A couple's replacement babysitter turns out to be more than they bargined for when she subjects their kids to a series of twisted activities.
March 4, 2016
Richard Raymond Harry Herbeck
Sarah Bolger as Emelie
Joshua Rush as Jacob
Back in 1992 director Curtis Hanson delivered one the most chilling films to ever see release. That film was The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, and it sent shivers down our collective spines. I was about 12 years old when the film was released, which seemed to warrant a trek to the local cinema with my father (thanks dad, I owe you a lot!). As it turns out, that trip had an immeasurable impact on my life. I’d yet to see Rosemary’s Baby, or any other similar themed (Rosemary’s Baby was obviously a radically different story, but the idea of insane parenting was certainly explored in the picture) film. Had I seen something similar, the impact of The Hand that Rocks the Cradle may not have been so direct and disconcerting. Since seeing Hanson’s (just for the record, the man has gone on to direct a few treasures, like The River Wild and L.A. Confidential) flick, I’ve been quietly hoping for a film powerful enough to at least rival the shock of The Hand that Rocks the Cradle. Nearly 25 years after seeing Hanson’s stunning work, Michael Thelin leaves my head rotating in awe. Somehow, Thelin has crafted a feature that indeed rivals Hanson’s own defining work.
I may never see a flick that clearly outshines Hanson’s film. That’s a reality that comes with no personal qualms; The Hand that Rocks the Cradle is a once-in-a-lifetime kind picture. But Thelin’s latest, Emelie, certainly conjures up some old ghosts and at times feels strikingly reminiscent of Hanson’s pic. Just expressing that should give you an idea of what to expect from Emelie.
The story opens with a look at Dan Thompson picking up a young woman. We quickly learn that Thompson is eager to spend an evening out on the town with his wife to celebrate their 13th anniversary (bad luck, you say – you’re right!), but the pesky kids (they’re not so bad!) need someone to look after them. Since the regular babysitter, Maggie, is tied up with other affairs, a stand in is called. Anna is the stand in, and she probably would have done a great job with the kids, if it were actually Anna entering the Thompson’s home. But it’s not Anna (believe it or not, this isn’t much of a spoiler, as it’s painfully evident that there’s been an identity mix up from the moment Dan picks the young lady up), it’s Emelie, and she’s not exactly a nice woman. In fact, she’s downright insane, and she’s about to torment a trio of children and turn the Thompson’s lives upside down.
There are a few legit surprises in store for viewers, so we’ll obviously avoid spilling any further details. The honest truth is, the surprises are all but irrelevant. What is relevant are the happenings within the Thompson home. And those happenings are bone chilling. We’re talking about some very risqué stuff here. We’re also talking about some dangerous business. We don’t need 15 minutes to realize that Emelie has some very disturbing designs aligned for the evening. There’s a motive for her presence, and a series of troubling actions serve as the buildup to said motive. All the while, only the first born of the Thompson clan, Jacob, seems to notice. His attentiveness proves pivotal.
As a father of three I found myself quite disturbed on multiple occasions. I’m not too sensitive and I consider myself a fairly open and often lenient parent. But I’m not impervious to outside influence, and there are sequences in this particular picture that surpass taboo. At no point was I offended by the picture, which speaks to Thelin’s respect for the subject matter, but I squirmed on more than a single occasion, which actually speaks to Thelin’s success. Any time in which children are positioned in harm’s way during a feature length film, you can expect to feel a little rustled. That’s the idea. That’s where Thelin truly excels, that strange place in which we feel the conflict of the film.
Thelin isn’t alone in his achievement. Sarah Bolger, who portrays the picture’s menacing titular character is nothing short of brilliant. The moment that she slides into Dan’s car, we see that something is wrong with her. We feel discomfort right off the bat, and as the film unfolds, Emelie steadily grows more frightening. It’s a homerun performance, made stronger only by the chemistry she shares with young Joshua Rush, who approaches the role of Jacob, the eldest of the children, and damn near steals the entire show. This kid is great and he was perfectly cast in this film.
Emelie as a production looks beautiful. The cinematography is clean, the transitions are smooth and the thespians all turn in strong work. It’s a very solid film with only one single misfire. That misfire comes in the final moments of the film, which feel a little bare, leaving us with something of an anticlimactic conclusion. Returning to the Hand that Rocks the Cradle comparison, we see the classic feature reach its end when Rebecca De Mornay’s character, Mrs. Mott essentially engages in a battle of good and evil with the handicapped but well-intentioned Solomon, played by the brilliant Ernie Hudson. It’s a tense moment that culminates with Mott sailing through a window, plummeting to her death. In Emelie there is no definitive close. It’s difficult to elaborate too much without ruining it for you, but there’s certainly something left to be desired. That’s really the only major misfire (there’s a subplot involving the titular character and another mysterious player that could easily be labeled as unexplored and neglected, but it didn’t leave me too hung up on things) of the movie.
Emelie is one of those movies that really demands more than a single viewing. It’s the kind of flick that’s bound to call to us more than a single time. That’s a result of hard work from a dedicated crew who ensure that Emelie stands out when compared to other similar movies. This is a very solid film that gets a strong recommendation from HFN!