The Night Sitter opens with the sound of strange humming – and then we see young ‘Amber’ (Elyse Dufour) driving to a house in a suburban cul de sac for a child-minding job. As Amber carefully discards her cigarette, applies drops to her eyes, and practises introducing herself by her false name, it is clear that she is putting on an appearance, and concealing her true identity. So, canny viewers may congratulate themselves for recognising that this second feature to be written and directed by Abiel Bruhn and John Rocco (A Not So Pleasant Surprise will fall into a recent run of genre films – like Michael Thelin’s Emelie and McG’s The Babysitter – about a baby-sitting interloper with her own ill-intentioned agenda. They might eve n be wondering if the tables will be turned on their expectations, like in Chris Peckover’s similarly Christmas-set baby-sitting thriller Better Watch Out.
None of this is exactly mistaken. Amber may ostensibly be there to look after sensitive, disturbed Kevin (Jack Champion) and the whiney, annoying Ronnie (Bailey Campbell) while Kevin’s dad, amateur paranormal investigator Ted (Joe Walz), is out on a date with Ronnie’s mother Charlotte (Deanna Meske) – but Amber’s real intention is to rob the place, with help from coked-up Rod (Jermaine Rivers), his ditzy girlfriend Lindsey (Amber Neukum), and Amber’s would-be boyfriend Martin (J Benedict Larmore). Ted’s office, locked, ‘strictly off limits’ and (as he reveals a little too chirpily) “full of treasure, naturally,” will prove too much of a temptation both for curious Ronnie and for the thieves. Once, though, the forbidden door has been unlocked, that humming heard at the film’s beginning will come back into focus, as some unexpected Christmas guests arrive looking for food, and all Kevin’s worst nightmares start to come true. “This isn’t cops and robbers, ok, sweetie” as Ted puts it, clearly articulating the film’s switch in genres. “This is a paranormal event.”
Like Craig Anderson’s Red Christmas, The Night Sitter uses the tacky seasonal decorations and lights all over the Hooper house as an intradiegetic excuse to bathe everything in the stylised colours of a classic Bava-esque giallo, even as elements from Dario Argento’s ‘Three Mothers’ trilogy (Suspiria; Inferno; Mother Of Tears) force their entry into the story structure. There will indeed be three mothers conjured in this house, whose malevolent presence will create mayhem and massacre. Yet even as these crazy supernatural elements take over the narrative, everything is grounded in a thematically complementary arc that sees Amber veer from self-centred miscreant to caring mother figure for Kevin – a good witch to offset the trio of evil ones, and a replacement for the real mother whom Kevin lost a year earlier.
“Did you know that the pagans actually pioneered the idea of a winter-time celebration of rebirth long before the so-called Saviour was even reborn?”, asks the garage-dwelling next-door neighbour Vincent (Ben Barlow). Conveniently available to provide very specific wisdoms at just the right moments, geeky, sativa-smoking Vincent is an improbable expositor – but like every character here, he is written with real charm and wit, ensuring that the night’s surreal, increasingly bloody events are never anything less than entertaining. The Night Sitter certainly does reinvest Yuletide imagery with something more Satanically paranormal, inviting The Evil Dead in for a Christmas snack. It is also knowingly daft, and like any festive bonbon, might make you feel a little sick, but only because it has such an addictively sweet centre.
The Night Sitter was seen and reviewed at Arrow Video FrightFest 2018.