A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting fills a niche — a film for tweens with girls as the heroes, the problem solvers, working together, and being strong where the other team members are weak. The film, directed by Rachel Talalay, based on Joe Ballarini’s middle grade book series of the same name, is welcome for that reason alone. It’s a family-friendly movie, one that entertains. One does not have to read the books to enjoy the film. Read them with your kids anyway. The books are just as delightful.
The premise is simple and one we’ve seen before. Kelly Furgeson (Tamara Smart) is roped into babysitting her mother’s boss’s child on Halloween and can’t attend a party. It’s established that Kelly is a geek and unpopular. She carries her childhood nickname, Monster Girl, and her ability to solve elaborate math equations in her head does not endear her to her popular classmates. The villain, Grand Guignol (Tom Felton), snatches the child, which triggers an alert to the Babysitters.
Liz LeRue (Oona Laurence) shows up on her scooter, babysitting charge in tow, full of confidence and on a mission: get the child back before his mother gets home. She shows Kelly the ropes of being a Babysitter. There’s gadgets, potions, a secret headquarters and a history going back thousands of years. Liz leads, the Babysitters follow. Liz, faced with a past horror, falters, Kelly steps in. Teamwork makes the dream work.
This is a family film, particularly for families with daughters. Smart plays Kelly with a degree of social anxiety that we can all relate to. She completes her Hero’s Journey during the course of the film and she does it by learning to rely on herself, her own strengths, and teamwork. The reward is knowledge and self-esteem.
The sets and CGI took this viewer out of the film at times. The sets for the villain’s lair were incongruent with someone as evil as the Grand Guignol, who wants to let all nightmares loose on Earth. The toadies, the pot-bellied, spiked haired demons that do the villain’s dirty work, appeared cartoonish instead of menacing. This is a tween film but it’s also a horror film. It’s okay to scare us.
Horror, as a genre, is unkind to women and girls to say the least. No one believes us about the monsters, to the detriment of the cast in many a film. In A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting, that trope is turned on its head. Babysitters are traditionally young teen girls, ignored and disbelieved by society at large. And in the film’s world, they use society’s disbelief and neglect as a smokescreen to go about the business of protecting us all from things that go bump in the night and keeping their charges safe until Mom gets home.