Michael Thelin’s debut feature Emelie contains some striking scenes. Whether unnecessarily unpleasant or intelligently unsettling, these scenes are inarguably divisive and for that reason they elevate his film above the usual “psycho babysitter” or “psycho babysittees” fare you might have expected.
For their anniversary The Thompsons are heading out to dinner but when their regular babysitter cancels, they are forced to rely on her friend Anna. Only the Anna that arrives is actually Emelie and she has her own agenda for the evening.
Thelin’s film follows a very traditional formula but intermittently explores a darker, unspoken fear and form of abuse that is handled with a blunt, matter-of-fact approach. The director strives to provoke his audience with questionable scenes that are uncomfortable, but are also intrinsic to the plot and the psychology of the antagonist. As Emelie ingrains herself with her three charges, her true motives are well hidden and this provides a sense of dread that draws you into the events. That so much is achieved over the course of the film is a credit to the convincing performances. The three children vary in their relationship with their mysterious babysitter, with fear and terror switching regularly to innocent affection. Thelin takes advantage of this, placing you right inside the house with a voyeuristic style of direction.
It is Sarah Bolger as the titular sitter who stands out though. Her performance perfectly treads a line between sinister and supportive as she both subtly abuses the children, almost without them realising, and equally encourages them to express themselves. When her true motives do begin to reveal themselves, her clinical composure slowly dissipates, but then you begin to get a sense of the rage and terror within.
Where the film does struggle is in the final act as confusion slowly seeps in. What was taut and tense becomes a little ragged, and the film begins to develop much like a routine home invasion story with eldest son Jacob (Rush) fighting to protect his siblings. While not entirely successful in tying up the plot, the finale does offer something different to the norm, so should be applauded for its originality.
Ultimately Emelie is worth seeking out due to those moments of divisive originality. A fun, darkly intelligent twist on a story you think you know well, but one that sadly, like so many others, loses its way in the final act.
EMELIE / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: MICHAEL THELIN / SCREENPLAY: RICHARD RAYMOND HARRY HERBECK, MICHAEL THELIN / STARRING: SARAH BOLGER, CARLY ADAMS, THOMAS BLAIR / RELEASE DATE: 14TH MARCH (FRIGHTFEST PRESENTS); OFFICIAL UK RELEASE TBA