The Sitter (2011)
★ / ★★★★
Noah (Jonah Hill), a college dropout with nothing much to do except hang out, decided to babysit the three children of his mom’s friend (Erin Daniels) because he figured his mom (Jessica Hecht) could use a fun night out. Who knows? Being a single parent, she might even meet a man who could make her happy. The three youngsters, Slater (Max Records), Blithe (Landry Bender), and Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez) were, to say the least, a handful of troublemakers. It didn’t help that Noah was far from a responsible adult, accepting to pick up cocaine for his girlfriend (Ari Graynor) in exchange for sex in the middle of his babysitting. Written by Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka, as “The Sitter” unfolded, the gnawing question of who it was aimed for could no longer be ignored. Even though it contained kids, it certainly wasn’t for children given their mean-spirited natures, especially Rodrigo’s predilection for putting homemade bombs in public restrooms. And yet it wasn’t for adults either. At least not those who preferred their comedy distilled of sentimentality. The screenplay couldn’t help but make Noah into a brother figure for the kids, so unconvincing that in select scenes where the mood was supposed to be serious, like when Noah confronted Slater of the young teen’s homosexuality and self-hatred, though a great topic of conversation in a mainstream lens, I was relatively unmoved because I couldn’t see past the hokum. Since the sensitive moments didn’t feel earned, I was offended that the film so willingly crossed the line. I wish that the writers acknowledged the reality that some people, even babysitters, are just not good with kids. They certainly wouldn’t change their deeply-rooted tendencies overnight. However, the picture did have one very funny scene that took place in a store. Blithe had a bodily accident in the car so Noah had to take her underwear shopping because she had no change of clothes. Observing from a couple of feet away, a Kid City employee (Alysia Joy Powell) had mistakenly believed that Noah was a pedophile and Noah’s nervous explanation about what he was doing in the little girls’ underwear section didn’t help the situation. Hill and Powell mirrored each other’s energy so strongly, their exchange had crackle and pop. I wish other confrontations between Noah and another character were just as effective. In contrast, the scenes between Noah and Karl (Sam Rockwell), a drug dealer, were so lackadaisical and nonsensical. At times it was downright offensive. Karl was supposed to be gay. His sexuality was strictly utilized as a source of comedy. If the drug dealer had been straight, he’d just be another unfunny, incompetent thug. Would it have been too much to ask for the writers to make their villain a little bit more interesting without relying solely on the character’s sexual orientation? To me, mean-spirited gay jokes are just as offensive as gay jokes that insidiously try to pass as progressive thinking. “The Sitter,” directed by David Gordon Green, needed a writing overhaul in order to make room for adventurous and funny moments that have range. There was no sense of adventure here, just a series of poorly executed sketches.
Babysitter Wanted (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★
Nice girl Angie (Sarah Thompson) had recently moved away from her devoutly religious mother to live in an apartment closer to college. While looking for offers of beds for sale on a bulletin board, she stumbled upon an ad regarding a babysitting job. Since she wasn’t doing anything on weekends, she figured a job wouldn’t hurt. But Angie felt that something was wrong. She had a feeling that someone had been following her. Cut to the night of Angie’s first day on the job, when the boy’s parents (Bruce Thomas, Kristen Dalton) left, the telephone started ringing. Angie answered but the person on the other line just relished her voice. Without a car, all she could do was express her concern via telephone to a friend (Matt Dallas) and a cop (Bill Moseley) she met earlier that day. “Babysitter Wanted,” directed by Jonas Barnes and Michael Manasseri, was quite a surprise because it wasn’t afraid to experiment within the horror genre. It started off uninspiring with typical phone calls and no one answering on the other line. All that was missing was some rain and thunderstorm. But when Angie’s stalker made it inside the house in the middle of the film, a fresh idea because those pesky serial killers usually enter the premises only during the final few acts, it was just the beginning of the bizarre and darkly comedic second half. I enjoyed that the movie took its time before Angie actually got to the house. We learned that her faith was important to her as well as being independent even in the smallest ways. She seemed weak at first glance but she was our heroine because she held back her complaints. I thought she was a saint when she didn’t say a word to Erica (Jillian Schmitz), her inconsiderate and druggie roommate, about the fact that their place looked like a pigsty. When we finally got to the meat, so to speak, of the film, Angie’s patience was tested. The first weird detail she noticed was the boy (Kai Caster) never seemed to get out of his cowboy costume. The second was he didn’t say much other than the word “hungry.” Even a shy person can manage to say an appropriate greeting. The third was his special diet of really raw meat. Angie claimed that the boy’s diet was “a heart attack waiting to happen.” It brought a smile on my face because it was she who was about to have a heart attack when the intruder found a way inside. My favorite scene was a slow burn. It was great suspense when the stalker just stood in the hallway (the background), completely unaware that Angie was only a couple of steps forward (the foreground). She had no weapon and we could almost hear her heart racing. I held my breath in anticipation. To divulge any more secrets of “Babysitters Wanted” would be a crime. I suspect Christians would enjoy this film for all of its wicked glory.
Monster House (2006)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Rewatching this animated film three years later since it came out in 2006, I still think it’s pretty scary for children. Directed by Gil Kenan, “Monster House” is about three teenagers–sarcastic DJ (Mitchel Musso), portly but hilarious Chowder (Sam Lerner) and precocious Jenny (Spencer Locke)–who learn that the house in front of DJ’s home is alive as it starts taking inside it whatever and whoever it thinks to be trespassing (intentionally or unintentionally). So the three form a plan to finally put the evil house to rest. And who says that defeating a scary living house is an easy feat? What I love about this animated flick is that whenever I watch it, I’m instantly reminded of my childhood. When we were kids, my cousins and I had several adventures while pretending to enter a haunted abandoned house just like the characters did here. The dialogue between the three leads reminded me of those teen movies in the 1980’s (and the fact that the parents are barely on screen), while the soundtrack reminded me of the “Goosebumps” and “Tales from the Crypt” television series. Everything about it just brought me back and I guess that’s the main reason why I instantly fell in love with it the first time. I mentioned that I think this is somewhat scary for children. If the premise of the film that plays on the archetype regarding scary houses next door and the creepy people that live in them is not enough, it also has scenes of the house’ shadows being able to transform into anything as it visits a child’s bedroom, a dungeon-like basement with a shrine that reminded me of those indie creepy serial killer movies when the killer preserves his victims, and more. I’m torn because, at the same time, I’m very impressed with its creativity and willingness to not baby the childreen too much just in case they might get bored. Also, there were jokes about the teens, especially Chowder, not reaching certain developmental levels proposed by some theorists in psychology and I found them to be really funny. Other voices worth noting that added an extra spice to the film are Maggie Gyllenhaal as the babysitter, Jason Lee as the babysitter’s friend/boyfriend, Kevin James and Nick Cannon as the two police officers, Jon Heder as the videogame freak, and Steve Buscemi as the creepy neighbor. “Monster House” is a strong animated movie that should have been seen by more people when it was released. Steven Spielberg is one of the executive producers and I did notice some of his signature styles of storytelling. Even though it can get a bit scary, I’ll still show this movie to my future kids.