A Stranger Outside – review (Netflix)

Brief synopsis:

When pediatric nurse, Daphne Hart, loses her job in a hospital after a boy dies whilst under her care, her best friend, Kaci, gets her a job babysitting for a well-to-do family, who need someone to look after their diabetic son for the weekend.

After being spooked by the pizza delivery man and calling Kaci to voice her concerns, Daphne finds her life in danger, when a mysterious figure stalks her and seems set on killing her.

Is it any good?

Not really. A Stranger Outside, or Babysitter’s Nightmare, as it was originally titled, is a ponderous, slow-moving, more-promise-than-delivery, made-for-television, thrill-free thriller. A lacklustre script and the old adage of never acting with animals or children being aptly proven does not help proceedings.

Spoiler territory:

Claire (Katelyn Tarver) is babysitting, reading a bedtime story to one of her young charges, Madison (Hana Engelen). When the girl falls asleep, Claire leaves the room and is scared by Madison’s sibling, Seth (Samuel Engelen), who is wearing a mask. Claire sends him to bed, and then calls her boyfriend.

Claire invites him over to have pizza, telling him to come through the garage, so as to avoid the cameras. Claire gets a call from Mrs Gibson (Autumn Federici—voice), the children’s mother. She tells her that she thinks she saw someone in the house. Claire tells her that there is no one in the house, and maybe it was the pizza delivery man.

Claire ends the call. A masked figure comes out of a cupboard behind her, and puts a plastic bag over her head, suffocating her to death. Three days later, a tearful Daphne Hart (Brittany Underwood), is being told that she is to be released from her nursing position, due to negligence leading to the death of a young patient.

Judith (Nancy La Scala) explains to her that she did not want to let her go, but the deceased boy’s father was threatening to sue the hospital, and the board felt it would be best let her go. Judith tells her that she will be happy to give her a recommendation, for any position she pursues in the future.

Outside of the office after her meeting with Judith, Daphne is harried by her boyfriend, Jeremy (Mark Grossman). He tells her he tried to help her, but it was her responsibility to check the patients’ vitals. Daphne is angry at him because he knows that she only left her post because Dr Mixer (Michael Chandler) had said she could. Jeremy is reluctant to speak against Mixer. Daphne ends their relationship.

Daphne hands in her work pass, and talks to best friend, Kaci Washington (Shanica Knowles), who thinks she should fight the dismissal. Daphne, though not believing the boy’s death to be her fault, feels somewhat complicit in his death, and does not want to fight.

A few days later, Kaci goes to see Daphne. She has got her a temporary job. A well-to-do couple are going to a wake for the weekend, and need someone to look after their son. Daphne protests that she is not a babysitter. Kaci tells her the boy has diabetes, and they want a nurse to look after him. Why is the boy not going on the trip? He has a fear of flying. Reluctant after her ordeal at the hospital, Daphne wants to give it some thought.

Later on, Daphne calls Kaci, who is at work at the hospital, and tells her she wants the job. Kaci says she will contact the couple. Kaci sees a mysterious car watching her, from outside her apartment. The car moves off, as it sees her looking out. At the hospital, the mysterious figure that killed Claire creeps around the hospital. Kaci, who had left her post to go to the bathroom, comes back and finds the address for the job she told Daphne about gone.

Daphne goes to meet the mother, Karen Andrews (Reagan Pasternak), and her son, Toby (Jet Jurgensmeyer), who she will be babysitting. Karen tells her that she knows about her issue at the hospital, but a mutual friend of theirs had assured her that Daphne was a good nurse. Daphne asks when they will be returning, and Karen tells her that they will be back on Sunday evening.

Daphne takes the job. Whilst packing a weekend bag to go and stay at the Andrews’ house, Daphne hears about Claire’s murder on the news. The report says the police are looking for a pizza delivery driver, who was in the area at the time of her death. Home alone, she gets spooked by a knock at her door. She finds a note from Jeremy, begging her to get in contact with him.

The next day, Daphne goes to the Andrews’ home. She meets Toby’s father, David (Matt Hish), and Karen shows her around the house. It is a beautiful and large home, with a pool and vast outdoor area.

Daphne asks Karen why she is trusting her with Toby, considering incident at the hospital. Karen explains that she herself, also with a background in medicine, did not notice when her son almost fell into a diabetic coma. She knows that Daphne will be extremely diligent.

In the house with Toby, the two quickly bond. Later on in the evening, Daphne orders a pizza for their dinner. The pizza delivery man, Barry (Sean Whalen), is particularly creepy. Having eaten the pizza, Toby falls asleep whilst watching television. Daphne gets him up to bed, and returns to clear up the debris of the evening. The doorbell rings. It is Barry the pizza delivery man. Daphne does not open the door, talking to him through the glass. He tells her she overpaid him for the pizza, and that he feels bad. She tells him to keep the money.

Barry asks about the family. She lies, telling him they have returned. He keeps questioning her and asks her out. She tells him she has a boyfriend. Barry eventually leaves. Daphne, still nervous in the big house, arms herself with a rolling pin. She calls Kaci and tells her about the pizza delivery man.

The next day, Karen calls to check-in. She tells Daphne that they may be out of contact, due to the area that they are going to. As Toby entertains himself, Daphne sits by the pool working on her resumé. She goes to check on Toby. He has fallen asleep. She hears something in the house and calls the police. Downstairs, Daphne is scared witless by the cleaner, Audra Simonetti (Arianne Zucker).

The two chat a bit, Audra proving to be very friendly. Daphne tells her she is recently unemployed, though she does not tell her about the incident. She asks Audra if she has kids. Audra tells her no. Daphne says it is not too late. Audra, cryptically, replies that it is for her. A policeman (Gavyn Michaels) rings the doorbell.

Daphne opens the door and tells him it was a false alarm. He tells her he will check around the house anyway. Audra mentions the murder of Claire, commenting that it was a good thing they responded to her call so quickly. Daphne agrees. Audra leaves.

In the evening, a now-awake-again Toby tells Daphne about his idea for a secret camera network, to protect homes. Daphne and Toby go to the kitchen, looking for something to eat. Daphne realises her phone is missing and goes back upstairs to get it. She hears a car outside and looks out to see Jeremy’s car.

She quickly checks around the house and the grounds, rolling pin in hand. As she closes one of the outside doors, she is startled by Jeremy. Seeing it is him, Daphne immediately starts to admonish him, asking what he is doing there. Jeremy pleads that he had no choice, as she refuses to return his calls.

She tells him to leave. He pleads with her to reconsider, even promising to tell how it was Dr Mixer’s request for her to get him coffee that had created the incident. Daphne refuses his offer and tells him they cannot get back together.

Jeremy goes back to his car. The mysterious figure is in the car and strangles him, killing him. Back in the house, Toby has woken up and Daphne gives him an insulin shot. She realises that she has misplaced her phone. She goes outside and looks for it, as Toby looks for it inside. No luck. She calls the phone from the landline, but it is inexplicably switched off.

The doorbell rings. Daphne, still wary after Jeremy’s surprise visit, grabs a large kitchen knife. She tells Toby to stay behind her. They go to the door, and to her relief, it is Kaci. She has brought food. They sit down to eat, and Kaci asks why she never texted her back when she said she was coming over. She tells her she has lost her phone.

Kaci calls her phone. It goes straight to voicemail. Daphne speculates that maybe the maid took it. She asks Toby if he knows the number for the maid service. Toby tells her they do not have a maid. Kaci says to him that the maid probably comes when he is at school. He tells her that they have never had a maid, as his grandmother likes to clean everything.

Daphne says the parents probably just hired them for the weekend. They finish eating, and as Toby goes to clean up, the two young women chat. Daphne asks if Kaci had heard about the babysitter that got murdered, not far from there. She had not. The pizza delivery man was the chief suspect. Kaci scoffs at the notion that the same delivery man would keep on delivering pizzas.

Kaci offers to stay the night. Daphne gladly takes her up on her offer, grateful for the company. She tells her that Jeremy had come around. Kaci thinks that maybe it is Jeremy who is messing about with her, trying to spook her by stealing her phone. Daphne does not think so.

They all get ready for bed. As the women are about to get to bed, Daphne remembers she had not closed the outside gate. They both decide to go and check it. Kaci says she will get her phone so as to use the flashlight. Kaki comes back and says her phone has gone missing. Daphne notices that the spare keys for the house are also missing. Both women are panicked now and begin to secure the doors.

They hear a car horn blaring outside, and a less-than-amused Daphne, followed by Kaci, goes out to confront Jeremy. They see him slumped on his steering wheel, dead. They run back towards the house and see the mysterious figure. The figure has a large kitchen knife and begins to stalk them. The two women run, but having secured most of the doors, are forced to circumnavigate the house in an effort to find a way back into the house. Finding an open door, the women get back into the house. The women split up, Kaci going to the kitchen to find her phone, and Daphne going to get Toby.

The mysterious figure comes into the house. Daphne finds Toby playing on his tablet. She tells him to be quiet and tries to get him out of the bedroom. Before they can leave, they hear the mysterious figure coming up the stairs. Kaci sets off her car alarm, in an effort to distract the stalker.

The mysterious figure ends up pursuing Kaci and corners her in the kitchen. They fight and Kaci gets killed, but not before she stabs the assailant with a corkscrew. Daphne tells Toby that they have to get out of the house. She tells him to go into the bathroom and talk into his walkie talkie, the other handset being in her room.

The mysterious figure goes to the voice. Kaci and Toby go back into his bedroom and climb out of his window. Toby is going into diabetic shock and needs an insulin shot. They get to Kaci’s car, and Daphne goes back into the house to get the keys.

She finds Kaci dead in the kitchen. She gets the keys and finds her mobile phone when she hears it ringing. The mysterious figure had dropped it during her altercation, with Kaci having had it the whole time. It is Karen on the phone. Daphne tells her that someone is trying to kill them.

The mysterious figure reveals themselves. It is Audra. Her surname is not Simonetti; it is Monrose, the same as the name of the boy who died whilst in Daphne’s care. She is his mother. She tells Daphne that she found her husband messing around with the babysitter one day. The babysitter was Claire. She killed her.

Daphne tries to explain to her that she was told to leave her post by her superior. Audra does not care. She blames her for the death of her son. Daphne runs out of the house. They fight by the pool, and she knocks Audra into the water. As Audra tries to get out, she hits her again.

Daphne returns to the car and has to give Toby an insulin shot. Toby recovers just as Audra comes and grabs Daphne out of the car. They fight again, and Daphne injects an insulin shot into her temple, killing her. A month later, Daphne goes to bid farewell to the Andrews. She is leaving Los Angeles and moving to Atlanta. They invite her in for lunch, and Toby says he will come and visit her when he gets over his fear of flying. The end.

A Stranger Outside is a poor, made-for-television thriller, using the crazed parent trope, plus a child in peril, to raise the stakes. The problem is, the stakes never seem particularly raised. The pace of the film is so slow, with feeble attempts at tension, and Underwood’s Daphne required to be frightened and nervous at every turn.

Written and directed by Jake Helgren, besides moving at a snail’s pace, the script is too actor-y, with most of the actors sounding unnatural, not able to live their characters. Underwood, who necessarily is on screen for most of the film, tries valiantly to inject emotion and some sort of urgency into proceedings, but the task is just too Herculean for her to bear.

As I alluded to earlier, young Jet Jurgensmeyer, as the diabetic Toby, steals the film. He out-performs everyone in the film, being cute and charming without being irritating.

There were other little things, as well. Underwood has a few tearful scenes and manages to muster tears in both of them. Unfortunately, when she cries, her makeup runs, leaving distracting streaks on her face.

There was too much usage of mobile phones as a plot device, and creepy Barry played a little too well by Sean Whalen, was just an irritating red herring. Having Zucker’s Audra stalk people dressed like an extra from the dark side of the Star Wars universe was also pretty underwhelming.

Truth be told, if Helgren had decided to make this a comedy, it might have worked. As a drama or thriller, it is just too ponderous and tension-free to work. A Stranger Outside can stay there. Give it a miss.

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