There are a number of good things to be appreciated in “Emelie”, a creepy little thriller movie equipped with competent filmmaking skill and solid acting. While it is engaging to see how its first two acts steadily build up tension with the growing sense of danger and dread, the movie is ultimately marred by its weak third act, and that is really a shame considering what has been established so well during the preceding parts.
When their parents are about to go outside for having their own private time together, it looks just like another usual evening for Jacob (Joshua Rush), Sally (Carly Adams) and Christopher (Thomas Bair). Their babysitter will soon arrive with their father, and they will be under her supervision until their parents come back home later. Although their parents never meet her before while only knowing that she is a daughter of one of their neighbors, they are grateful that she is available for them in time, and she instantly gets her employers’ trust as soon as she enters their house.
But we already know from the very beginning that there is something sinister about ‘Anna’. As shown during the opening sequence, real Anna was suddenly ambushed on her way to home, and we have a pretty good idea on what happened to that ill-fated girl as noticing a tiny stain of blood on the sneaker of ‘Anna’, whose actual name is Emelie (Sarah Bolger) as revealed later in the story.
Most of the suspense in the movie is generated from how Emelie gradually reveals her hidden dark side in front of the kids she is supposed to take care of. At first, she lets the kids play freely in the living room, and the kids have no problem with playing a game of pretending as suggested by her. Even when the kids go a little too far, she does not stop them at all, as if she did not give a damn about what her employers will think about that.
While they have a good time with this seemingly cool babysitter for a while, it does not take much time for the kids to come to sense something weird about her. At one point, she deliberately exposes her certain private biological happening to Jacob, and it goes without saying that this is something he will remember for the rest of his life. When she learns that Jacob has a pet snake, she virtually forces the kids to witness a very unpleasant side of nature, and then there comes a truly twisted moment involved with a certain VHS tape whose visual content is thankfully not shown to us during that moment.
As we watch more of her vicious behaviors, we cannot help but be curious about this possibly deranged babysitter, and Sarah Bolger, a young Irish actress who has built a solid acting career since her notable roles in “In America” (2003) and “The Spiderwick Chronicles” (2008), is compelling to watch for her subtle nuances of wickedness. Looking plain and normal on the surface, she is believable when her character hides her true nature in front of others, and then she deftly dials up the level of creepiness until her character’s unwholesome motive is finally revealed around the third act.
Unfortunately, that is the point where the movie begins to falter irrevocably. Despite Bolger’s commendable efforts, her character remains to be more or less than a stereotype from hell, and that may take you back to many other thrillers like “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle” (1992). While the running time of the movie is around 80 minutes, it often feels stretched out a bit too much, and that aspect is apparent especially when it occasionally shifts its focus to the kids’ parents, who absolutely have no idea about what is going on in their house while enjoying their posh dinner time outside.
I also felt impatient with several contrived moments simply existing for the convenience of the plot. For example, when one character luckily has someone to help at one point, they choose to do a rather unwise thing instead of calling 911 right now because, well, that is necessary for the showdown moment to follow, and the movie even has its background darkened around that point without any plausible reason in the story. In case of the finale, it depends on too many coincidences to be believed, and the final minute of the movie feels like a cheap shot to say the least.
Nevertheless, the better parts of the movie show us that the director Michael Thelin, who wrote the story with his screenplay writer Richard Herbeck, is a filmmaker who knows how to engage us visually. The cinematography by Luca Del Puppo is slick and smooth as imbuing the nervous mood into the screen, and I was also amused by a few oddly anachronistic technical details (Although I spot a Wi-Fi receiver during one brief scene, other electronic equipments in the movie look like belonging to the late 1990s). Three young performers hold their own places well in front of their adult co-star, and we come to care about their characters’ safety thank to their unaffected acting.
I still think “Emelie” is a flawed film which could be better, but you will not forget Bolger’s performance after watching it. What she achieves here can be compared to Terry O’Quinn in “The Stepfather” (1987), and, like O’Quinn, she gives more than her movie deserves. I hope that this talented actress will get better chances in the future.