Raising kids can cause serious health problems
Parenting’s a bitch!
I realize there’s something irreparably wrong with me, but horror movies with killer children are my absolute favorite kind! Undeniable masterpieces like Village of the Damned (1960) and Who Can Kill a Child (1976) rank extremely high among my all time favorite genre classics and I even cherish a weakness for the more obscure and trashier titles, such as Devil Times Five (1974), The Children of Ravensback (1980) , Bloody Birthday (1981) and The Godsend (1980). Therefore, Tom Shankland‘s new film The Children has been my number one most anticipated movie ever since I found out about its existence. The basic concept as well as the promotional posters and stills looked great, so the only concerns I had left were the possible restrictions in depicting brutality committed by and violent retaliation against the children. Well, all I can say is massive respect for writer/director Tom Shankland for delivering an old-fashioned unhinged, uncompromising, shocking and hardcore-to-the-bone killer kids flick!
But hey, before everybody’s convinced I’m completely out of my mind, The Children is also a lot more than just an exploitative and senselessly violent shlock movie. It’s a bona fide creepy and atmospheric thriller, with some genuine moments of sheer suspense, and even a witty social satire, with many accurate observations on nowadays family life. Two couples with mutual offspring as well as children from previous relationships unite in a secluded country house to celebrate the New Year. Suddenly and seemingly without inducement, a vicious and unidentified virus metamorphoses the children into emotionless slayers. Spoiler! Click if you want to know.» Understandably the adults are reluctant to fight back, but the clever screenplay also irrevocably demonstrates that parents are likely to rescue only their own flesh and blood in the heat of the moment.
Shankland, who already directed the unsettling psycho-thriller W Delta Z (2007) reviously, does a terrific job building up a foreboding suspense all throughout the first half of the movie; without showing any graphical bloodshed. The Children honestly creeps you out and makes you feel queasy long before the kids’ murderous tendencies truly break loose. Elements that contribute to increase the already quite high level of exasperation include the isolated country setting, eerie soundtrack and – of course – the misleadingly cherubic faces of the child actors. The cute toddlers, particularly the youngest ones (Raffiella Brooks as Leah and William Howes as Paulie), are nightmarishly stoic killers. The death sequences of both the adults and infants are barbaric, harsh and gory enough to satisfy even the sickest puppies amongst the horror fanatics (like myself!). The ending is beautifully downbeat and I’m not ashamed to admit I left the theater with a big sardonic grin on my face. What a great film and unquestionably a strong contender for a spot among the coolest horror movies of the past five to ten years.
Warning: Children at play!
Like you could tell from Coventry’s enthusiastic ramblings, our good friend is a little biased when it comes to killer kids flicks. And as well as he’ll be the first to admit it, I’ll be the first to admit he’s absolutely right: The Children belongs in the A-List when it comes to films featuring murderous infants. I’ll elaborate with some of my thoughts as to why I think so, along with comments on the things my notable colleague wrote.
One of the main reasons why The Children is so succesful, lies in the execution of its simple, basic concept. The straightforward plot doesn’t needlessly complicate things and efficiently unfolds at a steady pace. Not too fast, and not too slow, tension is being build up from scratch to great effect, scares and shocks. The movie also doesn’t really slap you in the face with a big & fancy surprise-climax, but instead the terror rises gradually, almost at an exponential rate, that by the time the final scenes come on, you should already be at the tip of your chair, probably without fully realizing it yourself.
While some of the “accidents” and killings are pretty brutal, The Children really isn’t about blood and gore. It’s all about mood and atmosphere. And these aspects are enhanced by the great cinematography, inventive camera-angles and – as mentioned before – the location, featuring an isolated house in a snow-covered countryside. It makes you recall films like Romero‘s Night Of The Living Dead (1968) and even Carpenter‘s The Thing (1982), both in which an isolated location (and a talented cast & crew, of course) play a big role in achieving a succesful end-result, by adding a much needed sense of despair (being cut off from the outside world) and one of impending doom (they might not leave this secluded location alive). Results like these can only be accomplished if the movie plays it with a straight face, and that’s exactly what The Children does. It’s dead-serious about its subject matter.
Obviously, given The Children‘s basic concept, a lot – if not everything- depends on the performance of the child actors and also on the director’s guidance. Kudos to Tom Shankland for not falling into the trap many directors do while working with children, and that is: Having kids act like adults in movies. Don’t expect witty one-liners or well-constructed phrases that shouldn’t normally come out of children’s mouths. In the first half of the film, we see them act and play the way children do. It feels natural. All the more amazing to see those same kids gradually transform into emotionless, vicious little killers during the second half of the movie. And most of the time Shankland achieves this not by having the kids say menacing things or act hysterical. It’s a matter of choosing the right camera-angles and keeping them silent and sneaky. It makes them all the more imposing and the film a lot more creepy.
The reason why I covered up one of Coventry’s lines with a spoiler-banner, is because he mentions something that we actually do not learn until the very end of the movie. It’s a subtle thing, and again one of the movie’s strengths. In fact, it’s such a simple plot-device – hardly even a twist – that anybody could have thought it up, but the movie’s captivating nature keeps you from thinking about it yourself. It all boils down to this: Spoiler! Click if you want to know.»
Simple yet very effective makes up for a solid viewing experience and a strong case for The Children.