Wednesday, March 2, 2016

EMELIE: Michael Thelin/Rich Herbeck's transgressive naughty-babysitter movie opens

The first scene of EMELIE, the new naughty-babysitter film, is exemplary: so initially everyday, then suddenly creepy and frightening, that it takes your breath away. If only the remainder of this movie followed suit. We learn the result of this opening scene during the fraught finale, and it brings us back again to that fine beginning. Most of what lies in between, how-ever, offers a second-rate, occasionally ridiculous, children-in-peril scenario in which a highly unhinged young woman and her barely-seen accomplice spend an evening increasingly terrorizing three kids.

Who this title character, Emelie, actually is we learn in rather poorly executed dribs and drabs midway that show us the usual she-herself-had-a-bad-childhood routine, which does little to assuage the unpleasantness abounding here. As written by Rich Herbeck and directed by Michael Thelin (shown at right), the movie is most enjoyable as an exercise in the transgressive. What our babysitter forces her charges to endure involves things that no children their ages should have to undergo.

Intelligent audiences (most of which will probably not get near this kind of movie) can only wonder what problems will pop up in the later lives of these kids from not just the physical abuse on hand but the emotional/psychological trauma here.

How will elder brother, as a young man, react the first time he's aware of his girlfriend's getting her period? Will his little sister be forever trauma-tized sexually by being forced to watch a rather special kind of porn?

The movie uses all this for cheap thrills, and initially at least, this keeps us glued. But Emelie truly falls apart midway when help arrives but the kids fail to make proper use of it. (Given what our hero manages to do by the time of the film's finale, his refusal to act at this earlier stage smacks more of the necessity to keep the movie's plot unfurling than it does of anything remotely believable.)

We get murder and more, clueless parents and unhelpful neighbors, and mostly the old kids-in-peril syndrome. The performances are very good from those kids -- Joshua Rush as the eldest, Carly Adams as his sister, and especially Thomas Bair as the youngest (shown below, left) -- to Sarah Bolger (shown above and below, right) as the title character, who proves properly sweet-then-scary in what is, truth-be-told, by now a fairly standard characterization.

Buffalo, New York, stands in for Anytown USA, and technical credits are perfectly presentable. Emelie -- from Ultramedia and Dark Sky Films and running a thankfully short 77 minutes plus credits -- opens this Friday, March 4, in New York City at the Cinema Village and in Los Angeles at the Arena Cinema. If you're not near either big city but have a hankering for the transgressive, don't worry: Emelie's simultaneously available via VOD.

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