Among the grizzled adolescent veterans of the babysitter/monster wars is Liz LeRue (Oona Laurence), a post-apocalyptic-looking warrior with a baby strapped to her back, and a chip on her shoulder in the form of her missing brother. Liz and Kelly’s interactions are paint-by-numbers “old pro teaches newbie the ropes,” and it lacks any surprise.
But the most curious bit of casting involves Harry Potter alum Felton as the Grand Guignol. Lurking in closets and crooning ominous lullabies, he briefly conjures Labyrinth’s Jareth the Goblin King, who has a penchant for kidnapping. Yet Felton simultaneously lacks David Bowie’s strangely pristine magnetism. By contrast, the Grand Guignol is wreathed in so much dirt and makeup that it’s difficult to recognize the actor underneath. So it’s not as if Felton is doing it for a recognizable career shift, like Henry Melling’s recent villainous turn in Netflix’s The Old Guard, nor is it a scene-stealing oddball performance on par with Daniel Radcliffe’s post-Potter roles. He’s just… there.
The sets (both the babysitters’ HQ and the Grand Guignol’s lair) resemble old-school Nickelodeon game shows, tending toward loudly cartoonish instead of subtly scary. This has the effect of making every scene that takes place in them, from the movie’s riff on a James Bond gizmo tutorial with Q (here, a teddy bear smoke grenade) to the nightmarish final showdown, have the feel of a racing-clock obstacle course. You half expect Olmec from Legends of the Hidden Temple to speak up, or for someone to get slimed at a crucial moment.
So it’s too bad that the special effects lean more toward CGI than practical; the Grand Guignol’s cadre of “toadies” (toad-like cronies), for example, would have been far more effective as puppets, instead just mere digital distractions. However, one of the movie’s best motifs is Kelly’s A Beautiful Mind-esque cognitive problem-solving. Whether it’s a geometry problem or mentally riffling through the pages of the babysitters’ grimoire, she pulls out diagrams and drawings with an almost superhuman speed, culminating in some quick thinking and mythical moves. Rather than feeling like a random everygirl who stumbled into this world, Kelly is clearly finding her place, and bringing something new to the order.
There’s a huge divide between learning about the order’s existence and actually being invited to join the ranks. The former is as straightforward as losing one’s charge—which, as we’ve learned from babysitter stories, happens more often than you’d think—but the latter is a much more exacting trial. Each of these teenage monster hunters bears a battle scar from their own childhood run-ins with a night terror; their survival, they believe, compels them to save little kids from the same traumatic memories.