midpoint on.
On the plus side EMELIE contains some inspired bits of humor. As the dad drives Anna to the house, he describes each of the kids personalities to her. He describes the youngest as a good, quiet kid that won’t giver her any trouble at all. His words still hang in the ether when we cut to a chaotic scene of the boy tearing ass down the hallway, careening off the walls and whooping it up like he’s just washed down a handful of speed with a six pack of Red Bull. It’s the kind of humorous moment that as a parent, the kind who always tries to sell others on his precious little angels most endearing trainers even if it means bending the truth, can appreciate.
The strongest argument one can make for giving EMELIE a spin is Sarah Bolger’s performance in the title role. Bolger knows how to play sweetness and light on the outside while allowing the audience to see a real darkness hidden just under the surface. Bolger also does a fantastic job of cranking up the crazy meter for a brief moments whenever her character needs to scare the kids senseless and make them fall back in line. Bolger’s presence alone is almost enough to overcome the nonsense reveal and subsequent shenanigans. As it is EMELIE is a passable thriller good for killing off an hour and a half when you’re looking for something with goofy charm.