The Nursery Movie Review
Written by Ren Zelen
Released by Uncork'd Entertainment
Directed by Christopher A. Micklos, Jay Sapiro
Written by Christopher A. Micklos
2018, 90 minutes, Not Rated
Released on June 5th, 2018
Emmaline Friederichs as alista
Carly Rae James Sauer as Grace
Madeline Conway as Ranae
David Sapiro as Roman
Marco Lama as Ray
The Nursery is an American supernatural horror directed by Christopher A. Micklos and Jay Sapiro. It starts off as college student Renae (Madeline Conway) is waiting outside her building, hoping to be picked up and driven to a babysitting appointment.
After sending repeated texts, it seems that no-one is coming, so Renae makes a trek across town where her wealthy best friend Calista (Emmaline Friederichs) meets her and whisks her off in Daddy’s big car to a remote address somewhere deep in the woods.
The nervous parents leave Renae to babysit their three-month-old son who, as the father avows, rarely wakes during the night (which, believe me, is remarkably unlikely for such a tiny baby).
Certainly, he appears to be a quiet infant, so much so that Renae’s first act is to promptly fall asleep on the sofa and have a weird, psychedelic nightmare in which she is nervously traversing the corridor to the baby’s room. Her dream is conveyed to us by gimmicky editing and the distorted sound of a song playing on her earphones.
Waking suddenly to a house that seems perfectly normal, Renae inexplicably decides to enact her nightmare by creeping around the dark corridors and basements of the house, behaving, for all intents and purposes, as if she’s in a horror movie. So far, she has not one iota of a reason to be nervous, and neither do the viewers – apart from the fact that creepy music and weird lighting effects insistently telegraph the notion that something terrifying must be afoot.
From the outset The Nursery wears its influences on its sleeve. It uses garish colours to light an ordinary domestic scene, as if the American house Renae finds herself in is trying hard to replicate the atmosphere of an Italian Giallo flick. It’s rather a heavy-handed approach, using manipulated sounds and rock music, lurid colour tints and jump cuts, to convey an atmosphere of foreboding.
After receiving a disturbing image on her cell-phone, Renae is moved to call her friend Calista and upbraid her for sending an insensitive picture referring to her recently dead mom. Calista of course, denies all knowledge of the event, and, concerned with Renae’s apparently fragile state of mind, immediately drives over with two other friends to keep her company for the night.
This leads me to a question regarding teen horror conventions – why is it that perfectly normal girls or boys must always include at least one asshole guy and one slutty girl amongst their circle of friends? It seems a bit unlikely that these differing characters would hang out together, (but of course, they’re useful for racking up the body count).
So, to maintain the convention, Renae’s loyal bestie Calista brings along sneering, asshole-dude Jeremy (Claudio Parrone Jr), boyfriend of blatantly slutty-girl Grace (Carly Rae James Sauer).
Things finally start to move along as a ‘yūrei-Sadako-lookalike-ghost-girl’ begins to appear to various members of the quartet at inconvenient moments. The evening’s ghostly shenanigans are punctuated by Renae’s laptop video and cell-phone calls to her younger half-brother Ray (Marco Lama), conveniently a fanatical fan of all things paranormal, but inconveniently, a long way off in Utah.
Little brother Ray sporadically conveys information he has discovered about the dark past of the family they are babysitting for, and the history of the house they find themselves in.
The closer to midnight it gets, the feistier ‘yūrei-Sadako-lookalike-ghost-girl’ becomes, and soon she begins to wreak murderous vengeance on the assembled teens. Asshole-dude Jeremy gets off relatively lightly in the murder stakes, but slutty-girl Grace is less fortunate, as the film goes full ‘Argento’ on her bloody demise.
Apart from one early, hallucinatory moment, the sleeping baby upstairs remains relatively forgotten by the babysitters (and the film-makers).
So far, the film has been entirely by the numbers, predictable at almost every turn. None of the characters ever thinks to turn on a light, everyone spends just that little bit too long wandering dark corridors or basements, so that the viewer gets bored waiting for something to happen or assumes that it’s just leading up to another red-herring jump-scare.
The film frequently uses cell phone communications to drive the plot, yet there is no explanation as to how or why the ghost should have supernatural control of technology or choose to use it as a modus operandi.
The Nursery is too obviously calling on the techniques of Giallo and trying to rehash the Japanese yūrei ghost-girl trope which came to worldwide attention in Hideo Nakata’s 1998 horror hit, Ringu. It borrows the use of weird sound effects from J-horror but doesn’t quite know how to use them effectively (‘yūrei-Sadako-lookalike-ghost-girl’ makes odd, yet inconsistent sounds, at one point snarling throughout a pursuit like a rabid dog).
The film has ties to more than one tradition, as it certainly has thematic connections to movies like Halloween (1978), When a Stranger Calls (1979), and The House of the Devil (2009).
For a modestly budgeted production the filming does look professional and crisp. The Nursery seems to strive for tension and style but ends up settling for clichés and stylistic flourishes. It’s a film which could have benefited from a judicious editor and a few polishing drafts to the screenplay.
However, the denouement is far better that the woolly build-up might have led the viewer to expect. It is an indication of how good the film had the potential to be, if the narrative had been more expertly handled and the storyline a little less dependent on overly familiar horror tropes that ultimately serve to stifle any spark of menace the film may have had the ambition to create.