Ranae (Madeline Conway) is a pretty, young woman looking for a little independence in her life. She's decided to find that by applying for a babysitter job in the city and has passed the two interviews her potential employers have subjected her to. Now she just needs a lift off her pal Calista (Emmaline Friederichs) to get her to the gig.
Calista drops Ranae off and playfully replies "maybe" when Ranae asks if she can text for a lift home at the end of the night. And then, big sister drives off and Ranae is left alone in a quiet neighbourhood after dark, knocking on the door of a dimly-lit detached property ...
Roman (David Sapiro) answers the door an invites Ranae in. We learn that he and his wife Tanya (Deanna Sapiro) are going out to watch a movie for their anniversary, and that this is the first time they've been out since infant Miller was born. It's perhaps unsurprising, then, that Tanya comes across as a little over-protective. Still, we're informed that all Miller does is "eat, poop and sleep" - and seeing as though he's fed and shat, he should snooze soundly until his parents return at 1am. A video monitor is left with Ranae for reassurance, positioning itself on the child's cot.
The couple leave Miller in Ranae's care, and she settles into an evening of slouching on the settee and catching up on social media via her mobile 'phone. Before long, she's having nightmares about the child waking up screaming, and hallucinating visions of blood on her hands.
This weirdness continues, Ranae getting herself so hot and bothered that by the time Calista rings to check she's okay, she sounds so freaked out that her friend insists on popping round. Moments later, she's arrived at the front door with mates Jeremy (Claudio Parrone Jr) and Grace (Carly Rae James Sauer). Ranae reluctantly lets her trio of friends in.
They all settle in to watch THE DEVIL BAT on the TV. While doing so, Ranae's younger brother Ray (Marco Lama) calls via video message. He's introduced to Ranae's pals but asks her why she hasn't mentioned the girl stood behind her. Ranae spins round but there's no-one there. Is everyone trying to freak her out, she wonders. "She's about to file for a divorce from reality", Jeremy quips.
Well, in fairness, Ranae's mother died a year earlier and she did go off the rails a little. And she's recently come off her medication, so ... perhaps Jeremy's comment isn't as insensitive as it initially appears. Until he's making out with Grace in Miller's house and Grace suddenly starts screaming, insisting that she saw the ghost of a young girl ...
By this time it's barely turned 11pm. But a lot can (and does) happen in the two hours remaining on Ranae's babysitting shift, as she and her friends discover just why this spirit is so hell-bent on tormenting them ...
First-time co-directors Christopher A Micklos and Jay Sapiro (the screenplay was also written by Micklos) have clearly shot THE NURSERY on a modest budget, relying on effective digital HD photography to get the most out of their limited resources.
The cinematography in this film - courtesy of Daniel Andera - is indeed the film's greatest asset. Strong colour schemes, inventive camera angles and fine utilisation of the huge TARDIS-like house location make this a very attractive aesthetic proposition from start to end.
This visual style affords the film a fair amount of atmosphere. It's clear from Audrey Martinovich's ominous score, the spooky set-up and endless rolling out of genre tropes that Micklos and Sapiro desperately want to impress horror fans. Perhaps a little too much so: from wink-wink clips of THE DEVIL BAT witnessed on a TV to Argento-esque colour schemes and a very obvious homage to a later SUSPIRIA scene (Stefania Casini's zombie moment, to be precise), these guys wear their hearts on their sleeves. But it's all a bit try-hard, with too much reliance on safe bets and little in terms of originality: as events progress and the action becomes more surreal, there's also a huge debt owed to J-Horror ...
Performances are variable. Well, it's perhaps more accurate to say Conway is likeable and convincing, while everyone else lets the side down somewhat. The award for most wooden performances is shared by the baby's parents, the Sapiros (see how this is something of a family affair?).
So, yes, THE NURSERY has its share of shortcomings. But in spite of those I actually enjoyed it in its own modest way. The twist won't surprise any seasoned viewer, and there's little invention going on. But it's always good to look at (as is Conway), and the co-directors muster a fair amount of atmosphere along the way. It's no THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL or even BABYSITTER WANTED, but it's not bad as a first effort.
THE NURSERY has been made available as a View on Demand title by Uncork'd Entertainment. They will give it a DVD release at a later date. We were sent an online screener link for review purposes. This presented the film uncut and in its original, nicely framed 16x9 ratio.
The picture quality is very strong indeed, with clean sharp images and excellent representation of colours. English 2.0 audio was clear and problem-free too. If the DVD looks and sounds like this (there's no reason it shouldn't), buyers should be very satisfied indeed.
THE NURSERY breaks no new ground and suffers from a few of the usual pratfalls of low budget genre filmmaking (poor peripheral performances; lack of ambition) but it does boast oodles of atmosphere and visual panache.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Uncork'd Entertainment|