Sunday, May 1, 2016

Bad Behavior (Beautiful Lie, Right Next Door, Marvista Entertainment, Lifetime, 2013)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2016 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

And if Seduced seemed silly, we hadn’t seen anything yet until we got into the third film in Lifetime’s sequence, a 2013 production called Bad Behavior. This one was both written and directed by Nicholas Brandt and Lisa Hamil (real-life couple?) and starred Hallee Hirsh as Zoë, a babysitter who shows up for what she thinks is going to be a routine overnight job while the couple whose three kids she’ll be babysitting go out of town for a family member’s wedding. Only the three kids turn out to be proverbially from hell: older brother Tyler (Austin Rogers, who bears an odd resemblance to a very young Tom Hayden) keeps making sexual advances towards Our Heroine; middle brother Jack (Jeremy Dozier) is a sort of idiot savant whose parents think he’s getting into Yale; and the youngest child and only girl, Grace (Elsie Fisher), is obsessed with princesses and wants to wear her princess dress to daddy’s dinner date. The parents duly leave and Zoë invites her boyfriend Kansas (Andrew James Allan, who’s considerably shorter than Mike Nesmith of the Monkees but otherwise strikingly resembles him) over, hoping to make out with him (or more!) once the children sleep — only Kansas’s presence sends the paranoid Jack off the deep end; he immediately concludes that Kansas and Zoë are “spies” sent on some sort of secret mission to destroy him and his family. Jack takes over the rest of the house and forces Zoë, Tyler and Grace to hide in an upstairs bathroom (which has a gable in its ceiling from which Jack, when he chooses to, can spy on them from the roof of the house).

The movie then turns into a bizarre combination of The Old Dark House and The Panic Room, as Tyler keeps dropping hints of what Jack did during his previous bouts with less-than-sanity, including setting fire to the place, slicing Tyler’s ear off (fortunately the ear was recovered in time that it could be re-attached surgically) and possibly killing the previous babysitters. They’re out of touch with the rest of the world because Zoë had given her cell phone to Kansas, whom Jack overpowered and tied up with duct tape (interesting that we’re seeing all these movies with duct tape as a bondage tool — who needs rope anymore?) and is threatening to cut off his ear unless Kansas tells him what their espionage mission was. (I joked that Kansas should have said, “Finding Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, what else?”) Tyler explains that he had a cell phone but his parents took it away from him for misbehaving, and Grace says she has a phone — but it’s only a toy one and it just calls Barbie. (In the immortal words of Anna Russell, “I’m not making this up, you know!”) The kids are expecting their parents home by 5 p.m. but the parents miss their flight and are put on standby — we learn this because they leave a message to that effect on Zoë’s cell phone, though only crazy Jack hears it — and as day turns to night and the trapped characters are getting hungrier, resorting to various expedients to use the bathroom (the other two have to hide in the shower while one uses the toilet) and, in the film’s most grotesque and gory scene, Jack sends up a severed ear and tells Zoë it’s Kansas’s, and on Tyler’s advice she puts it in an old medication jar and puts the jar in the toilet tank to keep it cold so it can be transplanted back on when they’re finally rescued.

But like its two predecessors on Lifetime’s Saturday schedule, Bad Behavior has an outrageous reversal in the final act: the parents come by just in time to save Zoë from bodily harm at Jack’s hands, only it turns out that the parents are the real crazies. They’ve developed a habit of torturing their babysitters and ultimately imprisoning them, and the final scene shows the reunited family (including a bandage over Jack’s ear to indicate he, not Kansas, was the owner of that grisly object) driving out on some happy outing with Grace casually mentioning Zoë’s name and being told by her parents, “That’s a bad word. We don’t use that word anymore.” Then we see Zoë once again held prisoner in that upstairs bathroom, this time with Kansas in there with her, and frantically blinking the lights on and off to send an SOS signal in Morse code, as she’d tried to do earlier before Jack caught her and turned off the power to the entire house. Bad Behavior has a few nice touches — notably some establishing shots of the exterior of the house where it takes place, in which Brandt and Hamil pull the neat trick of making a pretty ordinary suburban ranch house (except for those two gables on the roof) look sinister and almost Gothic — but for the most part it treads so much on the thin edge of silliness, and all too often goes over, one wonders if Brandt and Hamil were doing a serious Lifetime movie or a parody of one. I’m really tired of the penchant of modern-day thriller writers for ridiculously unbelievable reversals, especially at the ending — when O. Henry pulled this sort of thing he was at least able to make the finale seem like it had some relationship to the course of his story before that, but writers like Nicholas Brandt, Lisa Hamil and Brian McAuley simply don’t have that sort of knack — and Bad Behavior was so outrageously stupid through most of its running time I couldn’t help but wish Charles had taken me up on my offer to turn it off and screen us something else instead of hiding out in the computer room using Twitter while this silly thing unreeled!