A Babysitter's Guide to Monster Hunting (2020)
It's Halloween, and if you have kids, look no further than A Babysitter's Guide to Monster Hunting for your evening's entertainment. Honestly, when I pressed play on this film this morning, I wasn't expecting much, but what I got was elements of classic kids' Halloween favourites like Labyrinth (1986) and Hocus Pocus (1993), and fun to boot!
Whilst this film focuses on the experiences of Kelly Ferguson, it's more broadly about The Order of the Babysitters. This faction of teenagers spend their weekends babysitting children and protecting them from the monsters that lurk in the dark corners of closets, under the bed and indeed, in the underworld. Whilst most of the film revolves around retrieving the abducted, Jacob, it's clear that this is a universe with potential beyond this movie. A Babysitter's Guide to Monster Hunting is a tome, converted into an e-book, that helps babysitters to identify monsters, understand their strengths and weaknesses and defeat them. Being that only a few monsters are introduced in this flick, there's plenty of potential for sequels here.
When the film starts, Netflix provides the normal warnings: Mild Themes, Mild Violence, Scary Scenes. And I thought, "yeah, alright, Bolt 3D has the same warnings, sooooo whatever". But no, this film is genuinely creepy at times, and could be kind of scary to younger viewers. In a lot of horror films, there's an establishing death at the start. It's essentially an introduction to the antagonist. This film follows the same pattern (minus the death). We open in a kid's bedroom. It's night. There's a storm. The score is creepy. The camera takes close-ups of shadows, teddy bears and dark corners of the room. What's that? A teddy bear blinked? A t-rex sits upon a rocking chair. The chair beings to rock. The dinosaur is gone! It's beside her! It roars! The closet is opening? Sully? Mike? Is that you? Please be you! But it's not Sully or Mike. First there's fog. Then spindly fingers reach around the door slowly. It's literally the stuff of a child's nightmare and I think it would be genuinely terrifying if you were in the target audience. This film doesn't just focus on cliché childhood fears either. Ever had that dream where some terror is coming for you, and you try to scream, but you can't for some reason? Yeah, that's a plot point. It's simple, but effective, as I'm almost certain it's something that most children (and adults) can relate to. Oh, and also, there's a sofa that turns out to be a mound of carnivorous cats. I'm not making this up. Stuff of nightmares, I assure you.
So who do these spindly fingers belong to? None other than Mr. Tom Felton, or rather the Grand Guignol: Stealer of Dreams. He likes: fashion, the smell of fear and kidnapping children. He dislikes: babysitters. Tom Felton is fantastic in this role. He is genuinely creepy but also fun to watch. He appears to target children with the gift of dreams, or rather, children whose dreams have the potential to come to life. Poor old Jacob is lucky enough to have this gift and therefore unlucky enough to have Mr. Felton emerging from his closet on a regular basis...but especially on Halloween. Unfortunately for the Grand Guignol, due to the fact that Jacob has years of trauma from the literal monsters under his bed, he also appears to suffer from insomnia, so it isn't exactly easy to put this kid to sleep and bring his dreams-or rather nightmares-to life. Also, is everyone else getting Labyrinth vibes? Or is that just me?
No? What about now?
Whilst there are plenty of creepy, scary scenes, there's also plenty of fun, colourful moments. The Rhode Island Chapter of The Order of the Babysitters is a very colourful place to work. To be fair, it is filled with monsters, and its employees are responsible for simultaneously killing these aforementioned creatures AND looking after children. No easy feat. A bit of colour in their workplace is probably just what the doctor ordered. Not too much is revealed about the organisation. There are some hints within the tome, as to the monsters that are likely to make an appearance in a sequel (if there is a sequel), and they also show Kelly a wall on which a short history of previous employees is recorded. Apparently Frida Kahlo, Joan of Arc, the Greek God Artemis, Cleopatra, Merlin, Rosa Parks, Archimedes, Florence Nightingale and Albert Einstein were all members of the order...yeah, this part is hard to believe. No idea how Joan of Arc had time to babysit in between the Hundred Years' War and all of her visions and voices...but I'm willing to suspend my disbelief, I guess...
Other than the monsters, this babysitting gig really doesn't seem all that bad to be honest. Whilst Kelly earned $15/hour for her first night of work. Liz, who is a full-fledged monster hunter in the order, is paid a flat rate of $200 to babysit the most chill steampunk baby ever. If I'm really going to critique this film though, I have to admit that the steampunk baby disappeared somewhere throughout the proceedings, and I have no idea what happened to it...no idea how I missed this. Did they take it home? I don't know... All I know is, I never saw it again. I actually forgot about it, until the end, when I was like, wait a second, what happened to that baby? (I just watched it back, there is a line, "It's 9 o'clock Carmela, we've got to get you home, sweetie". Obviously, I missed this because she didn't call the child by her true name, 'Steampunk Baby'...and because the line is wedged into the middle of a conversation about their monster-strat). At any rate, a $200 flat rate to ride around on a motorcycle with a steampunk baby that never cries, isn't a bad gig, really.
This isn't the perfect movie, but I think that most critics were pretty harsh on this reasonably fun flick. (It may even be my favourite family film of 2020). Suspend your disbelief, think back to those monsters in the closet that plagued you as a child, and give this one a watch this Halloween night. I hear it's meant to be stormy. It's the perfect time for a scare!
A Babysitter's Guide to Monster Hunting is available on Netflix.