An underwhelming psychological horror
Please don’t come into this movie assuming it’s another sequel to Mary Poppins! The title of this dark and ugly tale will be familiar to fans of Disney’s family favourite but at no point in the movie does a nanny break into song or fly into the sky with an umbrella. That being said, the sitter in this movie does get high, but with the aid of LSD rather than a magical brolly. So, I guess there is a slight similarity.
But beyond that, you need to know that this is for adults only, and only those who can tolerate plentiful scenes of nudity, sex, and acts of violence carried out by a child.
The movie, which is the feature-length debut of music video director Mercedes Bryce Morgan, centres on a young woman named Millicent (Morgan Saylor), who takes a break from her studies to care for a seemingly nonverbal boy named Johnny (Danilo Crovetti). She quickly ingratiates herself with his parents Rebecca (Kat Foster) and Jacob (Myko Olivier), who are surprised at their new sitter’s ability to connect with their son, and it’s not long before she’s a regular fixture of their home.
Johnny spends most of the movie wearing a spaceman outfit. This isn’t wholly abnormal – a lot of kids like to play dress up – but the costume is protective gear for the boy who is allergic to nickel, sugar, and a whole lot of other things. According to his mom, who gives Millicent instructions about her son’s care before she takes up her new duties, Johnny could die if he comes into contact with anything he has an allergy to, so the pressure is on for the sitter who ultimately throws caution to the wind when caring for him anyway.
The boy isn’t the only one who is sick. Millicent, who spent her young life being abused while in the foster care system, is mentally unstable. She regularly sees a therapist to talk through her insecurities and to deal with these, she takes LSD, which has been prescribed to her. The memories of her awful childhood have skewed her worldview and the drug that she has become addicted to does little to correct her thinking. Because of her past experiences, she has no tolerance for mothers who are neglectful of their children and due to her fractured mental state, she sees herself as a saviour to those kids who have been ignored by their parents.
Johnny’s parents love him but in their own way, they both neglect his needs. Rebecca is overprotective one moment and distant towards her son the next, and Jacob feels unable to be the person he needs to be for his son. There’s a suggestion that Johnny might not be sick after all and that his allergies are a figment of his mom’s imagination, but we never really find out for sure. What is clear, however, is that Rebecca is also mentally imbalanced, for reasons that are never spelt out in the movie. What’s also clear is that the young sitter isn’t ready to tolerate this mom and her protective bubble wrapping of the boy.
It’s not long before Millicent starts to wreak havoc in the household. She allows herself to be seduced by Jacob, which causes mental anguish for Johnny when he sees evidence of their affair. And when Johnny speaks for the first time and calls Millicent ‘mommy,’ his real mother gets incredibly jealous. This leads to a battle of wills between the two women that begins verbally but later descends into physical violence. Who wins? We aren’t going to reveal the movie’s ending here!
Spoonful of Sugar is slightly reminiscent of other creepy babysitter movies, such as 2015’s Emelie and the 1995 movie The Babysitter, which starred a young Alicia Silverstone, but it is more disturbing than any of them. The movie features scenes of dead animals being cut open in front of a child, multiple scenes of perverse sex, weird hallucinatory sequences that occur when Millicent (and later Johnny) are high on LSD, and acts of violence that the kid instigates. These scenes are uncomfortable to watch and while they’re not overtly explicit, they still push the boundaries of taste.
The movie isn’t always disturbing for the sake of it. It’s clear that writer-director Morgan is trying to connect the dots between childhood trauma and mental illness, but her efforts are undermined by a muddled story that contains thinly-drawn characters whose actions can be described as inconsistent.
As such, Spoonful of Sugar can be a frustrating watch at times as we can never quite get into the heads of the people we see in the movie. This could be a good thing – for the most part, these are all horrible people – but it would have been a much better movie if they were fully-rounded characters that we could believe in. It’s the husband that comes off the worse here. There’s one interesting moment when we get to see his vulnerable side but for the most part, he’s just another masculine guy that can’t keep his libido in check.
The story may be dissatisfying but the actors are good. As the conflicted Millicent, Homeland actor Morgan Saylor gives a particularly decent performance, ably capturing the Jekyll and Hyde nature of her character. Danilo Crovetti should be the casting choice for any future Omen remake due to the strong Damian vibes he gives off with his cold and intense performance. And Kat Foster, who starred as Barbara Walters in the TV miniseries Gaslit, is very good as the mother who slowly starts to unravel during the course of the movie. These performances do much to improve the movie, which would have been far less interesting without them.
Spoonful of Sugar passes the time but it’s not as deep as it aims to be and it’s not particularly memorable either. There are some good moments, including one hallucinatory sequence where Millicent and Johnny bond after taking LSD, but they are overshadowed by poor character development and plot twists that make little sense. I guess horror buffs might be satisfied by the gore and grotesque imagery that is on display but if they come to this for nail-biting scenes of terror, they are going to be disappointed, as there is little here to cause them any anxiety.
Fans of the bizarre will like this more than most but it will take more than a spoonful of sugar to placate those who try to make sense of the movie’s plotting. Mary Poppins could have sorted out this family’s problems in no time at all but the creators of the movie fail to untangle the root cause of all of their issues. As an exercise in psychological horror then, this pretty much fails. But if you can stomach the grim nature of it all, you might get something from this uneven but occasionally unsettling tale.
Read More: Spoonful Of Sugar Ending Explained
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Verdict - 6/10