A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting comes in as Netflix’s latest attempt to capitalize on the Halloween season. This YA adaptation boasts a promising premise that harkens back to family films of yesteryear, which unabashedly approached their high-concept premises with frights and creativity. Despite this conceit, Babysitter’s Guide never imbues its zany characteristics with much thought or originality.
Based on Joe Ballarini’s novel (he also wrote the screenplay), A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting follows Kelly (Tamara Smart), an outcast who is mocked by her peers for discovering a monster as a child. While babysitting during Halloween night, the Grand Guignol (Tom Felton) appears and kidnaps the children under Kelly’s care. In order to rescue the night, Kelly teams up with a secret society of babysitters to fight off the evil monster spirits.
Striking the colorful balance between scares and humor is a tough task, especially when approaching that sensibility for an adolescent lens. Some elements work well under these circumstances though, particularly Tom Felton’s performance as the eccentric villain. Channeling David Bowie’s charismatic energy from Labyrinth, the former Harry Potter star has a blast playing into the character’s boisterous persona with unhinged glee. Young star Tamara Smart also displays some assured ability as Kelly, infusing the character’s arc with some much-needed personability.
While I appreciate the film’s attempts to re-capture the magic of 80s/90s family films, the execution rarely finds that finite balance. Director Rachel Talalay overwhelms the narrative with abrasive stylistic choices, drowning out scenes with pop confectionary tracks that rarely capture their intended energy. She also struggles to integrate the CGI-driven monsters with much imagination, with tacky effects work creating creatures that never scare or excite audiences. Like a lot of middling Netflix films, there’s a cheap veneer that prevents any creative exploration of the film’s high-concept premise.
The lack of filmmaking ingenuity further highlights the script’s disposability. I have no preconceived notions about Ballarini’s novel, but his script doesn’t highlight what might have worked within the source material. From the “secret teen organization” to the trite messages about believing in yourself, the film recycles a lot of common YA tropes without putting a thoughtful spin on them. Audiences can seemingly set their watch predicting when each plot beat will occur, with one-dimensional character dynamics doing little to mask the general banality.
It may be loud enough to satisfy younger audiences, but A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting’s trite delivery never exceeds its YA framework. If families are looking for a good Halloween-themed Netflix film, check out the brainer Vampires vs. The Bronx instead.
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