27th May2020

‘The Au Pair Nightmare’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Annie Heise, Tristan Thomas, Brytnee Ratledge, Trevor Donovan, Gianna Gallegos Brady Bauer, Esodie Geiger, Kurt Kubicek, Micah McNeil Elizabeth Saydah, Luke Valley | Written by Chris LaMont, Joe Russo | Directed by Joe Russo

Now I wouldn’t typically review a Lifetime movie but… but… this particular film – The Au Pair Nightmare – is the feature debut of Joe Russo (no, not that Russo), the producer of the film Nightmare Cinema and a director whose short films have appeared on the likes of Crypt TV and Alter, as well as having his horror short Take-Out featured in the horror anthology Dark Deadly & Dreadful.

So we have a director who has mainly focused on the horror genre directing a film about an au pair. So far so huh? But then comes the films synopsis: “Trying to leave behind the memories of her fiancé, Taylor becomes an au pair for an out-of-state couple and their 8-year old daughter – but there’s a dark secret behind every perfect family”. Reading that there’s no way I couldn’t check this one out… After all, just that brief plot line had my mind swimming with ideas where The Au Pair Nightmare could go.

And then comes Annie Heise’s performance as the mother of the family, Allesandra. Within seconds Heise’s portrayal of the matriarch who DOESN’T want Taylor to stay and be the au pair had me on edge. Completely. Talk about Stepford Wives meets Hand That Rocks the Cradle vibes! And she doesn’t let up either, her performance feels so unstable that you can’t help but feel that she’s headed down the same route as Louise Fletcher in Flowers in the Attic.

Speaking of which… When the mother locks her child in her bedroom after a discussion about a “bad man” there’s GOT to be something wrong. We know it, the family know it, but Taylor doesn’t and it’s THAT which keeps you hooked, keeps you watching past the traditional Lifetime tropes – the usual over the top scenery-chewing style of storytelling that these kinds of movies are known for. Thankfully though Joe Russo, and his long time writing partner Chris LaMont, manage to twist The Au Pair Nightmare somewhat so that it feels less like a traditional cheesy TV drama and more like a cheesy TV homage to Hitchcock – completely with the kinds of “why did you do that” and “can you not see what’s happening” moments that all good thrillers (and some bad ones too) have too!

Interestingly, The Au Pair Nightmare – beyond the horror stylings and TV movie tropes – is an astonishing look into the superficiality of “the American dream”; the idea that good looks, a happy family, a big house and good jobs make for a great life. When in reality there can be something bubbling under the surface, a fragility and a sadness – that the thing bubbling under the surface here is a twisted protection of the family unit just makes this film all the more insane!

The Au Pair Nightmare is now available to stream on Vudu.

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