Sunday, July 2, 2017

Nanny Nightmare (MarVista Entertainment, Artificial Person Productions, Lifetime, 2017)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2017 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Lifetime’s first prime-time effort last night was a film called Nanny Nightmare, yet another story about an ordinary suburban couple who find themselves terrorized by a nanny (a male this time — a “manny,” to use the horrible term that actually appears in Brian McAuley’s script), though this time there are a few interesting wrinkles. The couple are James (Brady Smith) and Lauren (Erin Cahill), though James’s job has consumed so much of his time he’s hardly ever home and indeed the couple have formally separated, though James is still living on their property in the guest house. Lauren suspects that James isn’t just working those late nights, especially since his assistant is gorgeous young red-headed woman Summer (Elyse Dufour), who when we see them together looks upon him with such goop-eyed admiration it’s clear she wants considerably more than just a working relationship with him. James and Lauren have two children, teenage boy Carter (Tyler Huth) and baby Riley (Oaklyn White), who was conceived in vitro. The “manny” — though it’s clear he’s a good deal more than that — is Owen Leary (Jake Manley), a young man of almost unearthly beauty (and director Brian Herzlinger exploited that by giving us quite a few luscious shots of him topless, including one in which he clandestinely photographs Summer in bed while himself wearing nothing but blue underpants — yum!) who was formerly a neighbor of James and Lauren — indeed, Lauren remembers baby-sitting him years before.

Owen shows up and in the manner of Lifetime’s villains immediately makes himself useful, fixing the house’s front door and dryer — things James had been promising to do but hadn’t got around to — wiring a video “nanny cam” in baby Riley’s bedroom to go along with the audio system Lauren already had in there (the assumption behind McAuley’s script seems to be that any truly responsible parents bug their kids and spy on them 24/7) and, unbeknownst to our lead couple, planting video devices in the rest of the house and wiring them so he can spy on them on a bank of three computer monitors in his own home. Owen ostensibly lives alone with his mother Beth, but unsurprisingly it turns out two-thirds of the way through the movie that he’s killed her and stuffed her into an air duct in their home (where her corpse is attracting flies). Owen is doing all this because he has a sexual obsession with Lauren (one gets the impression it was a schoolboy crush he formed when Lauren was baby-sitting him and he never outgrew it); he’s also an aspiring musician, though the only evidence of that we actually hear is a few power chords he plays while ostensibly giving Carter guitar lessons, though he tells James and Lauren that it’s because he’s an aspiring musician that he’s had to have so many different kinds of jobs he can do just about anything for them they need. In any event, Owen’s obsession with Lauren leads him to do all manner of things, including cruise Summer in a bar, get himself invited back to her place, and when she’s asleep he shoots cell-phone photos of her in her underwear and, with his skills as a computer hacker, plants the pics on James’ phone and leads Lauren to demand he leave the guest house and take his carcass somewhere else. (Quite a few Lifetime movies feature actually or hypothetically cuckolded-on wives peremptorily throwing out their straying husbands instead of sticking it out and fighting for them.) Then he hangs her and stages the scene to look like he committed suicide. The plan — assuming Owen has one, which McAuley seems uncertain about (or at least he wants us to be uncertain about it) — is that if the cops don’t buy the suicide story he’ll frame James for the murder, he’ll be rid of Lauren’s inconvenient husband and he, Lauren and Riley will be a family. James actually does find himself suspected of Summer’s murder, and it’s only through information he got from Meghan (Rebecca Lines), the woman at the fertility clinic who did their IVF, that he realizes Owen is really an obsessed crazy who wants him dead or imprisoned so he can have Lauren.

Owen actually got as far as an open-mouthed kiss with Lauren, but later she had guilt feelings (like a Mike Nichols-Elaine May character!) and pulled back from anything more physical with him — though James happened to see this on the nanny cam and therefore both members of the couple are convinced the other was cheating on them. It ends the way Lifetime movies in this genre usually do, with James returning to Lauren’s home and saving her from Owen, eventually killing the young kid in self-defense with an ax Owen had brought to terrorize Lauren by threatening to use it on Riley (or was it James’ son Carter who killed Owen? This movie and the one Lifetime showed right after it are blending together so well it’s hard for me to keep the plot strands separate), though there’s an ominous tag scene in which Meghan calls Lauren and tells her that Owen used to work at the clinic and deliberately mixed up two of the sperm samples so … well, McAuley doesn’t come right out and say it, but the implication is that Riley is Owen’s biological child, not James’, which surprised me only to the extent that I thought McAuley would have pulled that one earlier, having Owen tell Lauren that Riley is really his child and using that as an excuse for wanting James out of the family and himself in his place. Nanny Nightmare is actually a pretty good Lifetime movie, helped not only by Jake Manley’s gorgeousness but Herzlinger’s skillfully Gothic direction — the last 20 minutes or so look almost like a horror film — even though the script is the usual Lifetime silliness (I’ve seen McAuley’s name on quite a few of these Lifetime entertainments before) and aside from Manley’s relatively understated performance as the psycho, it isn’t acted particularly well either, though I give Tyler Huth points as Carter for making it believable that at times he’d welcome Owen as a sort of older brother, and at other times he’d just be revolted by him and his smarmy act — in essence he’s the equivalent of Thelma Ritter’s character in All About Eve, on to the slimeball before anyone else in the dramatis personae.