Director: McG Starring: Judah Lewis, Emily Alyn Lind, Jenna Ortega Running Time: 101 minutes
Released on Netflix in 2017, The Babysitter was a good example of what the streaming platform hopes for with a large amount of their ‘original’ films; fun, watchable, kind of disposable, and with a simple hook to lure viewers in: a murderous babysitter and a crew of high school clichés going after the kid who idolises her for a satanic ritual. It was a winking bit of playtime with horror tropes that new what it was and didn’t overstay it’s welcome, but what kicked it up a notch from ‘grand’ to ‘oh that was actually pretty good’ was Samara Weaving in the titular role, elevating proceedings through sheer force of charisma as she went on to do in Ready or Not and looks set to do in a fruitful career in Hollywood.
This sequel sees the return of some of the kids from the first film, as young Cole Johnson, now in high school, grapples with the events of the original. He’s a pariah in school and his parents doubt his mental health, nobody believing his side of the story. Weaving, now in high demand, is a shadow that hangs over Killer Queen, and while the film carries the same spirit of its predecessor quite well, it also serves as a strong indicator of the Aussie’s talent: it’s quality compared the first one is more or less proportional to the extent of her absence.
McG returns to direct again, and remains a good fit for the material. A solid working hand in Hollywood, McG is kind of like Michael Bay if he lightened up a little, a Coors Light commercial brought to life: inviting but daft, oversexed but by nature, light – like his Charlie’s Angels movies or the tv shows he had a hand in, The OC, Chuck etc. The man never saw a chance for product placement he didn’t like, and while here the references to other Netflix properties (Queer Eye! Tiger King!) are par for the course, some other contemporary references (TikTok! Fortnite! How do you do fellow kids!?) amusingly expose the subset of teen properties crafted by middle aged dudes who intrinsically tie youth with the 80s. Nobody is coming to a movie like this for a realistic and current depiction of the teen experience sure, but it’s interesting that the slasher movie style baked into this series’ DNA – satanic panic, knife-wielding maniacs, booze and boobs – doesn’t really exist in the same way for kids these days. As ever, McG’s male gaze remains thunderingly blunt but at least in The Babysitter movies it’s from a teenage boys point of view…he ramps things up for this return by going way over the top with the aesthetics: video game inspired sequences, dance numbers, VHS filters and gonzo flashbacks – some of it works and some of it doesn’t, but the style is slick and the effort is appreciable and again, reasonably filtered through the perspective of the film’s protagonist, the pop-culture obsessed, frazzled Cole.
Killer Queen‘s take on ‘high school is hell’ has a bit of dark Heathers energy about it even before the deals with the devil start coming back into proceedings. Cole takes pills on the back of everyone doubting his experiences, and his decision to run off for a lakeside party with only friend Melanie and her crowd isn’t just a matter of hormones, he’s also on the run from clueless parents Ken Marino and Leslie Bibb as they’ve decided to move him to a psychiatric school. It is also because of hormones though. Judah Lewis and Emily Alyn Lind have good chemistry and that easy patter of lifelong friends flirting with becoming something more, but it’s not long before it takes a firm back seat: Cole is still an ‘innocent’ and a satanic ritual target once again, with the film replaying the formula of him running from the murderous cool kids, taking them out one by one with creatively ridiculous violence. Added into the mix this time is Jenna Ortega as new kid Phoebe, capable, mysterious, and possessing a dark sense of humour, she turns out to be an even better match for the lead…
But what of Bee, Samara Weaving’s too cool for school, bloodthirsty guardian that our hero still isn’t over? The film teases her presence throughout, but it’s hard not to feel that all the elements dialled up in Killer Queen – the pop culture references more frequent, the violence gorier, the cuts to Ken Marino for comic relief more load-bearing – are all attempts to offset the absence of this formula’s strongest ingredient. The person tasked with filling Bee’s shoes in this story can’t quite measure up despite a good setup, and the film can’t help but feel like it’s holding back a bit as a result. If you’re left wishing for more Bee, Killer Queen is there with you. Weaving is just that good it seems, capable of giving movies like this a massive boost as and when available.
Still it’s affably daft, and reasonably charming despite the mean-spirited streak. Throwing a lot at the viewer every few seconds, there are some laugh out loud moments, but when it clunks, it clunks hard. If an intervention could be staged to stop McG using race humour ever again, please count this reviewer in. On the whole it does a good job (it does eventually provide the needle drop begged by that subtitle which is about the bare mins you can ask), but Killer Queen both serves as and offers further a franchise with a pretty heavy question implied: does this kid still need a Babysitter? Do we?(2.5 / 5)