It is the Christmas period, and while her college co-ed friends are out partying, Josie Jane (Riley Scott) is babysitting young Sophia Castillo (Scarlett Hazen). “I’d honestly rather be babysitting,” she tells her mother at the beginning of Kohl Glass’ ominously titled Babysitter Must Die – and this desire is rooted not so much in a need for the money as in Josie’s preference for a little girl’s company to that of her own age group.
Josie is stuck in her childhood – unable to drive, “dresses like a 12 year old” and still active (as a troop leader) in the Mustard Seeds Scouts that she first joined in elementary school (and that her oldest friends have long since left behind). Yet the beautiful if secluded Castillo home harbours in its walls and beneath its foundations some alarming, even apocalyptic secrets, unbeknownst to Sophia’s record-producing father Rick (Robert Scott Smith) and mother Jen (Kristen Marie Jensen) – and a trio of driven cultists (Melinda Yeaman, Nathan Stevens, Nic Fitzgerald) is set on viciously undermining the domestic order and taking control, with only resourceful girl scout Josie to stop them.
A gang of hyperviolent home invaders in search of a concealed MacGuffin is pitted against a determined young woman who must play a dangerous game of hide and seek to avoid becoming part of a ritual sacrifice. In other words, Babysitter Must Die falls somewhere between Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion’s Becky (2020) and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s Ready Or Not (2019) – and it also, like Glass’ previous Orc Wars (2013), gradually admits the supernatural and the Lovecraftian into its otherwise grounded setting. Playing upon anxieties among the American bourgeoisie of a Trumpian uprising, it depicts an armed, organised militia of the overlooked attempting forcefully to seize back “power that had been hidden from us beneath a house of lies” via a mythology that sounds a lot like a crazed conspiracy theory.
It also presents a new kind of heroine: virginal like a classic ‘final girl’, yet less kickass (though she is that) than blessed with a MacGyver-like set of special (scouting) skills, and resolutely guided by old-fashioned, honour-bound principles (“always be prepared,” as she says, “carry the burden, fix the broken, protect the preyed upon, and be strong, brave, honest and true in all that I do”). Josie is a force of straightforward decency in an unstable world – and while Babysitter Must Die initially makes sly fun of her somewhat arrested character, by the end Josie is all that stands in ‘the divide’ between good and evil, defending the middle-class home from any would-be intruder or hell raiser.
If all this sounds reactionary (it is), Glass’ screenplay (co-written with Julie Auerbach and Kevin Tavolaro) also comes with the more subversive suggestion that America’s problems always emerge from within, and cannot remain ignored or buried forever. Each of the three cultists has sacrificed a body part (eye, ear, vocal chord) as a deranged mark of their commitment to the cause – but these missing parts also serve to emblematise a broader refusal to see, hear or speak of the ills and inequalities that beleaguer the nation’s home turf, and that will inevitably, if repressed, just resurface in a subsequent generation.
The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once famously said: “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.” Glass’s film dramatises both caveats, as Josie risks becoming like the callous killers she fights (just wait till the coda), and young, impressionable Sophia becomes mesmerised by what she can see deep down in the darkness beneath the secure-seeming structure of her family household. Here the home invaders, intent on cruelly harming others for their own gain, are unquestionably wicked people and utterly beyond the pale. Yet what makes Babysitter Must Die more interesting is the way that it questions the solid moral foundations of its other characters who, as in any game of hide and seek, so readily switch from prey to predator.
strap: Kohl Glass’ home invasion thriller Babysitter Must Die pits militarised cultists against a resourceful if arrested Mustard Seed Scout.
© Anton Bitel