THE AU PAIR NIGHTMARE is the feature-length directorial debut from Joe Russo, producer of the horror anthology Nightmare Cinema, co-written by Russo and Chris LaMont, about a young woman who, 6 months after tragedy strikes, takes a job as an au pair unaware of the dangers ahead of her. The film stars Brytnee Ratledge (14 Cameras), Annie Heise (The Blacklist), Tristan Thomas (General Hospital), and Gianna Gallegos (2019’s Roswell).
To best describe the film, I’ll turn to the official synopsis: “Looking to escape her past, Taylor (Brytnee Ratledge), applies to be the Au Pair for a well-to-do, small-town family. Invited into their world, Taylor starts to suspect her very private, new employers are hiding something, and her curiosity quickly puts her directly in their crosshairs. Now, she’ll have to discover their darkest secret if she has any hope of making it out of her new home alive.”
When it comes to the Lifetime Channel, I wouldn’t consider myself a big fan of the content featured. Shows such as Dance Moms and Married at First Sight aren’t really my cup of tea, but every so often, something does come my way that catches my attention. Take THE AU PAIR NIGHTMARE, for example. The trailer featured that pulpy thriller content that’s difficult to resist, no matter how hard you fight it. That said, sometimes it pays to take a risk as THE AU PAIR NIGHTMARE was a surprisingly enjoyable thriller that was able to shock and surprise me with all it’s unexpected twists and turns.
There’s no denying that this film is extra in the best way possible. Everything is just a tad bit over the top, from some of the dialogue to the performances, but it all worked wonderfully. What Russo and LaMont created was an intriguing thriller that offered a multitude of surprises, humor, and moments that elicited genuine discomfort. For example, the Caleb family were REALLY bizarre and as we, the audience, waited for their secrets to unfold, we are left with an unsettling feeling that something very bad is on the horizon. This goes to show that Russo and LaMont know how to write impactful characters without showing their full deck of cards. The only critique I would give is that they may have wanted to reel in all the competing storylines taking place. Ultimately, they do all come together, but I found there to be a lot of moving pieces by the time the climax arrived.
I also really enjoyed Russo’s directing style, especially in regards to the way in which he framed scenes. I’m a massive fan of symmetry, and it was used brilliantly in this film to convey a feeling of perfection. Whether it was entering the Caleb’s house or standing in front of the dining room windows in conversation, there seemed to be a lot of symmetrical touches throughout the film. This gave off a sense of control which begins to crumble as the film pulls back the curtain to reveal the secrets behind it. Additionally, the cinematography by Andrew Russo was breathtaking as he used wide shots to give viewers an idea of the vastness that the desert area, in which the Caleb’s live, encompassed. This is important because it lets the viewer know that the house in which Taylor is working at is far away from any form of civilization. Sure, the architecture of the house and the surrounding desert area are stunning, but they are also a reminder that monsters hide in even the most beautiful of places.
As for the acting, I’ve got to hand it to Brytnee Ratledge and Annie Heise, who played Taylor and Allesandra, respectively. Their two opposing personalities – Taylor’s sweet and good nature side finds itself up against Allesandra’s strict, rude, and mean-natured self – became dynamic when they clashed, resulting in two unforgettable performances. For what it’s worth, Annie Heise gives a terrifying performance as Allesandra, the matriarch of the family and a woman you NEVER want to cross. As for Tristan Thomas, who plays the patriarch Dr. John Caleb, he initially had such a sweet disposition before showing just how truly slimy he is. Though his performance wasn’t as strong as that of Brytnee or Annie, he still manages to give his own type of unsettling performance. As for Gianna Gallegos, who plays the young daughter Emily Caleb, she was an absolute joy to watch. What made her so interesting was she always managed to have a mischievous hint of a smile which made you question if some darkness could be hiding underneath the surface. Additionally, I also have to mention Elizabeth Saydah, who played Taylor’s older sister, Kara. She was the much-needed comic relief, utilizing both humor and sarcasm, becoming one of my absolute favorite characters in the film.
In all, THE AU PAIR NIGHTMARE was the perfect late-night popcorn flick featuring all the thrills, chills, and laughs you could want. It’s B-movie goodness that is easily going to find its fands. For his first feature film, Russo really gave us something special which makes me even more excited to see what he does next. For those looking for a fun, quick thriller to help stave off the boredom of quarantine, then you’ll want to check this film out on the Lifetime Channel.