As delicate as a garbage can fireworks display, Michael Thelin’s Emelie is a sluggish and ostentatious trek. The 2015 motion picture features a screenplay by Richard Raymond Harry Herbeck, with protracted cinematography by Luca Del Puppo.
While Emelie is set up like a domestic horror story, it’s more like The Simpsons episode “Some Enchanted Evening.” There are hints of inner turmoil, but the methodology is so painstaking and the activity so ridiculous that it winds up playing as an exercise in inanity.
Dan (Chris Beetem) and his wife Joyce (Susan Pourfar) are off to celebrate an anniversary. The usual babysitter can’t watch their kids, so they find a last-minute replacement. Unbeknownst to the parents but known to the audience, the replacement has been replaced by Emelie (Sarah Bolger). It is apparent that something is wrong with her.
Emelie makes weird advances toward the eldest boy Jacob (Joshua Rush) and behaves strangely around the others, making allusions to destroying things and sending text messages to someone who is watching Dan and Joyce have dinner. As the outlandish conduct piles up, Jacob tries to protect his brother (Thomas Blair) and sister (Carly Adams).
From the outset, Thelin plants seeds. The audience is shown a kidnapping. Dan arrives to pick up Emelie and she’s wiping blood off her shoe. Her bearings barely conceal a dormant tendency to terrorize children. There’s a glimmer of something in her eyes. She won’t put her damn bag down.
Emelie deserves some credit for proposing a few distressing situations, like when the babysitter shows the children a certain video tape they shouldn’t ever see or when a hamster is fed to a snake. Unfortunately, these scenes don’t have any lasting effect and the execution leaves a lot to be desired.
Some movies get even better when they venture into unbalanced territory, like Jaume Collet-Serra’s madcap Orphan. In the case of Emelie, the movie flops under the weight of its own silliness and Thelin plays it straight.
It’s hard to unpack the oddness of everything without spoiling the soup, but there’s a lot going on. The children aren’t stupid, with Adams’ character even slipping a note to someone outside and yet neglecting the massive opening to make a break for it up the rather occupied street.
Or there’s the moment when someone lugs a body out of a car and into the house, all with the front door open and three terrified kids standing around. Not only does no one in the aforementioned occupied neighbourhood see a thing, the children don’t think of running away and/or locking the bloody door.
These things would be semi-forgivable, but Thelin tries to do too much and introduces too many wrinkles. There’s even a neighbour kid in a treehouse (Dante Hoagland), but that opportunity is left aside just in time for the parents to get inexplicably T-boned by someone kind of important.
Emelie is all the more painful because it takes itself so seriously. Every moment is drawn out beyond reason and the Phil Mossman scores settles in like a moody cousin. And while the notion of the eerie childminder may play well with some audiences, Bolger’s hare-brained sitter is no Ms. Botz and the Thompsons are definitely not the Samsons.