Oct 15th: A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting (2020) ☆☆☆

It’s Codename: Kids Next Door meets Halloweentown, sort of. Something like that.

I will be totally honest: most of the kid movies I have on my Halloween list are ones that I personally watched when I was little. Some movies are quite obviously meant for younger people, like this one, while others–Hocus Pocus and Paranorman, for example–don’t play up the innocence factor quite so much. But I didn’t want to rewatch anything this month except for those nostalgic classics (and It Comes at Night, since I didn’t really watch it the first time around), and I’ve seen almost every interesting horror movie on Netflix (English ones, at least, since Nelson likes to listen even though he isn’t watching half the time.)

So, Babysitter’s Guide was kind of a desperate pick, and I wasn’t expecting much. Thankfully, I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected, and I think it’s a world that I would have been o b s e s s e d with as a child. The Netflix original, directed by Rachal Talalay, is also based on a series of books by Joe Ballarini, who wrote the screenplay.

Okay, okay, the plot, while interesting, is pretty simple. High school freshman Kelly (Tamara Smart) has some kind of incredible mental math skills and can calculate complex problems right in her noggin’, as shown on screen by a meme-worthy use of floating numbers and equations. But nobody at school seems to care about that, because they’ve all latched on to a single instance where five-year-old Kelly said that a monster attacked her. For the last decade or so, Kelly’s classmates have called her Monster Girl because of it.

Yeah, does stuff like that happen? Do nicknames stick from kindergarten to high school? I don’t–I don’t think so. It’s weird. Also, the high schoolers have the wackiest fashion sense for high schoolers–ALL of them, not just one or two–which is a strange trope that has been in the works at least since I was a kid, if not longer. None of them just wear hoodies and jeans, or simple shirts and jeans–none of them wear JEANS. Is the dress code exclusively Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters?

But I won’t rag on those aspects of the movie too much, because, like I said, it’s nothing new. Kelly’s mom weirdly promises her boss, Ms. Zellman (Tamsen McDonough), that Kelly will babysit her son, five-year-old Jacob (Ian Ho). Kelly wants to go to a Halloween party to meet her crush instead, but her mom convinces her that Ms. Zellman’s wrath will be too much to handle (uh, okay, Kelly’s mom, you’re the adult here, but sure), so Kelly agrees.

Once there, Jacob tells Kelly that he cannot, under any circumstances, go to sleep, otherwise his nightmares will come true. Kelly, who went through the exact same experience at the exact same age, thinks nothing of it and tells Jacob that monsters aren’t real. Armed with a Kelly-made light gadget, Jacob goes to sleep, and Kelly hangs out in Ms. Zellman’s big house for a while until weird stuff starts happening.

Poor Jacob is attacked by a bogeyman named the Grand Guignol, played, oddly, by Tom Felton, who I thought was just another monsterific newcomer like everyone else in the movie; I had no idea that Draco Malfoy was under that makeup…and it was weird when I found out. Anyway, the Grand Guignol comes through the closet looking like the Joker if the Joker didn’t keep up with his hairdye or shower in a thousand years and brings a bunch of not cute, but not creepy CGI creatures called Toadies to steal Jacob away.

Kelly rushes into the room just in time to see the Toadies (or possibly it’s lowercase, “toadies,” but I don’t care) drag Jacob through the closet and disappear. But have no fear, because a new friend in the form of a fellow babysitter named Liz (Oona Laurence) appears! Whereas Kelly is dressed like an art student who thrifts on weekends, Liz, with her short platinum bob-ish hair and leather jacket, is very hardcore. And she has a baby strapped to her.

I’m happy that the intro didn’t drag on too long. A lot of the times for movie like these, the setup draws on and on before any action happens, but Babysitter’s Guide managed to avoid that and get right to the juicy parts without me getting bored. Liz reluctantly takes Kelly to save Jacob and introduces her to the Babysitters (I honestly don’t know if they have an official name), where three SITs (Sitters in Training) do random lab work around a real groovy room under Brown University (strange placement for high schoolers, but okay). Unfortunately, since the action is so action-y, these three don’t get a lot of screen time or development, really, but they did introduce some cool gadgets and magic.

Basically, the Babysitters are an age-old organization of, yes, babysitters who protect children from monsters. A ton of historically important people and characters, like Merlin (he’s the only one I can remember, whoops), have been part of this organization, and they’ve left their mark all over the world.

Unfortunately, not every babysitter, obviously, is with the Babysitters, so they must not have been doing their job very well if Jacob got stolen so easily…just saying…

Well, while Kelly and Liz are becoming besties and trying to figure out how to get to Jacob, Jacob is trapped in a “nightmare nursery” with the Grand Guignol, and it’s super awkward. Little Jacob is in a comfy-looking bed with a helmet covered in wires on his head. He’s surrounded by cream-colored decor and TV screens playing dancing sheep. And then, hopping awkwardly around the bed is the Grand Guignol, singing his creepy hypno song to try and put Jacob to sleep (it doesn’t work) so that he can drain the nightmares from the kid’s head and unleash the real-life monsters Jacob creates on the world. Thankfully, Jacob is an adorable kid, and watching him ask the Grand Guignol for energy drinks and chocolate covered coffee beans in an effort to trick the man (it also doesn’t work) is so cute.

Kelly and Liz eventually find out that there are seven bogeyman guardians, or something, but they only have to go to one whose name, character or actor, I cannot find on IMDB and will thus describe best as I can–the Cat Lady, maybe? Anyway, she’s got cats, and a cat’s eye amulet that puts people to sleep (handy for the Grand Guignol.) Kelly, Liz, and the Grand Guignol meet at this junction, and the Grand Guignol (his name is so annoying to type…) steals Liz away while Kelly used a laser pointer and a chandelier to evade a ton of house cats that are about to eat her. As Nelson said, “Wow, that’s a real Disney Channel move.” Yes, yes it is. But who cares!

In the end, as it is a happy little kids movie, Kelly rescues Liz, and the both rescue Jacob with the help of the SITs, then Jacob sends away all the nightmares because, yay, he isn’t scared anymore! The Grand Guignol is dead from a very anticlimactic Monster Punch from Kelly (it was out of place, not in tune with the style, and so weirdly short that it felt cut off), but his sister, a spider lady, is still alive and probably wants to kill Kelly. But none of that matters because Kelly gets Jacob home before his mother arrives, and then she gets a call from her school crush, so she’s totally chill about, like, dying, and stuff.

Babysitter’s Guide was a fun movie, and I think kids will like it–it’s super tame and sometimes funny–but it was really obviously setting up for a TV series. There were a million strings left flittering in the wind, like the other bogeys and Liz’s brother, meant to be tied up with some episodic storytelling. That’s fine, I guess, but I didn’t know that going in, so it really felt like this movie was taking on way more than it could handle.

Still, I would definitely suggest it for background noise, children, or just a really chill way to celebrate Halloween if you aren’t picky.

Wash your hands,

Abby

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