Monday, March 29, 2010


There’s a reason I have 13 entries and counting under the label “darn kids” on this blog. Evil minors are third only to deadly dolls and killer clowns as my favorite sub-genre of horror, something quite a few recent films (Orphan, Joshua) have cemented as pure joy under 5’. When they’re funny, these films are hilarious (Esther’s prick line still has me giggling like a Crazy) and when they’re scary, they can easily be terrifying.

Naturally, I couldn’t resist watching Tom Shankland’s The Children, a 2008 film I had been attempting to save for the next xmas season. Put me on the naughty list and let the blood roll:
Quick Plot: Grown-up sisters Chloe and Elaine gather their broods at a picturesque English countryside home to celebrate New Year’s with screaming kids dulled by casual drinking. Chloe and her potential miniskirt chasing husband Robbie are living the upper middle class liberal dream with two blue-eyed tots soon to be home schooled. Elaine’s lifesty’e is a little less ideal. Her eldest daughter Casey (a fine Hannah Tointon) is a sullen dark eyeliner-wearing teen bitter towards her wormy stepfather Jonah and half siblings Miranda and the possibly Asbergery Paulie.

After a meet ‘n greet filled with all the tenants of family reunions (awkward missed kisses, lost pets, vomiting), minor tensions reveal themselves. Don’t-Call-Me-Uncle Robbie hits on Casey. Casey considers herself a missed abortion and hates everything. Miranda hates Casey. And so on. There are no major squabbles or primal loathing boiling. Just the usual family dynamics about to be rocked by forces outside their control.

Slowly, Chloe’s little monsters start to misbehave in ways that would have most babysitters running into the arms of Michael Myers. One of the most terrifying scenes occurs before the film even enters its mayhem phase, when a New year’s breakfast descends into a sort of Freaks one-of-us nightmare with higher voiced screams and eggs. It’s familiar but extremely uncomfortable and a perfect segway into the Who Can Kill a Child  territory we’re about to enter.
I’ll tread lightly through the snowy spoilers because The Children is yet another fine example of chillingly effective modern horror with a familiar old school premise grounding the tale. As you can guess from the title, poster, description or foreshadowing, these kids ain’t right and all legal adults have some bloody times ahead.

We’ve seen--okay, I’ve seen--plenty of minors slicing their parents with irresponsibly placed kitchen knives, just as we’ve seen our share of blood staining white snow. Director Shankland isn’t necessarily reinventing horror cinema, but he infuses The Children with a unique eye and startlingly brutal style. Sure, the kids use the same weapons as Mikey or Esther, but you’ve never quite seen a mum so maternally insistent on her kids’ innocence get an eye treatment at quite the angle here. Blood on snow is a time-honored image, but Shankland’s camera captures the ruby tone absorbing the white cold with new macabre beauty.

The Children is a genuinely unnerving film, although a tad shallow. While it doesn’t quite capture the primal horror of Who Can Kill a Child (hate to keep bringing up that title but it’s an obvious influence throughout), this film grabbed me by my ponytail for a good 90 minutes and once again made me thankful brown eyes are a dominant trait.

That’s right sapphires: your naturally eerie stares are on the outs. 
High Points
Tointon’s Casey is an excellent character to center The Children. In the poetry of Brittney, not a girl, not yet a woman. Playing with her sensuality but still in need of mommy when death is on the line. A perfect cross between the evil elementary schoolers and yuppy parents she so resents

Between the giggling kids and frazzled adults, there’s not a weak performance among the cast

As those who read my column last week on daytime horror know, I instantly give bonus points to any film not afraid of a tan. All the terror of The Children takes place on a crispy sunny day and all of the visuals benefit

Low Points
I have no issue whatsoever with (MILD KID-SIZED SPOILER ALERT) not getting a solid explanation, but there’s something empty about the actual mystery. Maybe I’m just clinging to the haunting documentary opening of Who Can Kill a Child. Based on the director’s comments in the making of featurette, I think The Children was more an exploration of the parents’ behavior than a story of evil kids. In that sense, there’s some intriguing, if underdeveloped ideas.
Lessons Learned
If you don’t want your mother to know about the tattoo on your navel, avoid wearing shirts that highlight your midriff

Gold stars are not the answer to everything
Hoop earrings are inappropriate accessories for child-rearing
This is a nastily fun ride and more than worth a rental. Fans of the killer kid classics or well-made modern horror with a high blood dose will be happy to own it. No commentary, but the DVD does contain a few behind-the-scenes shorts (revealing, as you’d expect, the smiling and adorable child actors) and a few wisely deleted scenes. Give it an enthusiastic try...just not when babysitting.


  1. This movie freaked me out. But mainly because, in general, little kids terrify me.

    Interesting that the film was more a commentary on the children's behavior based on the directors comments. Makes me rethink the end given that context.

  2. I loved The Children and I even liked it more than Orphan...and I really liked Orphan! I agree about how the film is made being a strong point and I'll bring up the amazing editing, which really made the film all the more tense. I also agree that the dinner scene was so crazy and one of the things I liked about it is it showed how well parents can tune out their kids, until those kids nearly go ballistic to the point of chaos!

  3. Agreed Cortez, The Children totally taps into anybody's fear of little kids, especially in those early scenes when they're just shouting and vomiting. Not something to watch when you're debating parenthood. Or maybe, it's the perfect film to watch when debating parenthood. Hm.

    Definitely strong at capturing parents in relation to kids. The tuning out, occasional coddling, occasional ignoring...I guess the film couldn't go too far into it in such a limited run time, but you did get a strong sense that even a happy family can be running the wrong way.

    And yes Matt, the editing is perfect. That eye gouge scene in particular.

    I'm totally adding Shankland to the running list I have of new directors to look out for.

  4. Glad you liked this movie as much as you did. I started hearing about it from Jay, so as soon as I noticed it was out on DVD I snatched it up in a hurry. Like you, I loved this one.

    I was wondering though, a lot of people say they hate this movie because the parents reactions to things their kids are doing, mostly denying that they are harming the adults, was very unrealistic. Your thoughts on this?

  5. I think the parents' reactions are played perfectly, especially since there's such care to develop the mild tension between Casey, the teenager, and her mother and stepfather. Elaine (the blond mum) is more in shock at the fact that SPOILER ALERT she killed her own son, so anything after is somewhat excused. Plus, it's clear that she realizes the kids are whacked, but is so far gone with guilt that she doesn't care (until the end, when she has to choose Casey over Miranda...although even after that, you can see that she knows Casey is next and decides to go with it anyway).

    As for Chloe, her husband is dead and her kids are all that's left. You get the feeling she's something of an over-parent anyway, based on the home schooling talk, her kids' behavior pre-craziness, and her judgmental attitude towards her sister. The more I think of it, the more I think the film did a strong job of setting up why these parents WOULDN"T want to instantly defend themselves and kill their children.

    I feel like Chloe is that mother you meet on the playground who just can't stop fawning over the greatness of her kids, and thus, when those same little bastards push yours down the slide, she refuses to punish them and just leaves.

  6. It's a shame that this one seems to have slid underneath a lot of horror fan's radar, because as you've pointed out, it's pretty damn good. Comparisons to Who Can Kill A Child? is well-called. That one happens to be my favorite killer kid movie. I was pretty surprised by The Children.

  7. I'm surprised it flew so quietly under the radar. Sure, there were no big names, but it does seem like one genre fans should've latched onto and celebrated with more passion. Maybe non-American stuff has to be in French to hit it big nowadays. I'm still waiting for more people to discover End of the Line as well.

  8. I like how its totally not explained WTF is going on with the kids. To often these days everybody wants things explained. We're not children you know.

  9. Well good thing we're not THE Children, cause then we'd be some nasty lil f*ckers!

    The more I think about it, the more I agree on this point. There was simply no place for an explanation, and I like the implied extension of the virus to older kids.

  10. I think the movie *spoiler* implied that the virus was easier for kids to become...ill(I guess that is a way to put it) faster than adults. It seemed to me the older you are, the longer it takes to take hold. My two cents anyway.

  11. I keep meaning to get to this movie - everyone seems to love it! Thanks for reminding me it's out there!

  12. SPOILERS: Heather: Agreed, although Casey doesn't seem to show symptoms until she gets hit in the head, leaving me to wonder if either you need close contact to catch it or, to reach, you have to be more child-like (since the final scenes make her more her mother's daughter than earlier, where she tried to act older) SPOILERS END;

    Jeff: Check it out. NIce little effective horror, not with the lasting effect as something like Who Can Kill a Child, but a great modern companion piece.

  13. Darn... I was going to watch this film a few weeks back but that night, decided on something else. Now I know I have to see it. The angles and twists sound beyond intriguing, albeit "underdeveloped."

    Thanks Emily!

  14. Share your thoughts when you do! The more I think back on it, the more the film really worked for me although I've been finding that with the last few films I've watched. Apparently, I'm suddenly watching good movies!

  15. FINALLY got around to watching this(it's on Fearnet now)...pretty entertaining. I'm not sure why you didn't mention how many milfs are in this flick.

    Would have had me moving it up the priority list, you know?

    And agreed--children are only slightly less frightening than dolls.

  16. I can't imagine how I could've forgotten the milfs! What kind of irresponsible fake film critic am I? I should punish myself by finding a decent film about a child AND a doll and experiencing nightmares that can only be cured by dilfs.