So I am a bit over a year late for this horror comedy, but I did finally make my way around to it. The Babysitter was a 2017 Netflix original in which Cole is an overly anxious highly bullied 12-year-old boy. His “hot” babysitter Bee seems to be the answer to all of his prayers. She stands up for him, geeks out with him, and is generally everything he ever wanted. One night when Cole is challenged to stay up after his babysitter sends him to bed, he discovers that things are not what they seem.
The Babysitter is a great clash of genres and inspirations that I think help it to be so well loved. For my own personal tastes, I think it’s what a horror comedy should be. It’s not a pure horror movie with some laughs, say like Wes Craven was the master at, but it’s also not just a comedy movie with some gore. It attempts, at several different points, to be an actual horror movie that makes you laugh along the way, like Tucker and Dale vs. Evil or Shaun of the Dead. Now before I praise it too highly, it doesn’t succeed in the “horror” aspect as much as I would have liked, but I appreciate that it was a movie that really attempted to blend both genres.
In addition to the blend of those aspects, it also hits a lot of stereotypical teen dramedy notes that we are used to seeing. You can also find things like title cards thrown in that we are used to seeing in more grindhouse like flicks, as well as a lot of inspiration from action movies. Basically, while you can call it, as a whole a horror comedy, it’s a movie that takes inspiration from numerous genres, and even periods as it feels both 80s and 90s, to create the overall experience.
Aside from being a well-done movie and genre blend, what landed the most for me was the comedy, the gore, and Cole.
The comedy in this movie is excellent. It’s a movie that is not afraid to push the audience often asking them to laugh at things that they should be disgusted by. This is something I have often talked about being tied to the brilliance of Wes Craven. You are watching something you should find horrific but laughing, it’s funny but can also be slightly uncomfortable, and I love it. I think to be a horror comedy some of the comedy has to be tied to some of the horror, not just happening in the same movie. Even outside those moments, the movie is still hilarious. It has great one-liners, good character humor, and solid comedic timing. Much like with the genre aspects of the movie, the humor is not afraid to experiment and explore.
Gore is an odd one for me because I am not actually the biggest lover of gore overall. I don’t hate it, but do complain that it is often used in replace of true terror. However, with horror comedies, I not only expect it but want it. I think a lot of it has to do with it being a necessary element to keep the movie horror comedy instead of just comedy. Very few horror comedies can manage to maintain suspense and tension because they are often lacking in the face of jokes. I would argue Shaun of the Dead is an excellent example of this, the end of the movie is extremely tense but entirely lacking in jokes for that reason. Conversely, The Babysitter and Tucker and Dale never are able to build that level of tension because they never drop the jokes. So what makes it still horror? Well the fact that gore is not only there, but a key feature, and in your face. The Babysitter is not the most over the top gore film I have seen, but it is not afraid of violence, not afraid of gore, and not afraid of using both for either horror or “thrills” as it sees fit. In the face of lacking a lot of other more traditional horror elements gore and kills become important in selling the duel genre package. That is not to say The Babysitter is entirely lacking in suspense, there are moments where it builds to a solid degree, but they alone could not sell this movie as part horror.
Lastly Cole, dear sweet, if not slightly annoying, Cole. I think how you feel about Cole will be a huge determining factor in whether or not you enjoy this movie. Cole is largely sympathetic. He is anxious, fearful, bullied, and wants to be seen and still liked. Cole is not an overwrought character, a lot of his angst is pretty relatable. He does worry about his parents getting divorced, but he is not a dark and brooding pre-teen. He is just scared, uncomfortable, and unsure.
I admit to having a hard time with movies and shows with young leads. It’s not that I was above teen angst as a teen, I wasn’t, at all. It’s that I can no longer relate to it on the level needed to really enjoy watching it.
Cole can be a difficult character because occasionally you just want to shake him, but for the most part, the realities of his issues are pretty relatable. Who doesn’t feel scared, uncomfortable, and unsure? Not to Cole’s level, but it’s pretty easy to see how a boy like him could grow up into the adult that many of us are. It makes Cole approachable for an older audience.
Not only that, but it makes what he goes through that much more heartbreaking. Bee is not the only one of the group of hunters and would be killers that bonds with Cole. While entertaining it’s rather upsetting to watch a group of people attempt to guide him and find his strength while trying to kill him. One of them even cheers him on every time he manages to stand up for himself. It’s more than a little emotionally unsettling to see a psychopath show more compassion (fake though it might be) to Cole than a lot of the people in his life.
There are some negatives to the experience of course. The movie could have done with a bit more tension, and the story gets a touch weak at moments. There are also a few problematic ideas peeking through for me, but they aren’t so overwhelming that I want to make a mountain out of them. Also Cole’s transition from scared weakling to hero of his own story is a bit abrupt, though slightly understandable so I can give it pass. It has a few cringe moments including the last line of the movie, which is just… I can’t decide if it’s intentionally bad because they are smirking at Cole’s idea of “badass” or if it’s just bad.
Bottom line? It’s an entertaining movie. It is well acted, well made, gory, violent, disturbing, funny. The plot could have used a bit of work, but honestly, it doesn’t matter that much, it’s serviceable for what the movie needed. This isn’t the “great horror film” that elevates the genre or anything else because that’s not what it needed to be. It needed to be a fun movie, and it’s a fun movie. The flaws are there, but the movie is entertaining, so they are easy to overlook. If you want a fun horror comedy, you’ll get it with The Babysitter.