The [fill in the blank] from hell subgenre is making a comeback of sorts in the latest Shudder original, ‘Spoonful of Sugar,’ which made its festival debut at Fantastic Fest last September. The subgenre in question used to be a mainstay in many Hollywood psychodramas seen from the late 1980s through the mid-’90s, with the likes of ‘Fatal Attraction’ (1987), ‘Pacific Heights’ (1990), and ‘The Hands That Rocks the Cradle’ (1992) being among the prime examples. Here, the film takes the aforementioned familiar concept and twists it inside out with a mix of bleak fable and the pitch-black darkness of psychological overtones.
I also love how the director – Mercedes Bryce Morgan –alongside screenwriter Leah Saint Marie uses a title that is clearly inspired by the famous ‘Mary Poppins’ song in the ‘60s, which has the lyrics ’a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down’. In ‘Spoonful of Sugar,’ Mercedes Bryce Morgan isn’t interested in revisiting the happy memories of that 1964 classic musical.
Besides, we are talking about a ‘babysitter from hell’ in the form of a seemingly innocent-looking young woman with a ginger-braided hairstyle named Millicent, played by Morgan Saylor. This is especially true with her conservative way of dressing and her overall shy and meek attitude when she shows up at the residence to meet her employer, Rebecca (Kat Foster). Rebecca is an author who needs a babysitter she can trust to care for her only son, Johnny (Danilo Crovetti). The thing is, he’s not just any ordinary child because he barely speaks a word while developing all kinds of severe allergies to the point he spends his time staying at home. Despite lacking babysitting experience, Millicent claims she’s good with the kids and is working on a thesis regarding children with allergies.
Millicent eventually gets the job, and things go well at first. Johnny seems to enjoy spending time with his babysitter, but beneath all the rose-tinted façade, Millicent harbors a dark secret of her own. We see her relying on taking droplets of LSD prescribed by her doctor (Keith Powell), and she’s been obsessing over Rebecca’s hunky husband, Jacob (Myko Olivier), where she first saw him all sweaty and shirtless while doing all the woodwork in the back of the house. Other times, the influence of LSD causes her to hallucinate weird things that aren’t there.
Given the fact that LSD plays a major part in ‘Spoonful of Sugar,’ director Mercedes Bryce Morgan infuses a surrealistic vibe into her movie right from the get-go that you might not hear the otherwise familiar folksy tune of ‘Oh My Darling, Clementine’ the same way again. We also get to see LSD-induced moments of gross-out scenes straight out of David Cronenberg’s visual playbook (the worm-like crawling fingers come to mind) and Millicent’s own sexual fantasies but only to a certain extent. Speaking of Millicent, Morgan Saylor does a good job in her role, which looks too good to be true. We learn that she’s 21 years of age, but there’s something odd about her, not only from her outer appearance but also her overall behavior. And for that, the film played coy for most of the movie to keep us wondering all the lingering questions about Millicent’s true identity.
But at the same time, such an intentionally coy approach tends to restrain or slow things down that could be a test of patience, especially for those who are expecting this to be a briskly-paced horror drama. ‘Spoonful of Sugar’ is indeed the kind of film that demands your attention, where stakes aren’t steadily raised as it goes on. In other words, consistency in terms of suspense and intrigue aren’t the ones you will be looking for in this movie. It’s more of a movie that creeps up on you the least you are expecting, which can be seen during the third act. I admit I didn’t see it coming. The eventual twist may have been convoluted and questionable, but the overall sinister depiction of how Mercedes Bryce Morgan chooses to end her movie is worthy of a debate.
Back to the acting, Morgan Saylor may steal most of the show here with the from-hell subgenre does give me the feeling of watching her Millicent role seducing a family member that is reminiscent of the young (and then-rebellious) Drew Barrymore in ‘Poison Ivy.’
But let’s not forget about the rest of the supporting actors as well. This includes Kat Foster as the overprotective mother, who also has a dark secret, while Myko Olivier delivers decent support as the husband who is torn between dealing with his wife and falling for Millicent’s sexuality. Danilo Crovetti’s predominantly verbal-free acting deserves equal mention as the allergy-prone Johnny, who also developed erratically violent outbursts from time to time.