The sooner kids learn to booby-trap their home with paint cans on string, the sooner they will be prepared for life’s challenges. That was the takeaway from the Home Alone franchise and it was a good one. Unfortunately, it is never really embraced in Michael Thelin’s Emelie (trailer here), which screens as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Scary Movies 9.
After thirteen exhausting years of marriage, Joyce and Dan are sneaking off for their anniversary dinner, leaving their three spirit-crushing children in the care of a sitter. Since their regular was ill, they opted for her well-vouched for friend, Anna instead. Unfortunately, the young woman who turned up on their doorstep was not the (now deceased) Anna. She is the highly disturbed Emelie.
At first, “Anna” seems like one of those cool sitters, but Jacob, the oldest son, starts to have his doubts when she forces his sister Sally to feed her hamster to his pet snake. When she insists they watch their parents’ sex tape, he becomes convinced something is awry. After a little snooping in her purse confirms her name does not match her assumed identity, the cat-and-mouse game commences in earnest.
Emelie has been widely programmed as a horror movie, but it is really more of a home invasion-violation thriller in the tradition of the early 1990s Ray Liotta thriller Unlawful Entry. For a while, it holds out promise of becoming a dark, subversive midnight movie version of Home Alone, but it never fulfills that potential. Basically, Jacob is just proactive enough to keep his head above water waiting for the cavalry to arrive. That is definitely a missed opportunity.
Frankly, Richard Raymond Harry Herbeck’s screenplay seriously tries our patience each time Emelie manages to stymie Jacob at the very last second. Honestly, she must have more clutch saves than Mariano Rivera. There is certainly suspense involved, because young lead actor Joshua Rush is too engaging to give up on. However, much of the film’s psychological torments of the children makes you feel uncomfortable, just for knowing you watched them.
Rush is terrific, as is Carly Adams as Sally. However, the waifish Sarah Bolger might be able to pass for a twentysomething passing for a teen, but she does not have the big villainous presence this role requires. However, Dante Hoagland makes a strong impression as Jacob’s best bud Howie, the film’s best realized supporting character.