Following up her sophomore pic “With Love, Lilly,” upcoming Russian helmer Larisa Sadilova reteams with “Lilly” star Marina Zubanova for “Babysitter Required,” a sinister comedy-drama showing what happens when nannies attack, albeit in a sly, non-violent fashion. Applicant pic is good with psychological observations, particularly about class conflict, but shows less skill with pacing and story development over the long haul. Good references could help “Babysitter” fill positions at smaller fests and arthouse venues domestically, but it will find distribution prospects trickier overseas.
Businessman Andrei (Alexi Makarov) and his career woman wife Vera (Victoria Isakova) are doing so well financially they can afford to employ housekeeper Masha (Raisa Ryazanova) and a team of Uzbek builders to add an extension to their suburban home. But with Vera planning to go back to work, their only child, 4-year-old Alyka (Ira Shipova), needs a full-time nanny, so they hire apparently docile former schoolteacher Galina (Zubanova).
However, big-boned Galina is not as bovine as she appears. While eavesdropping outside the couple’s window one night, she overhears Andrei cracking a joke about her weight to a laughing Vera. The couple treats her like a servant, on a par with the Uzbek builders.
Later, she gathers from an overheard phone conversation that Andrei’s not an entirely faithful husband. And so, Galina begins a quiet campaign of revenge, her methods — including framing the builders for a theft, turning little Alyka from a boisterous tomboy to a morbid kid via scary bedtime stories, and buttering up Andrei’s dad (Valery Barinov) with booze — are hard to fathom at first.
Indeed, her motives also seem somewhat opaque given the punishment rather outweighs the initial crime, although jealousy clearly plays a part. The suggestion by the end that Galina is something of an amateur grifter doesn’t quite account for her Iago-like malice.
In other hands, this might have become a routine genre thriller, a rip-off of Curtis Hanson’s “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle” and yuppie nightmare dramas, but instead writer-director Sadilova fashions a complex character study in which everyone, even little Alyka, has the capacity to both harm and charm. Displaying a sharp eye and ear for nuance, Sadilova draws out the awkward tensions between employers and employees, illustrating, for instance, the resentment felt toward Galina by Masha when Galina’s invited to sit with the family during a barbecue.
Nonetheless, the bigger ensemble scenes slow down the action just as it needs to heat up as the climax rolls round. Judicious trims could provide a brisker pace.
Plaudits are due to thesp Zubanova in the main role and young Shipova, convincingly unself-conscious as spoiled, bossy Alyka.
A general air of low-budget naturalism pervades the tech credits. A burst of non-source music and slow-mo lensing in one of the last scenes adds a jarring note to an otherwise unobtrusive package.