Camilla is the world’s best nanny. She’s sweet, knowledgeable, and works weekends. Too bad she’s also a Druid priestess (it’s quite the ma-tree-archy) who tends to sacrifice her young charges to a baby-eating tree. Up-and-coming couple Phil and Kate hire her, feeling blessed that all she asks in return for her hard work is Tuesday nights off. Meanwhile she’s getting baby Jake ready to make like a tree and leaf. Phil and Kate figure out the situation, and they have to stop Camilla from going out on a limb.
It’s directed by William Friedkin, who did The Exorcist, but it’s nowhere near as scary; it’s not even creepy, for the most part. However, what it lacks in scares, it tries to make up for in literary allusions that give it a little depth, making it tolerable even with dialogue like “Get your hands off my baby” and the cheesy premise. It begins with a reference to “Hansel and Gretel.” Young Scott Sheridan, Camilla’s last client before Jake, is reading his baby sister the pop-up book version of the story, which includes a big spooky tree—nice foreshadowing, both with the tree and the evil woman initially trusted by the children, who turns out to be murderous. It’s the only really eerie scene. Later, there’s a nod to Roman mythology. Camilla (also known as Diana to the Sheridans) is bathing in the woods. Phil’s (creepy) friend Ned, who’s infatuated with her, has been following her and catches a glimpse of her naked. She sends coyotes to chase and eat him. This is a neat retelling of the story of the goddess Diana, who when seen taking a bath by a hunter, turns him into a deer so his own dogs kill him.
Such moments are undermined by less great scenes, for example when Camilla is chased by three muggers/would-be rapists. They’re walking clichés, from their leather jackets and switchblades to their utterances like “Cut the bitch.” I was eagerly waiting for Camilla to smite them with her womyn powers, but instead she just runs to her tree and lets it do her work for her. But there is a nifty shot of her lounging serenely on a branch while the baddies are getting chomped and pummeled.
I came away from the film ambivalent; I can’t decide whether its good points outweigh the bad. I watched it a time or two with childhood horror movie buddy Hope, so it has the nostalgia factor for me. Watching the film as a new parent, I expected to be horrified, especially when the Sheridan baby gets it. Instead, I mainly felt indignant, thinking how I would never let a stranger come into my house and handle my baby. I worked myself up into a pretty good lather close to the end of the movie, when Jake has to go to the hospital. Camilla, having been fired, shows up anyway and begins unhooking Jake from his medical equipment so she can take him. Phil is momentarily away, and Kate is just standing there saying, “Camilla, stop it!” Hells no.