THE NIGHT SITTER
Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to the team at Uncork’d Entertainment for allowing me early access to an online screener of the new Christmas themed Horror/Comedy film “The Night Sitter”, Co-Written and Directed by Abiel Bruhn and John Rocco. The Night Sitter revolves around Amber (played by the lovely Elyse Dufour of AMC’s “The Walking Dead”), a young woman who’s taken a babysitting job at the wealthy Hooper residence. Father, Ted (Joe Walz) is an eccentric who professes to be an expert in the paranormal. His young son Kevin (played by Jack Champion) is left dealing with the loss of his mother and has become somewhat of a recluse. As Ted leaves the house for a date night with his new woman, Kevin and his soon to be stepbrother Ronnie (Bailey Campbell) unknowingly conjure a group of sadistic witches known as The Three Mothers and end up in the fight of their lives. The film also stars Jermaine Rivers (Massacre On Aisle 12), J. Benedict Larmore (Match), Amber Neukum, and Ben Barlow.
Bruhn and Rocco had previously collaborated on two shorts prior to making The Night Sitter, which serves as their debut feature-length film. Elements of the pair’s screenplay call to mind the likes of “Red Christmas” and “Better Watch Out”. The latter, a holiday home invasion film that had huge potential but was ultimately hindered by a painfully annoying protagonist. The overall production value here is one to be lauded, especially given the film’s low-budget nature. Scotty Field’s cinematography is generally very good, with an emphasis placed on atmosphere rather than what the framing embodies. He gently pans through involving establishing shots, keeps tight on the two-shots, and makes good use of moments that utilize both bold sweeping moves and a slower frame rate. The Night Sitter does appear as though it deliberately calls on lighting similar to that of Argento (Suspiria with its reds, blues, and greens), that and the low-angle shot of Amber walking up the front steps is clearly straight out of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” – but I still dug those additions. The colorful palette does work in this type of otherworldly telling but one can’t deny that it’s extremely artificial. The only apparent source comes from external Christmas lights (aside from the odd inside illumination), and I doubt that’d give off that level of projection or variance in color. The audio track is well defined and Rob Himebaugh’s 80’s Esq synth score is pronounced and energetic. It’s almost always alluding in one way or another to the great horror films of that era. There’s also the welcoming inclusion of some mysterious “Home Alone” type themes composed with what sounded like a french horn and some keys.
The group’s performances are reasonably even but Dufour does stand out in the leading role. Not only does she have that old-time beauty about her, but Amber also makes for a beguiling protagonist or anti-hero, so to speak. The comedic relief, in this case, is three-pronged, with both Barlow, Larmore, and Neukum all getting a moment or two to shine. Barlow plays Vincent, a nosy neighbor who gets mixed up in the evening’s shenanigans. He knows a thing or two about the occult but isn’t great when it comes to reading social cues – a shortcoming that provides a few funny instants. I remember seeing Larmore in a scene in Alex Gibson’s short film “Match”, and liked his work. He plays Martin, Amber’s self-proclaimed boyfriend, and a nervous nelly to boot. It’s good to see him getting to do a little more in this one. The fit and foxy Lindsey has a “cat burglar” approach to the scenario which leads to a couple of humorous interactions involving her and Amber. Lindsay retains an interesting arc that allows Neukum to revel in a playfulness, doing so looking extremely fine in her skin-tight tights. Kudos go to the art department for designing a detailed old book as well as to the makeup department for their concept of the witches (who looked great). The Night Sitter certainly isn’t meant to be taken too seriously, as is evident by the almost hysterical approach to the action. Bruhn and Rocco do employ some decent practical blood and gore fx, although they aren’t at the forefront of affairs.
Aside from the lack of justification for some particular light, the only technical hiccup I could find comes via some wonky external panning as Amber’s friends arrive at the house as we transition from day to night. If I had a criticism of performance, it’d be some of the inconsistencies with the youngest actors in Champion and Campbell. Some of Campbell’s timing is clearly telegraphed and I remember seeing Champion in the feature film “Message In A Bottle”, where he struggled somewhat to carry the film, mainly due to a lack of experience. He’s slated to appear in the Avatar sequels so that should definitely help fast-track his development. All in all, though, the kids are pretty solid. The pacing in the third act feels a touch repetitive and there are a few continuity and credibility related shortcomings over the course of the film as well. For example, Ted doesn’t appear to be that broken up about his wife’s death. I suppose one could surmise that a fair chunk of time has passed and perhaps he’s moved on – new partner and all. Even still, he jokes with Amber about it by responding to an apology from her with “You’ve got nothing to be sorry about unless you killed her”. It just doesn’t feel like something you’d say. He also offers Amber hard liquor despite the fact that she’s underage and about to look after his kid… hmmm. The Hoopers are clearly wealthy but apparently can’t afford a spare bed for Ronnie to sleep in either. I feel like there was a continuity error with him because I don’t remember seeing him on the floor when Amber and Kevin enter the bedroom, but after the story is read he’s there. During the climax, Vincent informs the group that they won’t be able to leave the house due to the witches spell (or something to that effect). Yet in the sequence before that, Amber was able to head across to Vincent’s house with no issues at all.
The Night Sitter is a good-natured holiday-themed slice of Horror/Comedy from a couple of talented filmmakers. It’s got the feel of an episode of “Tales From The Crypt” by way of those aforementioned Christmas films. The bulk of Field’s cinematography looks gorgeous, the sound is crisp, and the synth-centric score is one of the best I’ve heard in an independent film this year. I’m a sucker for ambient lighting and it almost always hits the actors faces perfectly in this one. The performances are fun, the characters are decent, and the practical blood and gore fx are there for genre fans to engage with. There’s the odd fluctuation in performance from the youngins, the pacing does wane in the third act and there are a number of particulars that don’t quite add up. I don’t think Ted’s arc is the strongest either. Criticisms aside, The Night Sitter is vastly entertaining and well and truly worth a watch. The film will be available on DVD and VOD from the 6th of August. You can check out the trailer below!
My rating for “The Night Sitter” is 6/10