Reviewed by Andrew Kasch
Starring Rachel Shelley, Stephen Campbell Moore, Jeremy Sheffield
Directed by Tom Shankland
Distributed by Lionsgate Home Entertainment
If children are our future, how come we’re so damn scared of them? Whether it’s little Karen Cooper in Night of the Living Dead, the cat-croaking Toshio in Ju-On, or a town full of crazy kids in Who Can Kill A Child?, the very notion of creepy children seems to be a global fear. So it’s only fitting that we’ve come full circle back to the UK which gave us the quintessential “killer kids” flick with 1960’s Village of the Damned, and this time writer/director Tom Shankland delivers the most white-knuckled experience yet with The Children.
No relation to the 1980 evil kid movie of the same name, the premise here is pretty basic: Two families meet in a secluded vacation home to ring in the Christmas season together. For reasons that are never explained, the kids start to succumb to a mysterious flu-like illness that slowly drives them mad. Snowed in and cut off from the outside world, the adults soon find themselves in a brutal fight for survival when their kids deteriorate into crazed homicidal maniacs.
It’s nowhere near as silly as it sounds and actually winds up being one of the scariest movies of the decade. The Children delivers the kind of unrelenting tension and suspense that Hollywood has long since abandoned. Events start out as a slow-burn as Shankland wisely builds up his characters and their surroundings before closing in the walls. The desolate snowscapes build a mood not unlike The Shining with eerie tonal music and visuals that are often reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock or David Lynch. When all hell breaks loose in the second half, the film turns into a bloody surrealist-slasher that never lets up, throwing you from one horrific set-piece to the next without giving you time to catch your breath.
The Children also explores a subject often glossed-over in these films: The psychosis of the parents. Right away Shankland introduces us to two couples, neither of which will win “Parent of the Year” awards. They’re well-adjusted and obviously love their kids but make the kind of inexperienced choices parents often make – something that escalates and eventually implodes when “kill or be killed” applies to their own offspring. Caught in the middle of the chaos is teenage daughter Casey (the uber-hot Hannah Tointon) whose rebellious-phase suddenly makes her the sanest person in the mix, and the poor girl takes equal punishment from both the killer tykes and their over-protective parents.
That’s not to say that this is some weighty character study. Shankland knows he’s making a rollercoaster ride and isn’t above good old-fashioned bloody jolts. But while there are plenty of “Holy shit!” moments, it’s the way he juxtaposes the gory mayhem with mood, themes and characters that makes The Children so effectively shocking. Major props also go to the script for keeping the threat ambiguous and never explaining the source of the children’s sickness (something we’ll no doubt see when the inevitable American remake rolls around).
In terms of the DVD and Blu-ray, like each film in this latest crop of Ghost House Underground releases, both packages share identical bits of supplemental material of which there is a ton of. We get six making-of behind-the-scenes featurettes, several deleted scenes, and a Ghost House music video featuring in this moment. Not sure what the video really has to do with anything, but hey, it’s fun an it’s free.
This is a rare film that strikes a perfect chord between subtle and visceral scares, between the primal and the nightmarish, between surreal and survival horror. Tom Shankland is definitely one of the most promising newcomers to this genre and this is yet another terrific example in what might be a new wave of British horror cinema. Fans of creepy kids, brace yourselves. The Children will chill you to the bone.
4 1/2 out of 5
4 out of 5
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