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Emelie (2015): When a Stranger Traumatizes

Emelie (Michael Thelin, 2015)

Emelie (Sarah Bolger)'s face dominates the top half of the white poster, with the children underneath, much smaller.

You may never want to leave the house again. Photo credit:

In the interests of full disclosure: while I tried not to let my personal feelings about certain aspects of the film influence what I thought of it (believe me, I have more than enough empirical reasons to give it the rating it got), there is no way I could have walked out of this film unbiased. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have gone to see it at all had I realized some of the details that fit portions of my life that are, shall we say, in a state of disintegration. I found a great deal of this movie painful to watch for reasons that very few other people will. But don’t worry, if you decide to subject yourself to this sleazy, hateful excuse for celluloid, you’ll probably find your own reasons to walk out of the theater horrified that anyone would have greenlit, much less produced, this movie.

Emelie (Bolger) and the kids say goodbye to the parents in a still from the film.

These kids think they’re in for a night of doing puzzles while the babysitter does homework… photo credit:

Plot (normally I’d have considered much of this spoilers, but, well, THE NAME OF THE MOVIE): we open with a black car coming up to a young woman walking home from school. The driver asks for directions, and because said young girl has never attended any sort of school assembly about stranger danger, she’s more than happy to attempt to offer help, only to get herself abducted. Fast-forward to that evening, as the parents (Black Hawk Down‘s Chris Beteem and An American Affair‘s Randi Langdon) of a trio of rambunctious youngsters are getting ready to go out and celebrate their thirteenth wedding anniversary. Dad heads off to pick up the sitter, Anna, a sub for their normal child-herder; he’s never met Anna before. Thanks to the dialogue in the first scene, we can pretty easily guess what happened to Anna, and we know that the woman sitting on Anna’s front stoop is, indeed, not her. (Different hair color.) You’re probably thinking “well, this must be Emelie (The Lazarus Effect‘s Sarah Bolger).” And you’d be right. It’s pretty obvious from the get-go that there’s something off about Emelie/Anna, but she seems to have some sort of atavistic-pheromone thing going on that immediately attracts Dad to her despite her being just plain weird. The parents head off, not suspecting for a moment that they’re leaving 11-year-old Jacob (Break Point‘s Josua Rush), seven-year-old Sally (Carly Adams in her screen debut), and four-year-old Christopher (Thomas Baer, also a screen newbie) in the hands of a woman with ulterior motives they wouldn’t believe.

But you will, because the first drawback to this movie is that it’s so predictable. The Big Reveal scene comes about 2/3 of the way through the movie, and man, how many times

Christopher (Michael Thelin) holds a cocked pistol to Emelie's head in a still from the film.

If you’re not rooting for the kid to pull the trigger by this point in the movie, you might want to consult a psychologist. photo credit:

have you seen it before? (Telling you where would give the game away, and I’m trying not to be spoilery, but I can think of at least two horror movies in the past thirty years with the exact same Big Reveal–oddly, both are French.) Every plot twist and turn, right up until the inevitable last shot, is writ large from moment one. Especially if you’ve seen the trailers. Predictability in a horror movie doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but it’s tiresome here. Far more disturbing is that the filmmakers chose to try and catch the audience off guard with the “games” Emelie plays with the children. Things start off with a mix of the relatively innocuous (teaching the kids that “sometimes destroying things for fun is good”, doing artwork on the walls) and the flat-out nasty. While the younger children are easily moldable at the beginning, she starts off going full-tilt at seducing Jacob. As repulsive as it may be, it’s also the best part of the movie; Joshua Rush handles everything with aplomb, and he comes off as confused and awkward as an eleven-year-old would be were such a thing to happen. And then… that plotline just vanishes into thin air for reasons that, again, would be getting into spoiler territory. Now, I’m the first person in line to tell you that when it comes to trauma, kids are a lot more resilient than adults, but Rich Herbeck’s script, adapted from a story by director Thelis, seems to have gone out of its way to dredge up things that would specifically traumatize kids. If you walk out of this movie thinking that anyone involved will not be spending a lifetime in therapy, well, you may not have a pulse yourself.

That, ultimately, was what offended me enough about this movie to drag out the rarely-given zero-star rating; it’s a movie that has all the grindhouse sensibilities of a Roberta Findlay flick from the mid-seventies, but without the heavy-handed moralizing that, arguably, give one or two of Findlay’s movies a breath of something like a redeeming quality. Easily the worst movie I’ve seen so far in 2016. (zero)

The trailer, if for some reason you are still even remotely interested in this dog.

About Robert "Goat" Beveridge

Media critic (amateur, semi-pro, and for one brief shining moment in 2000 pro) since 1986. Guy behind noise/powerelectronics band XTerminal (after many small stints in jazz, rock, and metal bands). Known for being tactless but honest.

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