Release Date: March 4, 2016 (Limited and VOD)
Director: Michael Thelin
MPAA Rating: NR
Run Time: 80 Minutes
I feel like recently we’ve been entering somewhat of a renaissance in indie horror, with new and unique films popping up all over the place that defiantly rebel against the formulaic banality to which the genre so often falls victim. Michael Thelin’s feature debut, Emelie, is a film that fits the bill, delivering a tense, unnerving thriller that takes a fresh look at the babysitter horror story.
Like Scherzo Diabolico, another film screening at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival that I reviewed, Emelie is a movie that you’ll want to go into cold. To that end, I’ll share the bare-bones setup, which will hopefully entice you enough to check this one out.
The film opens with a wonderfully disturbing wide shot of a girl being abducted before cutting to the Thompson family preparing for their evening. Dan and Joyce, the heads of the household, are planning for an evening out on the town to celebrate their anniversary, when their regular babysitter, Maggie, calls to cancel. Maggie gives them contact information for Anna, her best friend, who said she could fill in, so they agree and go pick her up. So the three Thompson children – Jacob, Sally and Christopher – spend the evening with Anna (Sarah Bolger), who quickly begins acting very strangely.
It’s the subtlety in which Bolger portrays this character that works so well within the confines of this tightly wound thriller. She doesn’t come off as completely insane and homicidal straight away, she just acts…slightly off. We know that something is amiss, but we really don’t know what it is, who this person truly is (other than her name) or why she’s doing the things she is.
The performances by Carly Adams, Thomas Bair and Joshua Rush, who play the children, were also excellent. It can be tough to get realistic performances out of kids, especially when you’re dealing with tricky subject matter like what’s going on here, but all three of them did a stellar job, particularly the youngest, Bair. This made everything feel more real and, in turn, more uncomfortable, given what they’re put through in the film.
The only thing about Emelie that I wasn’t a huge fan of was the finale, which went for a more traditional horror movie route, rather than sticking with the more grounded thriller approach presented by the rest of the film. This is something of a nitpick that certainly didn’t pull the movie down, but I would have preferred something different.
If director Michael Thelin sticks with this genre, and I certainly hope he does, he’s definitely going to be a name to be on the lookout for in horror. Emelie is a refreshing, tense, slightly disturbing thriller that will most likely scare the shit out of any parents who employ evening babysitters. I highly recommend it.