Whatever innocence is introduced in Mercedes Bryce Morgan’s “Spoonful of Sugar” with the hummed tune of “Oh My Darling, Clementine” and glimpses of Christmas candy canes rots away like a forgotten fruit that rolls forever out of sight. Imagine “Mary Poppins” breakneck twisting into the darkness of “Orphan” or “Hard Candy.” Leah Saint Marie’s screenplay explores a drug-induced coming-of-age tale about a supposed hair-twirling babysitter’s virgin’s sexuality, but that’s before Saint Marie balances out storytelling sweetness with an avalanche-pour of salty malevolence. “Spoonful of Sugar” is bone-chilling, knee-buckling nastiness that punishes every character with zero compassion — this ain’t the twinkly-eyed fairy tale Morgan deceptively sells at the movie’s onset.
Morgan Saylor stars as ponytailed and supposedly 21-year-old Millicent, who’s just been hired by accomplished author Rebecca (Kat Foster) to babysit her allergy grab-bag of a son, Johnny (Danilo Crovetti). Millicent claims she’s taking a summer hiatus from studies to concentrate on her thesis about children with severe allergies, which probably helps ease Rebecca’s nerves. Johnny is nonverbal and could go into allergic shock for a grocery list of reasons, and Millicent’s background makes her well equipped to handle disasters. Rebecca can focus on her next in-progress book with Millicent around while husband Jacob (Myko Olivier) gets all sweaty doing yardwork shirtless — something that Millicent gawks over with a racing heart, swept up in hormonal tidal waves.
Oh, did I mention Millicent is always under the influence of LSD droplets?
Hallucinogenics might play a significant factor in “Spoonful of Sugar,” but it’s never the psycho-wonderland rabbit hole one might expect. Millicent’s vision while tripping seeps onto the screen as one of psychiatrist Dr. Welsh’s (Keith Powell) fingers crawls off his body like a worm mid-conversation, or hand-drawn bunnies leap off construction paper and hop around the room — but never in excess. Aside from an early demonic writhing, that is. Don’t expect Gaspar Noé’s “Climax,” which excessively subjects audiences to visual distortion or more abstract descents into chemical freakouts. It’s more about Millicent trying to act sober around Rebecca or Johnny while keeping her caretaker appearance, then bleaker horror elements that overtake.
Spoonful of Sugar” is a character study about outward appearances and deceptive facades. Saylor’s ability to sell Millicent as the never-been-kissed cutie in a conservative dress means everything to the film’s corrosive elements — her female gaze toward Jacob, maternal competition versus Rebecca, and Johnny’s secret medication adjustments. Kat Foster does well channeling the shaken-under-pressure author who has it all except a stable family life and healthy marital relationship. Then you have Myko Olivier, who dances the line between himbo and tempter as the studly apple of two women’s eyes who doesn’t dissuade tensions. The scenario is a powder keg as everyone claims they have Johnny’s best intentions at heart — the poor anxious boy in an astronaut’s costume whose screaming fits often interrupt — which you’re correct to presume becomes a problem between territorial mamas and wigged-out babysitters.
It’s hard to reveal how “Spoonful of Sugar” asserts its razor-sharp genre edge because Morgan’s narrative command is so good at distracting the audience. The best parts about “Spoonful of Sugar” aren’t what you presume from introductions but the despicableness and broken moral shards behind makeup, pleasantries, and suburban guile. Daytime dramas have exhaustively covered what happens when a lustful young housekeeper meets a frustrated husband while his wife coldly puts their relationship on ice — that’s only one aspect of “Spoonful of Sugar.” The domestic hardship that fits Hallmark formulas is merely a wrapping around far more disturbing treats between Millicent’s foster father (disgustingly played by David Yow), buried objects in Rebecca’s backyard, and the true power of LSD or other narcotics as mental antidotes to our brain’s connection with conditions like allergies. There are immediate red flags at the beginning of “Spoonful of Sugar” because it tends to feel formulaic until it’s very much not — for so many unspeakable reasons I’m struggling to keep hidden.
If you love a double-edged fable that goes from bad to worse to catastrophic, keep an eye out for “Spoonful of Sugar.” Mercedes Bryce Morgan does a splendid job of Frankensteining both Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf into a single body, which becomes the overall vibe of her film. Innocence is a ruse, seduction is a game, and everyone’s got a target on their backs. Victims are predators; good people harbor sinful intentions — it’s all a poison humanity cocktail as psychological terror quickly turns affrontingly savage. “Spoonful of Sugar” deals in heavy blows of shock and awe after a dodgier opening that hasn’t yet revealed all its cards, selling its latter acts when society’s monsters come out to play. We love brutal horror flicks with unhinged narrative swings around these parts, even if some connect better than others.