In the late ’80s and throughout the ’90s, films like Spoonful of Sugar were easy to come by. Fatal Attraction is the easiest one that comes to mind, and Spoonful of Sugar’s own bunny moments help throw a nod to the psycho stalker film. The title is a play on Mary Poppins, a mystical nanny who can work wonders. However, it enters the adult thriller category with resonance through a handful of subgenre favorite performances. Rebecca DeMornay in The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, Alicia Silverstone’s obsessive turn in The Crush (1993), and the women of the Poison Ivy films are all clear influences for Spoonful of Sugar’s Millicent (Homeland’s Morgan Saylor).
The audience meets Millicent during her interview to become Johnny’s (Danilo Crovetti) babysitter, getting the view of a blushing, reserved young woman with some interesting quirks. It’s explained to Millicent that the spacesuit-wearing, mute Johnny needs specific care as he suffers from just about every allergy known to man. Johnny’s overprotective mother, Rebecca (Gaslit’s Kat Foster), requires the extra hand while preparing to sell her book. At the same time, Johnny’s father, Jacob (Castle’s Myko Olivier), spends his days as a carpenter, often working shirtless on an unseen project in the family’s garage.
The relationship between Rebecca and Jacob shows obvious strain early in Spoonful of Sugar, though it’s often hard to peg down why. Reasons seem to alternate between Rebecca’s absence to sell her book when Jacob would prefer her at home with Johnny, Jacob’s sexual hangups about Rebecca’s kinks, and Jacob’s insistence that Johnny may fare better in a care facility. All of this facilitates a certain malaise in Jacob, and his eye wanders in the most cliché way possible.
Though Millicent emits a certain grace and childish innocence, her mental state is quickly called into question after meeting Jacob on her bus ride home. We see her drop acid and have psychotropic hallucinations of succumbing to the seduction of a demonic presence. We quickly learn that the vial of LSD is medicinal, helping Millicent regulate her occasionally erratic mental state and that her doctor (The Beta Test’s Keith Powell) thinks she should start scaling back on her dosage. Of course, Millicent is against the suggestion, saying it isn’t the right time after finding a new job.
Millicent has a bit of a Saint Maud arc of transcendent eroticism, a sexual awakening through a virginal viewpoint. The film uses religious imagery to suggest as much, and the hefty dose of hallucinogenics is just the icing on the cake. She has Excision level delusions of grandeur where she sees herself as a savior of unhappy, neglected children and forms a deep attachment to Johnny. As she begins to go directly against Rebecca’s explicit instructions for her son, we see a bond form between two people who genuinely understand each other. The scary parallel reaches its apex when Jacob reveals his collection of dead animals, and Millicent mutilates them with ardent ease. Though her exact methods are unknown to Jacob, it doesn’t stop him from forming a crush on the young girl, as her sincere approach is having an effect. The more Jacob notices her, the more Millicent fixates on Jacob. The taboo line between employer and babysitter becomes blurred, leading Millicent to want Rebecca out of the family photo by any means necessary.
Mixing the sinister concepts of drug use and watching children, Spoonful of Sugar turns away from the THC mainstays of slasher horror tropes and dives into a surrealist acid nightmare of crawling fingers, rotting apples, and sexual fantasies. The movie easily mixes dream-like moments into reality, showing Millicent’s transformation from innocent to threateningly unstable.
Twisty and conniving, Spoonful of Sugar touches on the stranger danger and mental state of those we invite into our homes and who we allow around our children. The film’s ending is wildly unpredictable and adds a surprise to the already fiercely entertaining film. Strong performances from the entire ensemble, including a breakout performance from Saylor, who truly commits to Millicent’s maniacal energy. Crovetti is almost equally intriguing, executing a present yet detached Johnny that almost inversely reminds us of Noah Wiseman’s performance in The Babadook.
Writer Leah Saint Marie’s script may, at times, have the feel of a Lifetime original film to the untrained eye. Yet the sheer magnitude of violent depictions eclipses any direct reference. Still, Lifetime films are quite possibly the only place we see these unhinged psycho-stalker flicks regularly, so it’s understandable that fans of Lifetime’s niche moviemaking are likely to enjoy this tale of a struggling family and the babysitter that wants to unseat its matriarch. However, Spoonful of Sugar is a love letter to the subgenre’s heyday and the type of adult thrillers that aren’t as easy to come by outside of the Lifetime network. As someone who often advocates for the return of films like Spoonful of Sugar, I was happily surprised by the ride Mercedes Bryce Morgan brings forth.
Morgan’s film is a good time that’s much better than many give it credit for. Either they don’t remember the steamy adult thrillers of yesteryear, or they’re too inundated by the Lifetime template to realize the sexy, diabolical fun of Spoonful of Sugar‘s intention. It’s not anything we haven’t seen before, but its execution is excellent and wholly enjoyable.
Spoonful of Sugar streams exclusively on Shudder on March 2.