Monday, July 16, 2018

The Nanny Is Watching (Captive Nation, MarVista Entertainment, Lifetime, 2018)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2018 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Last night’s Lifetime “premiere” movie was called The Nanny Is Watching, and they programmed it as part of a day-long festival of nanny movies (nanny movies have been a staple of Lifetime at least since 2000, when Christine Conradt kicked off her “The Perfect … ” cycle of scripts with The Perfect Nanny), showing Nanny Seduction before it and Nanny Killer (a switch on the formula because it’s about nannies being driven to their deaths by a psycho child they were supposedly there to take care of) afterwards. The Nanny Is Watching seems to have come about as a deliberate attempt by writer Blaine Chiapetta and director Olumide Odebunmi (the director is a Black man who was apparently mentored by Mark Rydell; is silent, though, on whether “Blaine Chiapetta” is a man or a woman) to see how many of the typical Lifetime thriller tropes they could combine in one movie: the psycho nanny, the terminally naïve young couple who hire her, the self-programmed house which goes Scottgerously haywire and the birth mother of an adoptee who will stop at nothing to get her kid back. (The last was supposed to be a shocking reveal in the final act, but Lifetime’s posted synopsis gave it away.) The terminally naïve couple are Scott (Adam Huber) and Mara (Talyn Carroll) Franklin, and they have a four-year-old daughter Beth (Olivia Sembra) whom they adopted, as well as a baby named Amy (Winnie Zir-Oldak) whom they conceived naturally after adopting Beth. There’s been a role reversal between the Franklins: Scott has a rather indifferent career as a RealtorTM but we only hear about that when he goes to show a house in the opening scenes, but Mara is a hotshot information-technology consultant who’s just got a plum assignment to redesign the Web site for a better-living magazine with the ghastly name InHABIT. Only she barely makes it to the crucial presentation in time and gets the job only through the intervention of Eric Messer (Black actor Sawandi Wilson), who seems to have the hots for Mara — he keeps asking her out to lunch or dinner on the pretext of “work” — but is willing to take, “No, thanks, I’m married” for an answer.

Both adult Franklins are scared shitless when a hooded man wielding a tire iron breaks into their home one night, and their nanny Rachel (Cinta Laura Kiehl, who seems to have modeled her perky-psycho performance on the one Rose MacGowan gave two decades ago in the original Devil in the Flesh) recommends a security system she says her mom Sarah (Donna D’Errico) had installed and swears by. The Franklins take the bait and go for the deluxe package, which includes not only a home security system but a robotic personal assistant, sort of’s “Alexa” meets HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, who’s addressed as “Sam” and speaks in a flat monotone the person voicing him obviously cribbed from Douglas Rain’s marvelous turn as the voice of HAL in 2001. What they don’t know is that Rachel has hacked into the system from her own laptop at the home she shares with her mom — with whom she’s totally reversed roles, giving the orders and leaving mom frantically begging her psycho daughter for favors (the scenes between them are the most chilling ones in the film, and no doubt the writer Chiapetta intended the Biblical symbolism of the women’s names) — and she can use it not only to eavesdrop on the Franklins at home any time she chooses (including when they’re having sex), she can also shut down the system or open it at will and she can make the Franklins’ home appliances, all of which are now controlled by “Sam”, go haywire any time she wants them to. At one point Mara Franklin gets suspicious enough she traces Rachel to her home and talks to Sarah, who said they don’t have a security system and she wonders why her daughter would say they did, and when Rachel finds out Sarah talked to one of the Franklins she has a hissy-fit and the two women have a fight which ends with Rachel knocking Sarah to the floor, killing her. Mara returns to the women’s home and narrowly misses discovering Sarah’s corpse when Rachel surprises her in the hallway, overpowers her and takes her phone.

The climax occurs at the Franklins’ home, where they’ve just had the security system rewired and are backing it up with door chains and other low-tech locks just in case Rachel tries to break in again, but what they don’t realize is that the person in charge of the security installation, Dan (Steven Allerick), is also Rachel’s boyfriend and he opens it for her disguised in the same hooded costume and wielding the same tire iron as he did to stage the “break-in” he did earlier on to scare the Franklins into installing the Big Brother Is Watching You security system in the first place. There’s a fight between Scott Franklin and the security guy, and Rachel corners Mara in the laundry room and holds a knife on the Franklins’ natural daughter Amy, which she threatens to use on the baby unless Mara gives Beth, whom Rachel now reveals is her biological daughter (she got pregnant at 16 and wanted to keep the kid, but mom refused her permission so she had to put Beth up for adoption), to Rachel and lets her and her hot security-tech boyfriend get away without calling the police. Only the Franklins somehow manage to get the upper hand and it ends with Mara getting the big kitchen knife away from Rachel and stabbing her with it, following which we hear police sirens — and then there’s a title, “One Month Later,” and one month later the Franklins are back to normal, with Mara having arranged with Eric to work from a home office so she can watch her own kids without having to have a nanny, and with the accoutrements around them, including a normal alarm clock and an intermittently functioning coffeepot, back to their low-tech originals. The Nanny Is Watching has its silly aspects, but mostly it’s one of Lifetime’s better efforts in the genre; Odebunmi’s direction, aside from some jarring cuts, is generally suspenseful and thrilling, and Chiapetta’s writing and Kiehl’s acting combine to create a truly terrifying and powerful villainess.