Black and white. It is evocative of a bygone era in cinema history. It suggests a binary simplicity to the world that is belied by the endlessly subtle shadings between light and darkness. And, in the right hands, it just looks great. Greg Klepper’s The Babysitter is presented in monochrome, and pitches itself as looking back in time to a proto-slasher era when young women were often caught off guard in their sorority (Black Christmas, 1974) or on a babysitting job (Halloween, 1978; When A Stranger Calls, 1974) by a killer who is already in the house. Yet you can tell by the smart phone of our heroine Katie (Alesandra Assante) that these are no longer the 1970s. Rather, like Wes Craven’s postmodern Scream (1996) and Ti West’s retro-tinged The House of the Devil (2009), The Babysitter is putting a modern spin on an older premise, its black-and-white form a mere mask for unexpected innovations and subversions.
After a prologue in which a piercing scream on the soundtrack accompanies stills of an isolated country house, we hear the line, “So you survived.” This is in fact, as text reveals, ‘two days earlier’, and Katie is discussing her year at Middlebrook community college – a “step down” from Yale University, which she had to leave after a psychotic episode. Katie’s time at Middlebrook is expresly likened to a prison sentence, and she clearly feels déclassée. No surprises, then, that she should be mesmerised by the luxurious country estate of Catherine Wallace (Tyler Merell), herself an old Yalie, where Katie has come for a well-paying babysitting job on the recommendation of her best friend Cara (Erica Duke Forsyth). Mrs Wallace is a bit quaint, but Katie, whose father died a year ago, is drawn to the fact that her employer also recently lost her son and daughter-in-law. Meanwhile, Katie’s sense of entrapment, her financial need and her social aspirations all slyly foreshadow what is to come.
Left alone in the house while Mrs Wallace’s ailing five-year-old grandson Noah sleeps in his bedroom upstairs, Katie becomes aware that there is someone else on the property, messing with her in a manner (silent phone calls, weird banging sounds) that becomes increasingly menacing. Alarmed but resourceful, Katie plays the ‘final girl’ to perfection, doing everything that one should in a situation like this – but perhaps that is all part of the plan, in a story where merely surviving may not be enough. Framed attractively by DP Rafie Karen in an array of suburban street-level tracking shots (directly evoking Halloween), alienating dutch angles, isolating wide shots, and intrusive handheld POVs, The Babysitter always keeps a respectful eye on its generic inheritance (going right back to Hitchcock and Polanski), even as it lets in an elegant third-act twist through the back door. And at just over 30 minutes, this is all killer and no filler, cutting to the chase, and delivering its slash with real dash.
© Anton Bitel