Not long after arriving at her sister’s remote manor to spend Christmas vacation, Elaine’s two youngest children begin showing flu-like symptoms. Within 24 hours, her sister’s two children are showing the same symptoms. But along with the sniffling noses and vomiting, the children have also started to demonstrate another unhealthy characteristic. They seem to be actively plotting the deaths of their parents. Now the only thing that is stopping the children from accomplishing their goal is Elaine’s rebellious, teen daughter Casey. But she is having trouble getting the adults to believe her, their denial prohibiting them from taking appropriate action before it is too late.

There are a lot of things I liked about this film that went past the initial synopsis, as the entire scenario just seemed really familiar. I remember being a teenager stuck at family gatherings in which I was too old for the smaller kids, and too young to hang with the adults. Like Casey, wanting to be anywhere other than where I was at. On the flipside, as a parent, I am all too familiar with the parenting issues the film brings up as well. Topics such as home-schooling and corporal punishment, as well as the awkward situation of two different parental styles clashing, especially when children begin misbehaving in front of company. These topics are breifly touched on during the film, helping set up some reasoning behind a few of the adults actions (or lack thereof).

The Children on crimecritics.comAs the sickness spreads and the children get worse, the situation becomes more dire and the adults are unwilling to grasp the fact that their children are capable of the acts that have transpired before them. The fact that the children have organized their activities in such a way that makes Casey look like the responsible party adds fuel to the fire. As the adults begin to crack, discussions between the families that would have only been held after they had both parted company (“Can you believe they are homeschooling?” or “I am amazed they let Casey dress that way“) come to the surface as the parents begin turning on each other and try laying blame anywhere other than their own kids.

I had practically given up on these types of films as I have not seen anything as effective as Who Can Kill a Child? (our review) and that one is over 30 years old. But Tom Shankland, who just recently directed the crime thriller WAZ (our review), creates some really creepy scenes that do not rely on blood and gore as much as they create apprehension and dread – two critical components for effective horror. If you are still wary about this movie for the same reasons I was – the fact that most of the films of this nature are completely ruined by the child actors themselves – have no fear. Shankland does a splendid job with his young cast and not one of them come across as hokey or unbelievable, even when at their downright creepiest. These kids are a pediaphobiacs worst nightmare. They are believable both as normal, aggravating children as well as cunning sociopaths. Even the multiple dynamics within the film are handled well; the children against the adults, the children against each other, and as usual – the teen against everyone.

While the children are not in the same numbers as the kid army shown in Who Can Kill a Child? or Village of the Damned, the particular environment the film takes place in (remote) coupled with the relationship dynamic, makes them just as formidable. There is also the tricky subject matter that films like these will have to address sooner or later, and that is how they handle the adults fighting back against children, possibly their own flesh and blood. Thankfully, Shankland does not shy away from the inevitable showdown between the adults and children. Shankland does not put on the kid gloves when dealing with this contraversial subject and in doing so, makes portions of the film unsettling.  The emotional impact of a parent faced with the possibility of having to kill their own child has just as much impact in this film as the children plotting the murder of their parents. The fact that there is never a solid explanation given as to why the kids have morphed into a pack of Micheal Myers also helps keep the film lean and free from the padding of origin sub-plots. This also makes the film a tad more tragic as the children are just as much victims as the adults they are terrorizing.

With  great performances, effective audio\visual and a slow-burn leading to a very suspenseful third act, I am comfortable in saying that The Children is not only a great horror film, but also one of the best in the killer kid genre.

[rating:4/5]

  • Eden Lake (2008) – Movie Review (crimecritics.com)
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