'A Babysitter's Guide to Monster Hunting' is introductory horror that never leans heavily into scares, but works within its zaniness thanks to a strong cast of all ages (especially Tom Felton, who is having a blast playing evil).
- 📚 Terrible Tom Felton.
- 📚 Genre content for a different age.
- 📚 It's all expected comedy.
- 📚 Too light for some.
The importance of gateway horror is often lost in subgenre conversations. Diehard fans fondly remember their beginnings with Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger, chuckling as they recall sneaking downstairs after curfew to catch video nasties between pay-per-view static. What about those who require a gentler ease into their spooky-scary appreciation? Something like Rachel Talalay’s A Babysitter’s Guide To Monster Hunting can introduce horror themes without petrifying premature audiences who might then have their curiosities sparked for further exploration once the time, and courage, is right.
Kelly Ferguson (Tamara Smart) is a rookie babysitter, tasked with coaxing the frightened Jacob (Ian Ho) to sleep. Jacob confesses to Kelly that when he slumbers, his nightmares come alive. Kelly’s own bedtime experiences come rushing back, events responsible for the nickname “Monster Girl” at school, and she calms Jacob with her own conquering of those sleepy-time demons. Unfortunately, Jacob’s fears are proven valid when Grand Guignol (Tom Felton) emerges from his closet, and “Toadie” minions kidnap the boy. That’s when Liz LeRue (Oona Laurence) appears on behalf of Rhode Island’s secret monster-hunting babysitter society chapter and teams with Kelly to thwart the Grand Guignol’s plans to unleash all Jacob’s gnarliest nightmares into the world.
Now, the gateway aspect here is for the littlest of tykes, not even early teenagers. A Babysitter’s Guide To Monster Hunting uses vocabulary that substitutes “Kimpossible” for “impossible” or such “fantabulous” quirks, and creatures are never meant to impose dread. The Toadies are ogre short-stacks who speak their signature gobbledygook language, bop one another on the noggin, and cause constant headaches for Grand Guignol, who himself isn’t an outright Demonoid. Just a scraggly-haired Boogeyman template like some grungy Eastern European transplant, with his scariest conjurings being shadow creatures who wriggle uncontrollably but are still kind of cute when captured in magical boxes. Jet-black Koosh balls with googly eyes!
Although, that doesn’t weaken a film like A Babysitter’s Guide To Monster Hunting. My descriptions set the tone since Kelly’s quest is to locate Jacob before “The Ice Queen,” aka Jacob’s mother, returns home from her company Halloween party at midnight. It’s not only Jacob’s coming-of-underage narrative about no longer quivering, afraid of the dark, under sheets, but Kelly’s defeat of bullies and awkwardness around cute classmates in costumes. Talalay’s affiliation with the horror genre, and nightmares in Freddy’s Dead: The Final Chapter, doesn’t supersede any child’s nervousness about schoolyard cliques or legitimate anxieties within our world (Kelly isn’t allowed to talk about current events around Jacob, as a comical rule imposed by mother). Don’t get me wrong, between Toadie fights in aquarium ball pits and the number of empty warm milk glasses next to Jacob’s bed as Grand Guignol pulls his hair out trying to lull his hostage into a slumber, it’s all streamlined goofballishness. That said, there’s enough empowerment to teach children about how their “weirdness” as determined by outsiders is what makes them unique.
Here’s the part where we talk about Tom Felton, unrecognizable as Dan Stevens attempting to play Russell Brand as a sing-songy harbinger of dreamland baddies. He’s relishing every minute of his dirtied, more Vaudevillian villainous take that reminds of Deacon in What We Do In The Shadows. Felton’s off the deep end, “singing” these smoldering limerick songs as threats while exhausted by his tweedle-dumb cohorts. To say he “goes for it” through theatricality might suggest how desperately he’s wanted to soak himself in the weirdness of a performance that allows for no seriousness, and in that case, mission accomplished. Twirling around like a sadistic kiddie capturer whose only pleasure is pain, while playing to the adults who are stuck watching A Babysitter’s Guide To Monster Hunting with their offspring. Honestly? Get after it, Felton.
Rachel Talalay delivers a universe once imagined by screenwriter and source author Joe Ballarini that is always gratifying younger viewers. Maybe it’s Ty Consiglio’s potions expert who gets excitable when showing off babysitter gadgets like a smoke bomb teddy bear, aka the “Booyah Bear.” Perhaps it’s as Kelly uses her infinite quantitative skills to instinctually math out the exact trajectory required to punch Grand Guignol with a kill shot “Angel Fire” concoction. Child actors are allowed to be children on screen, from the punked-out Liz to socially cautious Kelly, which is the same type of thing we praise in grown-up actors who accentuate age-appropriate relatability. It’s perfectly flawed and cheesily slapstick, but will work to entertain soon-to-be horror fans who need this brand of coddling as an introduction. Baby’s first Joe Dante? Ours is a haunted genre for all ages, so let’s stop pretending that the only horror worth a damn is “R” rated. Inclusivity includes agism!
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Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for such outlets as What To Watch, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria, Shudder, Ebert Voices, and countless other publications. He is a member of the Hollywood Critics Association and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.
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