Starring Sarah Bolger, Carly Adams, Thomas Blair, Joshua Rush
Directed by Michael Thelin
In most cases, the worst that parents have to worry about when it comes to babysitters is coming home to find the place full of unwanted revellers, bodily fluids, drug paraphernalia or discarded pizza boxes – but when the Thompsons head out to spend the evening of their anniversary at a fancy restaurant, they have no idea what they’re letting their kids in for.
Owing to their usual babysitter being unavailable, the Thompsons enlist the help of her well-reputed friend, Anna. Already known to the audience, however, is that Anna has been the victim of a violent kidnapping – and the girl who turns up at the door (played by Sarah Bolger) is someone different entirely… the titular Emelie, masquerading as the experienced childminder.
Exactly what she wants is up in the air for much of the film, but the time leading up to it is packed solid with tension. Initially sweet, upbeat and cooperative with the adult Thompsons, Anna’s (or, rather, Emelie’s) demeanour quickly changes once they’re out of the house and she’s left to deal with their three children – Jacob (Rush), Sally (Adams) and Christopher (Blair).
Teaching the children how to play with their imaginations, Emilie guides them through making costumes from furniture and raiding their parents’ wardrobes. On gradually increasing levels, she entices he youngsters into taking actions that their parents would never approve of – and things gradually snowball into ever more inappropriate territory from there.
To lay out each scenario would be to spoil the toe-curling suspense that keeps Emelie alive as a film, but suffice it to say things take a steady path to such a level that the eldest son, Jacob, is forced to take action in order to protect his younger siblings – especially Christopher, whom Emelie has particular intentions for.
Director Michael Thelin has forged an enthralling and tense piece of cinema with Emelie – one that is sure to slap a nice big extra dose of paranoia into the minds of parents. The naturalistic performances throughout lend a measure of credence to the happenings – the stand-out being the fantastic Thomas Blair as Christopher. It’s difficult to tell whether this extremely young actor is really going from a script or just ad-libbing his stuff, but the kid seems to be having the time of his life and reacting perfectly to what’s going on around him. He is an absolute delight to watch.
Tying everything together is Sarah Bolger as the unhinged Emelie, her grasp on the character making for some very uncomfortable scenes and an ability to turn from apparent friendliness to dark and threatening at the flick of a switch – an early sequence which sees her coldly command the children to stop smiling when taking a photograph is chilling in tone. She also isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty when necessary, but director Thelin refuses to revel in violence as the action picks up — he simply doesn’t need to, as the situations played out are already enough to make you squirm.
Oh, and added kudos to the crew’s hamster wrangler, whose ward manages to give a perfect little piece of movement that sees his scene hit doubly hard on a gut level. Animal lovers, watch out.
The script does reach for some potentially easy pickings in its explanation of Emelie’s madness and modus operandi, but it’s nonetheless an affecting turn that offers some level of sympathy for the damaged creature that she is. Also well done is the wise decision not to go full-blown Home Alone when it comes to the kids fighting back. Sure, there’s a bit of it – but this is no The Aggression Scale, playing on a more believable level right down to the not quite slam-bang ending that refuses to dish out full-blown catharsis, even if it is somewhat anticlimactic for it.
Spotlessly shot, intimately disturbing and sporting a cast of youngsters that you can really get behind, Emelie is one fright flick that’s guaranteed to hit home… especially if you have kids.