Friday, March 09, 2018

The Children (2008)

I'd seen this before but mind-bogglingly never reviewed it. I really enjoy The Children so was excited to see it pop up on (you guessed it) Shudder recently. Definitely getting my money's worth from that service so far!

This is written and directed by Tom Shankland, and is a gutsy little horror story of two families together for the Christmas and the new year holiday. Two sets of parents, four small children and one surly teen all together in a huge house in the English countryside when one by one the kids fall ill to a mysterious virus and become distant, (even more) badly behaved... and homicidal!

This film works well for three reasons:
  1. It keeps things simple
  2. The violent set-pieces chug along nicely once things turn sour
  3. It isn't afraid to boldly cross the line of basing a story on killer kids

The writing is solid - even if no one is shown as especially sympathetic! In fact one set of parents are particularly self-satisfied, boho-bullshit white middle class arseholes; with the obligatory passive-aggressive contest about whose kids are better/smarter, plus quiet competition over who is doing the better job at parenting. This all establishes a restrained tension in the house, even before things go seriously wrong.

The first act also perfectly captures (from my limited experience) the chaotic nature of children of a certain age. How, as adults, it's almost impossible to carry on a conversation without an interruption or scream/whine/cry for attention. The Children takes this very ordinary, real fact and plays with it: the natural naughtiness of kids takes on a sinister turn. Their normal boundary pushing involves more than just refusing to go to bed at a decent hour, it also has them picking up knives and slicing at the adults.

And let's not forget that the dynamic of kiddie killers is scary on a few levels. For one thing, the parents are going to take ages, if ever, to come around to the fact that they need to stop trying to protect, defend or reason with their offspring. They need to strike back against them, and that's often too little too late.

Then there's the repercussions of these horrors in the greater scheme of things: if this condition isn't widespread - which to be fair, in this film we're led to believe it is - anyone who manages to survive murderous children has probably had to take out a few in self defense. This is literally like a zombie movie, but the zombies are adorable little four-year-olds. So to make it out alive you must become one of the ultimate "evil" taboos yourself: a killer of children. It casts an interesting unpleasantness over the entire film, I think.

Shankland uses the young actors wisely, never making them do too much in the way of unnatural, "scary" acting (which can so easily come off as amusingly cheesy) instead choosing close-ups and quick, jarring cuts to make all the gruesome action make sense.

On top of all this, it looks stunning. Blood-splattered snow is rarely a miss, and like Last House On The Left (2009) there are some gorgeous tableau-like establishing shots in there.

It's streaming on Shudder at time of writing, but wherever or however you get your hands on it, I highly recommend that you do.

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