Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 24 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Disturbing Bloody Violent Content, Terror, Language and brief Drug Use
Directed by: Tom Shankland
Written by: Tom Shankland
Starring: Eva Birthistle, Stephen Campbell Moore, Hannah Tointon, Eva Sayer, William Howes, Rachel Shelley & Jeremy Sheffield
Movies about evil children are the best reasons to use contraception. Seriously, scaring the bejesus out of you by watching little tykes off their supposedly superior adults is nothing short of horrifying when its done well. This UK import is done very well. THE CHILDREN is a short, sweet, and to the point killer kid film that uses its first act in developing characters and then becomes absolutely terrifying for the rest of its short run time. Mark my words, you will root for the death of one (or more) small child while watching this movie. It’s the stuff of nightmares.
Two couples are spending the holiday together in an isolated house in the middle of the woods (nothing good ever comes of locations like that, does it?). Among the couples, there are five children. There’s the teenage goth Casey and her far young siblings and cousins (two boys and two girls). Casey doesn’t want to get saddled with taking care of the hyperactive bratty kids for the duration of the holiday, but things seem to be going in that direction. To make the gathering even more uncomfortable around the adults, Casey’s uncle has a sort of questionable thing for her, there’s sibling rivalry between the two wives, and a step-dad who’s a dickhead. When some sort of virus turns the kids into calculating, manipulative monsters hellbent on killing their parents, the film turns into a nightmarish experience in the best way imaginable. It’s not as silly as it sounds. I promise that it’s actually terrifying.
One of the best things that THE CHILDREN has going for it is that it doesn’t revel in being a gorefest (though it boasts some graphic bloody scenes) or playing the psycho kids as total monsters. It does have a large amount of violence aimed at adults and the young ins, but director/writer Tom Shankland knows precisely what to show and when to cut away. He elicits an amazing amount of suspense from such a seen-it-before concept that it makes old seem like new again. These children aren’t straight up CHILDREN OF THE CORN type killers, but rather know how to manipulate their own parents. Then there’s the struggle of could you kill your own offspring if it was a life-or-death choice (your death in this case at your evil kid’s hands). That’s a toughie because it’s been addressed in previous evil kid movies (most obviously WHO CAN KILL A CHILD?), but there’s never a fully satisfying answer to it. The same goes for THE CHILDREN which makes for an even further challenging watch. It almost plays like Hitchcock made a killer kid movie, because there’s a rare level of class seldom glimpsed in this sort of material.
If there’s any complaint to be leveled at THE CHILDREN, it’s that the film takes a little while to give the viewer footing on these characters. You’re sort of rushed into this dysfunctional family vacation and expected to catch on to everything that Shankland is throwing at you rapidly. Getting a hold on the dynamic of who is related to whom, what’s their relationship really like, and how this will affect their decision-making later on is a fast-moving experience. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though, seeing as there’s never a wasted moment. The film just rushes by in a storm of carnage and terror in it’s very brief 84-minute running time. The first act wisely sets things up, but offers small clues at the coming chaos. Once hell breaks loose, the movie is a relentless barrage of tension, scary scenes, and graphic violence. It’s all-out terror and brilliantly executed at that.
I’d rank THE CHILDREN among the best British horror of the new millennium. It’s definitely the best killer kid flick we’ve gotten since the 1970’s (WHO CAN KILL A CHILD?). While EDEN LAKE (another horror movie where adolescents are antagonists) might be close to the same level of quality, THE CHILDREN ramps up suspense and terror at an unbelievably fast pace. You’ll barely be able to take a gasp before the next bit of horror hits you hard. I had watched this movie previously, but I still had a blast upon my third viewing with a group of friends in a dark room. It’s the kind of movie where you want to look around and gauge everyone’s reactions to it, but you’re too petrified to look away from the screen. This movie will scare the ever-loving shit out of you (at least, it did to me) and might make you question ever having kids of your own.