Directed by the perennially underrated Rachel Talalay from a screenplay adapted from his own novels by Joe Ballarini, “A Babysitter’s Guide To Monster Hunting” is a candy-coloured kaleidoscope of “Men In Black”, “Beetlejuice”, “Spy Kids” with just a pinch here and there of darkness and a generous scoop of family friendly Halloween fun.
When High Schooler Kelly Ferguson is forced to babysit her parents’ boss’ son Jacob on Halloween instead of reinventing herself at the ‘cool kids’ Halloween party, she’s resigned to forever being known as ‘Monster Girl’. But the nickname, bestowed on her because of an incident in childhood which convinced her mosnters are real, may just be her saving grace. When Jacob is snatched in the night by the servants of the Boogeyman himself, The Grand Guignol, Kelly discovers there’s a secret monster-hunting Order of the Babysitters and she sets off with one of their agents to recue Jacob and stop The Grand Guignol’s devious plans.
Filmed with Talalay’s trademark dynamism (that made her the go-to choice for Capaldi-era “Doctor Who” season finales), the screen is filled with colour and energy, bring out out the best in the young cast’s performances. Tamara Smart and Oona Laurence make for a great buddy pairing as Kelly and veteran Monster Hunter Liz and the rest of the cast are clearly having fun in this playground of witches, goblins and general spookiness. The real surprise (and delight) though, is Harry Potter’s Tom Felton as The Grand Guignol. It’s a performance like no other he has ever given and he’s a revelation. It shares the same kind of energy as Dan Steven’s turn in “Beauty And The Beast” but Felton brings just the right balance of menace to keep it creepy enough to entertain the kids while still being just the right amount of silly to be funny.
It flirts with horror tropes and creepy characters but keeps things light enough so as not to scare its audience. There’s also the usual tropes of tween adventure movies so you can expect your recommended daily allowance of “Mean Girls”-style high school rivalries, and the behind-the-scenes staff of the Order of Babysitters each have their moments to shine as they develop a plan to take down their biggest enemy.
Once again, Netflix clearly has its eye on kicking off another franchise but there’s more than enough here to make another go around in this monster-hunting world appealing. With Halloween looking like it’s going to be an indoor pursuit for most families this year, “A Babysitter’s Guide To Monster Hunting” is the perfect early-evening treat for the whole family, before the younger kids have gone to bed and the proper horror movies come out.