While the filmmakers show promise, wooden performances and a paltry script prevent “The Nursery” from offering anything new to the horror genre.
Co-directed by Christopher A. Micklos and Jay Sapiro, The Nursery follows college student Ranae (Madeline Conway) as she agrees to babysit an infant for a neighborhood family. However, the family and Ranae herself harbor dark and tragic pasts, both of which will come to light throughout the course of the film — turning what should have been an ordinary babysitting gig into a singular night of paranormal terror.
Although the premise sounds overly familiar, this low-budget picture begins with a spooky, ominous vibe. Cinematographer Dan Andera takes advantage of the film’s minimalistic look with strange, colorful lighting and unusual camera angles that hint at an otherworldly presence in the home. Moreover, the psychedelic nature of some of the movie’s opening scenes suggests that the young heroine may be more emotionally troubled than she lets on. Played well by Conway, Ranae sees terrifying imagery in both her subconscious and on her cell phone.
At this point, The Nursery comes across as a sharp character study of one woman and her chilling descent into either real supernatural horror or perhaps full-blown paranoia and insanity.
Even the use of technology — especially Ranae’s cell phone — works well and serves to amplify the tension and the mocking derision of the restless spirit of the house. Had the script, written by Micklos, kept the plot this focused and lean, then the film might have become a solid indie shocker. Instead, with the arrival of new characters and a script that delivers its information in uneventful ways, ‘The Nursery’ fails to deliver on its promising exposition.
While babysitting the child, Ranae is soon joined by friends Grace (Carly Rae James Sauer) and Jeremy (Claudio Perrone Jr.), both of whom only seem to exist in the story for the sole purpose of giving the supernatural entity cardboard characters to kill. That said, one of the murder sequences involving these characters is genuinely freakish and bodes well for the next project from the filmmakers.
Calista (Emmaline Friederichs) has a stronger role in the story, there to comfort Ranae and talk her through whatever distress she might be experiencing in the house. As with any ghost story, the protagonist must seek out answers to the mystery, and it’s here where The Nursery’s low budget becomes a major disadvantage.
As Ranae learns more about the family and their tragic backstory, nearly all of the information is conveyed through a monotone and dry character named Ray (Marco Lama). Ray speaks and appears to Ranae through a camera app on a laptop computer, delivering his lines with little emotion or energy, his facial expressions never changing. These scenes are the equivalent of having a character learn all of the plot points via Google, and the end result is stiff and predictable.
The direction falters here as well — even the actors don’t seem to know how to react to each new piece of the supernatural puzzle.
As The Nursery reaches its climax, Ranae will reveal more of her own past and confront the forces that have been taunting her all night long. The finale has some sufficient visuals, but by then viewers will most likely have given up on being surprised or scared by the movie.
Micklos and Sapiro clearly have talent in the technical department, but the script is just not written well, the dialogue clunky and the characters (except perhaps for the heroine) unmemorable. Andera’s camerawork and lighting deserve praise, but they are not enough to save yet another run-of-the-mill ghost story that struggles to offer anything refreshing to the genre.