The Night Sitter: “Evil Dead and Witches in the Suburbs”
For any aspiring screenwriter, a tried and tested method for both selling and creating a new project is to take a film and move it somewhere else. What about Jaws in space? How about Die Hard in the white house? or, Evil Dead in the upper middle class American suburbs? That last one is the Night Sitter, the newest title to grace the Frightfest presents label. Abiel Bruhn & John Rocco have relocated Raimi’s legendarily anarchic horror film to the suburbs, also in the mix are witches and a baby sitter who is up to no good – a real melting pot of ideas and tropes, and whilst derivative it is also the most fun I have had with any of this burgeoning label’s releases.
Amber (Elyse Dufour (the Walking Dead)) is the new baby sitter for Kevin and Ronny as their parents head out for date night. Kevin’s Dad lives in a big suburban manor in which there is a locked door, behind which is a selection of occult trinkets. One of which is a book containing the Three Mother’s (Argento reference, right there) who have been haunting the dreams of Kevin. With the introduction of the rambunctious and curious Ronny and a babysitter who is looking to steal anything which hasn’t been nailed down, it creates a situation where those three witches are freed to enact a brand of violence that isn’t a million miles away from the deadites. Also in the mix is a over the top stylisation and colourisation that liberally borrows from the likes of Inferno & Suspiria.
There is an identity of its own in The Night Sitter, chiefly is the myth creation that perfectly melds together traits from its two major influences, so much so, it instantly becomes one of the frighteningly few witch movies that serve these practitioners of the black arts well. They are witches who are summoned via a book that possess people, turn the house into a technicolour rave (albeit undone slightly by being out of focus a tad too often) with a particular grizzly goal in mind. These witches don’t kill because they kill, they kill because they are notorious child murderers and anyone else who gets caught up was stopping them from achieving their goal. It is in that where the fun is had with many bouts of over the top violence. There is one instance that goes a little too far, otherwise it’s a course of severed limbs, knives through the backs of heads, and bloody shenanigans aplenty. Too many horror movies have been curtailed by having someone or something murder for no apparent reason, thus, the use of magic and charms gives it a freshness and some rules to obey, using some level of grounding, albeit fantastical, helps the film craft its own identity and pay homage to the directors influences. One note, can we stop killing dogs to establish the threat posed by malevolent entities, please?
One of the big areas where it falls down is the ensemble. Elyse Defour is a good anchor for the film, hers is a charismatic performance with some solid chemistry between her and Jack Champion (Kevin). Likewise the next door neighbour, who happens to be a one of a kind expert in paganism and witchcraft is a tad contrived, even so, the character, Vincent (Ben Barlow), is also a likeable presence who lifts the film. It’s the rest of the cast that let the side down. Just to be facetious I am going to describe them with the same reductive terms in which they are presented. We have the needy boyfriend, the black guy and the black guy’s girlfriend. Yes, other horror films use cardboard cut outs but when Amber, Vincent and Kevin are so well defined, to have others be so empty makes no secret of their eventual fate. That being said, the silly, comedic and over the top violence that kicks off as soon as that locked door opens is never less than fun. Sometimes you can’t have both, not everyone can direct a thoughtful horror that also satisfies fans of the red stuff. Disasters come from failed attempts at being both.
At the end of the day, Evil Dead in the suburbs is just as fun as you hope it would be. While the Night Sitters influences are impossible to ignore, the directing duo took their inspirations and put together a likeable ensemble in a heightened, goofy scenario that I’d love to see more of. Whether Bruhn & Rocco return to this world using the Conjuring’s technique of “what else is in their spooky stuff room” or move to something fresh, I will be keeping a keen eye on this duo.