|[image: Promotional graphic for the movie Killer Caregiver, with a black
background, a woman’s face with a malicious expression and a red filter,
and bright orange block letters reading, “Killer Caregiver”.]
Content note: Some plot spoilers, mentions of violence.
Killer Caregiver stands out from the rest of Lifetime Movie Thrillers. First of all, the adults in the movie actually dress and act like believable adults, not petty, spoiled man-boys or woman-girls—though they do live in a McMansion like nearly every Lifetime movie family in the 2000’s through the present. This thriller also differs from the Lifetime norm as the main character Mariah’s son, Jacob, has autism.
When a male client makes an unwanted aggressive advance on Mariah (Nicole Hayden), she jumps from her van in an attempt to escape. He then becomes pinned to an entrance gate by the rolling-in-neutral car. He dies and Mariah survives, though she broke her arm while trying to free him.
In the next scene Mariah is trying to work one-handed from her home office. Jacob is heard (Jaeden Bettencourt) yelling, “Mommy!” a few times from another part of the house, and unwittingly disrupts him mom’s video meeting with her boss.
We then see Jacob, a white boy who looks about nine years old, and who has sandy, longish, blonde hair and hazel eyes. He is clad in doctor’s dress up clothes, with a stethoscope around his neck. He enters the room where his mother is working, and hesitates as his mom greets him and lets Jacob examine her broken arm.
Jacob is a stereotypical portrayal of an autistic boy in looks, motor clumsiness, and selective mutism. He is not the stereotypical portrayal of an autistic boy in that he makes prolonged eye contact with those speaking to him and clearly shows both cognitive and functional empathy, as demonstrated when he knocks over a glass of milk, stressing out his mom, who is on the phone. He rocks and cries until Mariah comforts him saying “It’s okay, buddy.”
Mariah decides she needs a caregiver to help her while her arm heals, and hires a woman named Tess, who (spoiler) is really not a caregiver, but the daughter of the man who tried to force himself on Mariah and then got crushed by her van. The shy and sensitive Jacob opens up to Tess, who uses him as a pawn to worm her way into the family. While this plot twist is a common one in the Lifetime revenge plot genre, Jacob’s autism puts a new spin on it.
A disabled handyman, Eugene, who does yard work for the family, suspects that Tess is trouble and tries to alert Mariah, even though Tess tries to stop him by yelling at him. Eugene goes to Mariah, but she is on the phone so Eugene waits for her to end the call. Meanwhile, Tess puts a power cord along with Jacob’s red kite into a mud puddle. Jacob gets a slight shock that could have been an electrocution if Mariah hadn’t come running, grabbing her son just in time. Eugene is the one who then wrongfully loses his job for being careless.
I noticed Eugene became unable to speak when Mariah confronted him, asking him questions and accusing him of not watching out for Jacob. This is part of why he is unable to defend himself, and gets fired.
Whether Eugene is autistic isn’t brought up. Mariah only tells Tess that she found Eugene through a charity that pairs disabled adults who are “high functioning” with disabled kids. Eugene is very verbally shy and vulnerable. (I hate the broad use of the term “high functioning,” as I think it diminishes the struggles autistics with average to above average IQ face.)
I think that Jaeden Bettencourt does as good a job (for not being autistic) in portraying a sensitive and bright autistic boy with a love and talent for drawing. And it is one of his drawings that helps Mariah figure out where Tess took Jacob, after she kidnaps him by luring him out of his bedroom using a reflective mirror and the red kite.
Mariah realizes that Jacob is at Tess’s parents’ home, arrives, and then discovers the noose Tess’ mom hanged herself with (after finding out that her husband had been killed in the van accident while trying to assault Mariah). Tess means to use the same noose to kill Mariah, but Jacob, who was told to go into another room by Tess, appears, grabs a baseball bat, and strikes Tess on the head, knocking her out. This frees Mariah and the police come, arresting Tess. Jacob gets to be a hero.
The movie ends with Mariah and her husband Greg (upon whom Tess does her own twisted number), renewing their vows in an outdoor ceremony. Eugene and Jacob both are included in the ceremony, Eugene in the Best Man role. I was relieved that Eugene was welcomed back and included.
Killer Caregiver contains no rant bemoaning raising an autistic child, nor does it have references to cure culture organizations as did another Lifetime movie, “Jack of the Red Hearts” (which also had a non-autistic actor playing an autistic child, though one who also does a fantastic job just as Bettencourt does in “Killer Caregiver”).
I would like to call on Lifetime to cast actually autistic actors in their movies. I would also like them to stop glamorizing acts of violence by mentally ill characters, especially when those actors aren’t openly mentally ill. Portraying nearly all mentally ill characters as murderous psychopaths further stigmatizes people with mental illnesses.
In my opinion, “Killer Caregiver,” despite the cheesy title and misleading notions that it might be a plot about a caregiver killing an autistic charge, is a movie worth the watch.