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Movie Review: See it....IF YOU DARE!!
Director: Tom Shankland
Cast: Eva Birthistle, Hannah Tointon, Rachel Shelley, Stephen Campbell Moore, Jeremy Sheffield, Eva Sayer, Rafiella Brookes, William Howes, Jake Hathaway
In this 2008 British horror film, a family gathering during the Christmas holiday turns deadly when the children in the household contract a mysterious virus that turns them into cunning, cold blooded killers.
What's the Deal?:
In his review for The Human Centipede, Roger Ebert wrote: “I am required to award stars to movies I review. This time, I refuse to do it.” Even though his review scored a rotten on the Rottentomatoes website, he could not and did not write either a positive or negative analysis for the film. “It is what it is,” he concluded in his review. “And occupies a world where the stars don't shine.”
I feel as though I have to approach The Children in somewhat the same way. On the one hand, I hated this movie, yet on the other hand, I can not deny that the film worked its way under my skin in ways that few horror films have. To completely dismiss it with a “negative review” would be dishonest on my part. I have to admit that, as much as I disliked this film, I did find The Children to be a creepy and haunting film experience. Whether or not you want a movie like this to haunt you is something I'll leave for you to decide.
When it comes to the plot, there really isn't much to write about. The family at the heart of the story comes together and shares a couple of laughs, but then a little boy vomits outside the house, and from there, all hell breaks loose. One of the better aspects about the film is that it never explains how the young boy contracted the virus in the first place. As soon as he and his family arrive at their relative's secluded home, he jumps out of the car and almost immediately starts to get sick. Any further explanation than that would have seemed bone-headed and unnecessary. After all, what explanation could you possibly give for a virus that causes you to experience flu-like symptoms before it turns you into a psycho killer?
The one character the movie seems to single out is a rebellious teenager named Casey (Hannah Tointon), who did not want to make the trip to the family gathering because a few of her friends are throwing a party back home. She makes an effort to break away from her family and get picked up by her friend on the road near the house, but her plans are thwarted when the children claim her uncle Robbie (Jeffrey Sheffield) as their first victim. In the scene, we see him sliding down a slope on a sledge and one of the children placing a trolly full of sharp objects in his path at the very last second. It's a fairly gruesome scene, but believe me when I tell you that it's not the only thing the children do to him.
From there, the young tykes begin knocking off members of their family in an excruciatingly gruesome fashion. One woman gets stabbed in the eye with a coloring pencil by her daughter. Another woman is lured to the top of a slippery monkey bar set by her son, where...well, let's just say it leads to the one moment in the film where I literally cringed out loud.
The most unsettling scene in the film, however, doesn't happen until the very end. Casey escapes the house with her mother Laura. They eventually spot a wrecked vehicle in a heavily forested area that belongs to Laura's husband Jonah. Casey gets out of the car to look for Jonah. She sees a gaping hole in the windshield on the driver's side. To say what she finds after that would ruin the one scene that still makes my skin crawl, even as I write these words to you.
All of this is well handled by director Tom Shankland, who successfully establishes an atmosphere of unshakable dread even before the rivers of blood start to flow (some of the night shots of the eerie, snow covered forest near the home are positively chilling). The acting is actually quite good, especially the performances turned in by the quartet of psycho children. Their pale faces and dead stares are enough to send a chill down your spine.
The best performance is, I'd argue, turned in by 11 year old Eva Sayer, who plays Casey's little sister Miranda. The one thing that stands out about young Sayer's performance is the way she uses her eyes. They are truly some of the most expressive and haunting set of eyes I've ever seen on a child actress. In the beginning, she makes us care for her character even when she doesn't say a word. When she finally becomes infected by the psycho virus in the end (she's the last of the children to do so), there are shots of her making faces so frighteningly evil at times (like when she breaks the house phone so no one can call for help) that I found myself more than once cowering in my seat. I'd say this kid has a very bright future in the film business.
So, after having written all of that, how can I sit here and say that I hated the film? Because, as much of a horror movie lover as I am, when it comes to movies involving little children committing sadistic acts of violence, or having acts of violence committed against them (which does happen here), I do turn squeamish. Which isn't to say that I don't believe that a good movie can't be made about killer children; the 1976 horror film Alice Sweet Alice features a scene where a small child is murdered, and I consider it a great film. But whereas that film was driven by ideas and the filmmaker's need to tell the story, The Children doesn't really seem to have much on its mind except to gross out and shock the audience, which, I'll admit, it does very well.
There reaches a point, however, where you have to ask the question: When your movie shows little children, who look to be no older than ten, spilling this much blood, shouldn't you leave the audience with something other than just a lot of bad feelings? Shouldn't there be a purpose to a film with such vile images? There seems to be some hint that the movie will try to tackle issues dealing with abortion (note the tattoo of a fetus on Casey's stomach and how she describes it to her uncle; or the scene where she tells her mother “Haven't you heard of contraceptives?” while she's trying to care for her sick child), but nothing is ever made of it. With no real motivation to justify its existence, the movie ends up being nothing more than an exploitative slasher film.
Am I wrong to feel that way? I mean, when someone pays to see a horror film, they expect to be scared, right? If it should deal with some weighty themes along the way, then fine, but the primary purpose of any horror film is to scare its audience, and The Children is a scary film. So why am I complaining? The truth is that my review has shown more generosity towards the movie than it probably deserves. I have refrained from revealing the depths of my hatred for The Children because, for what it is, it is a well done film, and I know there are people who will be able to accept the movie for what it is. For those of you who can accept the film on its own terms, I say, have at it. You're going to get what you paid for. As for those who are as sensitive as I am about movies with sadistic children, who expect more than a well-made yet morally reprehensible exercise in blood-letting, stay as far away as you possibly can from The Children.
GRADES: 1/2 * for me
*** for everyone else