Lifetime Review: 'The Babysitter's Revenge'
Tensions boil between suburban neighbors in this deliberately paced drama driven by strong characters.
Ever since a sexual harassment accusation torpedoed the political career of city councilor Anna Dawson (Zoie Palmer), things have been hard for both her and her teenage daughter Carrie (Aviva Mongillo) as they find themselves struggling to make ends meet in the wake of the scandal. Even more frustrating, Carrie knows the person responsible for orchestrating her mother's downfall: Madeline Cooper (Bree Turner), their next-door neighbor and the perfection-obsessed Queen Bee of the neighborhood.
Despite her mother's desires to move on, Carrie is determined to have her revenge on Madeline for what she did. Using her job as a babysitter, Carrie schemes to find dirt she can use against Madeline, discovering more than a few secrets her neighbor is hiding behind her manicured lawn and immaculate house. But just how far will this neighborly feud go--and what will be left in the aftermath?
Suburbia has been the setting behind countless Lifetime dramas, and Incendo's latest Lifetime premiere The Babysitter's Revenge (originally titled Glass Houses) continues the trend of making the suburbs a hotbed for drama and chaos. Like their previous premiere Abducted on Air, The Babysitter's Revenge also comes with a cynical undertone to it, centering around a seemingly picture perfect community harboring secrets and deep-seeded animosity among its residents. In spite of that, The Babysitter's Revenge has far more overall likable characters than its predecessor, in addition to boasting better use of deliberate pacing.
Unlike Abducted on Air, which had sporadic moments of superfluously slow pacing, The Babysitter's Revenge is mostly consistent in using its slow boil to create suspense and make you wonder how much more tense things can get between Carrie and Madeline--a rivalry and battle of wills similar to the one present in Murder In Law. The film's third act also fares better than the third act of Abducted on Air, as while the previous film suffered from its finale being preceded by a long stall in terms of action, The Babysitter's Revenge throws a few curveballs in its final act before it reaches an explosive conclusion, rewarding the audience for letting the film's events take their time to unfold.
The characters also prove instrumental in why the slow pace of The Babysitter's Revenge works, with Carrie Dawson and Madeline Cooper evolving into compelling and complex characters thanks to the performances of Aviva Mongillo and Bree Turner. While it initially appears the film is setting Carrie up as the ideal heroine and Madeline as the ideal villain, the events of The Babysitter's Revenge allow both of them to develop multiple facets that prove that neither are entirely what they appear to be and are--in some aspects--parallels of each other. While Turner, like Kim Shaw in Abducted on Air, is clearly having a blast as the ultimate control freak neighbor, the script and Turner's performance allow the film to succeed where Abducted on Air failed: making its main antagonist a love-to-hate villainess you can also feel a twinge of sympathy for.
While on the whole Madeline is just as controlling and hypocritical as Carrie says she is, the Madeline Cooper we see when she's not dishing out passive-aggressive remarks and picking fights with the Dawsons allows us to see slivers of humanity lurking behind her ice queen demeanor. For all her flaws, we see the genuine (if overprotective) love she has for her son, and while her relationship to her husband John is shown to be troubled, you get the sense through Turner's performance and her chemistry with Steve Byers that despite their problems, there was once a loving relationship between them. SPOILER ALERT It's when her secret affair with her stepfather-in-law Clark (played with effectively repulsive sleaze by Frank Schorpion) is revealed in full detail during Madeline's third act meltdown that we see a tragic motivation behind Madeline's cruel demeanor: her twisted situation with the predatory Clark leaves her feeling trapped and at his mercy, leading her to lash out at her neighbors and thrive for full control of the neighborhood as a means of taking back the control Clark stole from her. Spoilers Over While it doesn't justify any of her actions, Clark's performance allows Madeline to avoid being a two-dimensional bully and instead emerge as a complex villain you loathe and sympathize with at the same time.
Mongillo, meanwhile, similarly plays Carrie as far more morally ambiguous than most Lifetime protagonists. For all that Carrie says about how judgmental, catty, and hypocritical Madeline is, the film's events show us that Carrie is far from innocent in those regards herself. The film opens with Carrie flippantly slut-shaming the Coopers after she finds sex toys while snooping through their house, and we later see that Carrie isn't above engaging in similar tactics used by Madeline to get what she wants--all while using what Madeline did to her mother as justification for her actions. While this brings an edge to the conflict between the two women, The Babysitter's Revenge at times feels too on Carrie's side for its own good, seemingly expecting the audience to feel her actions to be as justified as she believes them to be. While Carrie's actions are explicitly called out as wrong by Anna at one point, this moment never comes up again and the film is likely to leave a bad taste in the mouth for some, despite its noble efforts to be a subversive take on the traditional route Lifetime usually takes.
The side cast proves solid, with Zoie Palmer having a handful of strong scenes when the quietly victimized Anna Dawson is allowed to speak out against what's happened to her. Byers brings the same fierce emotions to John Cooper that he brought in Amish Abduction, and Amalia Williamson makes Carrie's friend Blair a fun burst of energy in a cast of characters who are so often serious and rigid.
While its efforts to be subversive and different are flawed in places, The Babysitter's Revenge remains a strong film that succeeds in many of the areas that Abducted on Air stumbled in--primarily in the form of characterization of its main villainess. Add to that an expansion on the latter film's cynical plot and a third act that makes the film's slow pacing worthwhile, and The Babysitter's Revenge proves to work better as a Lifetime film with a slower pace and a more pessimistic attitude than Abducted on Air or Separated at Birth.
Score: 8 out of 10 popsicles.