A fun YA take on Men in Black by way of Beetlejuice and Monsters Inc.
High School freshmen Kelly Ferguson, known mockingly by her classmates as Monster Girl for believing in monsters when she was young, is roped into babysitting Jacob Zellman on Halloween night. Jacob's fears of monsters coming in the night are initially dismissed as nightmares but Kelly soon finds they may be all too real when when Boogeyman, The Grand Guignol, abducts Jacob for an insidious plan of using his dreams to create a nightmare army. The incident attracts monster hunting babysitter, Liz Lerue, and the two with the help of the secret monster hunting Order of the Babysitters set off to rescue Jacob and stop The Grand Guignol's insidious plans.
A Babysitter's Guide to Monster Hunting is an adaptation of the first of a trilogy of YA novels written by Joe Ballarini who also serves as the film's screenwriter. The movie wears it's influences on its sleeve be it Men in Black, Adventures in Babysitting, Beetlejuice, and even a little bit of Nightmare on Elm Street (which may be more than a little intentional) but the movie takes these familiar elements and manages to create something that although familiar is still fun and exciting enough to open the door for a promising franchise (as this is clearly intended)
The movie is the first major film work from director Rachel Talalay in 25 years who is best known for doing Freddy's Dead and Tank Girl, and while those films aren't particularly well regarded (though Tank Girl has received a small cult following over the years) they do show that Talalay has a very dynamic style that's visually interesting, but the main issue with Talalay's films was always in the scripting and how messy and chaotic they were. Tank Girl proved to be such a flop that Talalay has stuck mainly to TV work including Doctor Who and The Flash, and has only occasionally ventured outside that for middle of the road TV movies. I'm pleased to say that Talalay has taken the time to hone her craft and the film is not only visually interesting but also feels a lot less chaotic than her previous work.
The movie is filled with imaginative imagery with The Grand Guignol's lair being particularly appealing in it's design and a memorable sequence involving a witch called The Cat Lady who's cats are integrated into the furniture and the house itself and are integrated with the scenery in a visually interesting way. In many ways A Babysitter's Guide to Monster Hunting is almost like a child friendly version of Nightmare on Elm Street and I do mean that as a compliment. The story is a lot of fun and there's a lot of great world building in just how wide spread this secret order of monster hunting babysitters is spread the world over and it gives a sense that there's a larger world hinted at than what's being shown to us, but it never feels overburdened by its world building and still manages to keep the story moving.
The acting across the board is really well done. Tamara Smart makes for a likable lead and does a decent job (though there are one or two moments where her british accent slips in), Oona Laurence who showed herself to be a very capable actress in Southpaw is great as seasoned Babysitter Liz Lerue, but the easily the best part is Tom Felton of Harry Potter fame playing The Grand Guignol. Felton is having an absolute blast playing a boogeyman who delights in how brazenly evil he is. Felton plays the character like a mixture of Labyrinth's the Goblin King, Freddy Kruger, and Beetlejuice and is energetically animated in his performance being just creepy enough for kids and funny without being silly, it's a terrific villain performance and makes the movie worth watching for its own sake.
There are some drawbacks to the material. A sequence set during a house party on Halloween that involved the obligatory main character crush and the meangirl who hates the main character for no good reason I thought killed some of the momentum of the movie, but luckily it's not too long and it does at least have a decent payoff. There were also some credibility problems in how certain things managed to be kept secret, but these are very minor nitpicks and the movie's target audience (7-8 and up) most likely won't care.
A Babysitter's Guide to Monster Hunting is solid family entertainment. From it's unique visual style and solid performances to its fun adventure and world it more than makes up for its use of tropes and minor inconsistencies to more than earn a recommendation for Halloween family viewing.
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