'A Babysitter's Guide to Monster Hunting' delivers half-baked family thrills

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The Grand Guignol (Tom Felton) looks on with ghoulish delight.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Netflix

Maybe babysitters should just stick to babysitting. 

“A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting” is a film adaptation of the young adult novel series of the same name. Author Joe Ballarini has returned to write the screenplay for the Netflix film that follows high schooler Kelly (Tamara Smart) and a mysterious agency of babysitters whose sole mission is to protect the world from monsters. When the young girl Kelly is babysitting is kidnapped by the Grand Guignol (Tom Felton), she must join forces with other babysitters to complete the rescue mission.

Tom Felton plays Grand Guignol, a ghoulish boogeyman determined to unleash an army of nightmares upon the world. His “Beetlejuice”-esque, grungy performance is certainly entertaining. His maniacal quips and unsettling singing make for a unique antagonist. Unfortunately, his energy is not matched by the rest of the cast, who seem to be going through the motions of acting in a family-friendly film. 

Smart is decent in the role of Kelly, injecting just enough energy and charm to keep the plot rolling, though the performances of her co-stars ultimately feel unmotivated and flat. They might find themselves better suited to a Disney Channel Original Movie.

There’s clearly a much larger world and adventure hiding within “A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting.” The throwaway references to other monster encounters, cliffhanger ending and multiple books’ worth of material clearly suggest an extended narrative. Unfortunately, this first installment simply does not include enough to draw in viewers who are unfamiliar with the source material. The variety of monsters lining the pages of the monster hunting guide all seem more interesting than the ones we actually see in the film.

 

The most fascinating creature in the film is Peggy Drood (Indya Moore), a failed Hollywood actress, who is now a witch residing in an abandoned, cat-covered hotel. Unfortunately, she is only seen for one scene of the film. The monsters that do get the spotlight are mainly computer-generated, bug-eyed creatures known as Toadies, which look like they came straight out of a Pixar film. There are entertaining moments with the creatures, but their genericness eliminates intrigue. 

The film has a few neat needle drops, including some modern pop hits to spice up the otherwise dull narrative. The set design often looks like a theatrical stage but is never ugly. Locales, such as a boogeyman’s nefarious lair and a cat-infested hotel, are a visual treat, but the narrative limits the set’s effectiveness. The film certainly has a unique and energetic stylistic approach hidden beneath the depths of its shoddy writing.

The narrative is sufficient enough, offering a clear goal for the protagonists: Rescue the kidnapped kid. The hijinks the team faces along the way are fun, but never tap into their true potential. One gag finds Kelly using her flashlight to fend off a shadow monster in the middle of a high school party, lending itself to some effective situational comedy. Of course, a bland teen love story is interjected into the narrative, offering nothing more than what audiences have already seen ten times over. 

Halloween festivities along with a ghoulish, fun story is usually a recipe for success among all age groups, but “A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting” seems to be lacking that spooktacular magic. Young fans of the book series will surely find entertainment here as the original author has brought his pages to the screen, but casual watchers may want to steer clear.

2.5 Toadies out of 5