A strong lead and some family fun help A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting to work as a feature-length distraction, but there’s nothing more to it than that.
Should monsters be cute? I suppose it depends. The colourful critters in Netflix’s new on-trend family film A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting certainly are, but I was left wondering if the film mistook this for a sense of humour or a point. The beasties might be cute, but that’s all they are; like the film itself, an adaptation of screenwriter Joe Ballarini’s YA book series, a brightly-coloured distraction seems to be the only point.
Don’t get me wrong – now’s the time for distractions. And October is indeed the right month for this kind of premise and some of the slightly spooky effects the film is able to wring out of it. But the for-all-ages mandate hampers what might have been some better ideas, visually and narratively. There’s an edgier, creepier version of this film somewhere that would have been better served in not trying quite so hard to court the Goosebumps crowd.
Fair’s fair, though, and A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting is happy enough to be exactly what it is and nothing more than that. Tamara Smart is a game and quite clearly talented lead as Kelly, a Good Will Hunting-style math genius and social pariah who seems to be haunted by ropey CGI. This tendency for computer-generated spooking makes her a bad fit for a babysitter of Jacob (Ian Ho), the permanently petrified son of Kelly’s mother’s ice queen boss Mrs. Zellman (Tamsen McDonough). It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise when he quickly disappears.
As it turns out, haunted babysitters are popular enough in this universe to have formed their own dedicated order, of which Liz (Oona Laurence) is a useful representative since she can fill Kelly and the audience in on the sinister nightmare-harvesting machinations of Grand Guignol (Tom Felton doing his best “stop calling me Draco Malfoy” routine). It’s a useful enough setup for some light scares, some Plasticine demons, plenty of colours, and a set-piece or two that could almost be plucked from another, better film if only they were just a touch more daring.
The overall vibe is that of an obvious and simplistic kid-friendly adventure, though be warned that the very youngest of the family might be a bit put-out by a couple of the nasties – my six-year-old raised her eyebrows once or twice, though it wasn’t enough to put her off the rest. Fittingly, the kids in the cast seem much more up for it than the adults do, which is perhaps just as well. The obvious franchise-building machinery suggests we might be seeing more of them sooner rather than later. In the meantime, this’ll do as a low-effort family-friendly seasonal spooker, but the prospect of a sequel or several seems like much more of a menace than anything in the movie.