A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting is an old-school, family-friendly romp of pleasing, lightweight horror.
Adapted from the eponymous trilogy of YA novels by Joe Ballarini, Rachel Talalay’s A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting is a zippy entry in Netflix’s Halloween catalog. Talalay’s credits include The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Riverdale, and Doctor Who, so she’s clearly adept at blending supernatural elements with family-friendly plots. At the center of the story is Kelly Kerguson (Tamara Smart), a high school freshman and novice babysitter with the disconcerting nickname “Monster Girl” and an uncanny ability to calculate complex equations in her head, Beautiful Mind-style. When the little boy she’s watching on Halloween gets snatched by troll-like creatures, she learns of a secret network of international babysitters who whip up ancient potions and stash otherworldly weapons to defend their charges against monster attacks.
If this all sounds incredibly wholesome, that’s because it is. There’s nothing particularly menacing about anything in the film, even when the toadies give way to a far more powerful monster, the Grand Guignol (an unrecognizable Tom Felton, aka Draco Malfoy from a little fantasy franchise known as Harry Potter.) Author Joe Ballarini also wrote the script, and he has managed to pack in a hefty amount of character development for Kelly and her monster-hunting mentor, the prickly Liz Larue (Oona Laurence); the film ably conveys why Kelly and Liz are called to their roles as babysitter/protector and the lasting pain they carry with them after narrowly escaping capture themselves as children.
World-building abounds, and there’s a playful roster of fantasy-horror characters to populate the screen. As it happens, the Grand Guignol is the youngest of seven Boogeymen, and the film closes with Kelly reading about his sister, the nefarious Spider Queen. We’re also introduced to another villain, the sultry witch Peggy Drood (Indya Moore of POSE), whose proclivity for cats is both alarming and, perhaps, kind of cute — particularly so in a scene where Kelly distracts a murderous feline horde with a well-aimed laser pointer. Balancing out the monsters are a cadre of SITs (sitters-in-training), who accompany Kelly and Liz and boast a winning blend of tech wizardry, potion procurement, and good old-fashioned sass.
Over the past several years, horror flicks have trended towards the cerebral, which has resulted in occasionally mind-numbing results. A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting posits that monsters don’t always have to be weighed down by symbolism, and it’s refreshing to see a horror movie, even a family-friendly one, that’s predicated on resilience rather than revenge. Netflix is setting the stage nicely for at least one sequel, and there’s no reason to expect it won’t be every bit as entertaining as this first entry.
You can currently stream Rachel Talalay’s A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting on Netflix.