Directed by Michael Thelin
Starring Sarah Bolger, Joshua Rush, Carly Adams, Thomas Bair, Chris Beetem, Susan Pourfar, Elizabeth Jayne, Dante Hoagland
After their regular babysitter can’t make it, the Thompson family turns to her friend Anna to supervise the children while they go out to celebrate their anniversary.
You know those movies where there’s never really any bombastic, overt scenes of horror, but you somehow find yourself squirming in your seat because you’re so uncomfortable with what’s happening on screen? That is Emelie in a nutshell. It’s not a masterpiece, and it’s never particularly original, but it’s always tense and utterly gripping.
From the very moment the screen fades up from black, director Michael Thelin fills you with a sense of dread that bad things are on its way. And this sense of unease is carried out throughout the rest of the movie. Thelin subtly crafts the opening of his movie, but never pretends that his audience isn’t picking up the obvious plot threads. Instead, he subtly nods to them, as a wink to tell you that you’re on the right track, without overtly pointing out where the plot is heading. This really works in the movie’s favour.
What also works in the film’s favour are the outstanding performances from all involved. Irish actor Sarah Bolger is a revelation, showing both a brilliantly sweet side along with a crazy-eyed sadistic quality. She has that Terry O’Quinn quality to her performance, and nearly steals the show if it wasn’t for the meddling kids. Far too often do we see children give stilted and unnatural performances, but not here. Joshua Rush, Carly Adams and Thomas Bair are incredible and utterly phenomenal. Both Rush and Adams give brilliantly naturalistic performances and Adams’ moments of sadness feel so genuine to the point where you feel like she had a horrible time on set. And as for Thomas Blair, you would have thought that Thelin gave him no script and just told him to play, he’s that natural. Nothing about his performance feels like acting, he’s just there having fun. But he clearly is acting, because when the movie requires fear from him, he delivers in spades.
But the movie never plays anything big, instead it chooses smaller moments which somehow make the whole thing feel even more tense. Is there a horrific torture scene where we see buckets of blood and guts? No. Instead there are small-scale character-driven set pieces which aren’t there to gross-out or make you scream, but instead make you extremely uncomfortable.
Sadly, the plot and its progression is what lets Emelie down somewhat. For as good as the first two thirds of the film are, its predictable end, complete with hackneyed backstory and clichéd motivations really bog down what had been an incredible taut thriller. Not only that, but the reveal of motivations muddy character choices that had come before it, and probably raise more questions that it does answers. It’s frustrating as a better ending to the movie – which is rather anti-climatic – would have made Emelie one of the best movies of the festival.
But in terms of shock, suspense and abject uneasiness, Emelie is one of the best movies of this year’s Film4 FrightFest. The performances and script help Emelie a long way, but it’s Thelin’s near-faultless direction that really drives the picture home. A few tweaks to the story and character motivations would have benefited the movie somewhat, but Emelie is a fantastic movie and a must-see for horror fans.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth and the host of the Flickering Myth Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.