Very few films have the power to truly unnerve the audience, to make them squirm and writhe, hiding their eyes from the screen in dread anticipation of what will come next.
The reason for this is far too many movies – especially horrors – push these excruciating moments too far, tipping the careful balance gratuitously and letting them topple along with the suspension of disbelief into the chasms of pure revulsion or hilarity (or even boredom). This leads the viewer to simply tire of seeing the same scene and they lose all sympathy and connection to the characters and situation.
In Emelie however, director Michael Thelin has succeeded where so many have failed before, crafting a truly disturbing and controversial horror packed with anxiety and terror that perpetually tests the audience pushing all their buttons over and over again while subverting genre expectations.
The film opens on a voyeuristic long shot of a suburban street where we unwittingly and powerlessly watch a teenage girl being snatched up before heading for a babysitting job. We are then introduced to imposter Emelie (Sarah Bolger) arriving at the home of the Thompsons to take the abducted girl’s place.
Leaving their three small children Christopher, Sally and Jacob the eldest at 11 in the unknown and unhinged aggressors care the parents head off to a restaurant to celebrate their wedding anniversary as unaware of Emelie’s intentions for the young trio as the audience is yet far less concerned.
As the evening slowly unfolds so too does Emelie’s plan and while the eldest boy Jacob (Joshua Rush) gradually senses something is off with their new guardian it is far too late to prevent her malicious and warped design from coming to fruition.
It must be stated that perhaps the majority of the fantastic films power comes from identification with the unwitting parents and Emelie may be viewed entirely differently by someone without kids who cannot so easily imagine the terrifying consequences at stake or the vulnerability and fragility of innocents that is attacked throughout the film.
This said everyone will be affected by the movies tension which is held in place perfectly as we anticipate the atrocities Emelie will reap on the children in her charge predominantly due to a superb performance by Sarah Bolger who has transcended every film she has appeared in recently including The Lazarus Effect and The Moth Diaries.
Walking a difficult tightrope with seeming ease and wearing a million different masks over her true persona, her character is deeply complex and never teeters into cliché or caricature even managing to somehow engender our sympathy which is shocking considering the terrible twisted games she plays.
Creeping and highly controversial when Emelie does act it is to pervert naivety, to force the kids to face the painful realities of adult life far too early and it is here that the film is simultaneously at its most interesting and challenging.
Musing on the ideas of adolescents and adulthood coupled with society’s pressure and children’s sometimes misguided desperation to grow up too fast – a concept in action all around us in modern society – the film allows us to experience the cost of lost nativity and its damaging effects.
It’s a gripping and compelling twist on the traditional home invasion horror with a powerhouse performance from rising star Sarah Bolger Emelie is an intense horror that will make you never trust a babysitter ever again.
Read our exclusive interview with Sarah Bolger right:
Interview with Sarah Bolger, star of Emelie