You have to give credit to Michael Thelin for really going for it in Emelie—his movie is mean and dark, thriving in an atmosphere of unease that focuses on the mystery of a stranger and their terrible past. It’s a unique, home invasion-esque psychological thriller that taps into the fear of the unknown and the shattering power of trusting someone you barely know. In it, 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.
Emelie is a black-hearted little movie, so much so that it opens with the shot of a girl being kidnapped in broad daylight—that’s a hell of a way to start your movie, and it’s no coincidence that we meet the titular babysitter soon after. Played by Sarah Bolger, Emelie is a parent’s worst nightmare, a monster with a smile, and now she’s home alone with their three children. And that’s one of the things that I really liked about this movie—we come face to face with its monster minutes into the story, giving us little to no time to get comfortable.
And there is nothing comfortable about this movie, either. It wants you to squirm in your seat and begs you to look away, which speaks to the power it holds on the viewer. But that’s just part of the territory with a horror film that subjects a few innocent little kids to a nightmare at the hands of their own babysitter. And that power comes from the fact that the movie doesn’t just throw them into the fire right away, instead it dangles their toes over it until the final act.
The film does a good job of creating tension, slowly revealing the true colors of Emelie as they start to seep through her pretty face and reflect the madness behind her eyes. It is, at times, a tough movie to sit through (which is the point) because Emelie becomes more and more unhinged, subjecting the children to some disturbing shit throughout the night. But where the film succeeds in creating a deeply unsettling atmosphere, it completely misses the mark in the final act.
The end of the film just kind of comes and goes without leaving much of a mark, which is surprising when you consider all of the crazy shit that went down throughout the movie. Did it just reach its peak too early? I suppose it’s pretty hard to top everything that came before it, but I just couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed by its fleeting moments. Most of the movie is aimed at making the audience as uncomfortable as possible—really pushing the boundaries of its mean and twisted narrative—yet the end is when it’s at its most timid. It’s an unfortunate hiccup in an otherwise very solid, devilishly crafted thriller. All of the masterfully built up tension ends up being strong enough to carry the film past its weak finale and Sarah Bolger turns in a must-see performance as Emelie, the babysitter gone mad.